Building Community at Eller and Beyond: Mariam Nikola ’16 BSBA (MIS) ’17 MIS

Mariam Nikola

Mariam Nikola ’16 BSBA (MIS) ’17 MIS values community. Not only was it a crucial part of her experience at the University of Arizona, but it plays a tremendous role in her life today. In April, she traveled to her homeland of Assyria (Iraq), where she served her community by teaching Microsoft Office in the village of Bakhitme.

Born and raised in Peoria, Arizona, Nikola is a first-generation American. Her parents, Assyrian immigrants, raised her to have a deep love for her culture.

When it came time to choose a career path, she was drawn to healthcare. In fact, she chose to attend the University of Arizona because she wanted to be a doctor. Fascinated by anatomy, she volunteered in hospitals and became a Certified Nursing Assistant.

“As most children of immigrants can probably relate, my future career options were doctor, lawyer or engineer,” she says.

But when she got to college and disliked her biology classes and CNA work, she knew she had to find a different path to pursue. The answer soon landed in her lap.

“I was sitting in MIS 111 listening to Dr. [Bill] Neumann describe what MIS is: ‘Solving real problems for real people,’” she says. “It dawned on me—that’s what I want to do.”

Mariam Nikola

After speaking with Neumann about the MIS field, she decided to change her major and apply to the Eller College of Management, given its renowned MIS program.

Nikola’s favorite part about her time in Tucson was the camaraderie with her classmates. She looks back fondly on the long hours spent working with peers on group projects or presentations because they found time to laugh and encourage one another. 

“That’s what I miss most about Eller—the community,” she says. “Knowing that no matter what, we are all Wildcats, and we’re all in this together.”

After graduating with her bachelor's degree, Nikola went on to pursue a master’s in MIS from Eller. The next stop on her journey was working as the business analyst/scrum master at Early Warning—the fintech company that operates Zelle. She joined the company as it was preparing to launch the Zelle app.

“There are few things in the tech world more exciting than being a part of launching the greatest change in banking since Visa,” she says.

About a year later, Nikola decided to challenge herself by moving into management consulting at Point B. As a consultant on the national team, she assisted clients, traveled on a weekly basis and hosted the company’s national practice meeting for more than 250 attendees. Later, she transitioned to an internal role as the content specialist for Point B’s sales enablement team, where she wrote case studies and other collateral.

"I went above and beyond [in my work]," she says. "But I girl-bossed a little too close to the sun and was burnt out by 27."

When the pandemic hit and the company underwent changes, she elected to leave work to focus on her mental health and well-being. Since then, she has found ways to help others and build that community she found in college. Nikola has volunteered by teaching resume workshops and feeding and clothing unhoused individuals. Her impact broadened when she traveled to her ancestral homeland of Assyria for the first time in August 2023.

“It’s difficult to describe the connection to a land I had never known—it was in my blood, my DNA, my energy,” she says. “My soul felt at ease when I stepped on my native soil—the soil that birthed and reclaimed my ancestors for generations.”

She knew she wanted to contribute and aid the community there. So ahead of traveling to Assyria again this past April, Nikola contacted an organization called Etuti about potential volunteer opportunities. Through this connection, she became the first volunteer of Etuti’s new “Volunteer Assyria” initiative, a program to empower and educate Indigenous Assyrians. In her role, Nikola taught Microsoft Office to youth and women in Bakhitme. In an ideal blend of her technical expertise and passion for serving others, Nikola got to create courses to teach Word, PowerPoint and Excel. On the final day of class, the students presented what they had learned.

“It connected me even more deeply to our land, our people and our culture,” she says. “I’ve always loved teaching/mentoring, but to do it in my homeland is a blessing I will cherish for a lifetime.”

Though she was unexpectedly laid off from her job in 2023, Nikola is still finding ways to give back. She has fought for workers’ rights and Indigenous people's rights, and she teamed up with Etuti to work on the “Volunteer Assyria” program.

“In any way that I can, I am serving my community—humanity is my community,” she says.