Mendoza School of Business

For the love of finance

Undergraduate student Aray Beisenbayeva is overcoming gender norms and stereotypes a world away from her hometown in Kazakhstan.

Published: March 27, 2023 / Author: Ashley Altus

Aray Beisenbayeva’s (BBA ‘26) love of finance and investing brought her on a 30-hour journey away from her home in Almaty, Kazakhstan to the University of Notre Dame.

Beisenbayeva always knew she wanted to attend college in the U.S. So she began searching for summer programs in finance and found the Notre Dame Institute for Global Investing (NDIGI) at the Mendoza College of Business. But she hadn’t heard of the school from nearly 6,500 miles away.

After attending NDIGI’s virtual leadership seminar titled, “The Power of Investing: The Wealth Gap, Financial Literacy, and the Miracle of Compound Interest,” Notre Dame quickly rose to the top of her college list. The summer program’s community and teaching atmosphere made a lasting impact on her academic trajectory.


Aray Beisenbayeva

“At Notre Dame, the people really care for each other,”  Beisenbayeva says. “In Kazakhstan, there’s a strong emphasis on family values, and it’s like that here. You’re all considered one family.”

During the program, Beisenbayeva took classes with Carl Ackermann, teaching professor of finance, who would become a career advisor and mentor. She now sits in his Foundations of Finance class.

“I look forward to finance class every day because of the way he teaches,” Beisenbayeva says. “He engages everyone to participate, encourages us to ask questions, and has created an environment for learning, not just lecturing.”

While Beisenbayeva soaks up every bit of knowledge she can in her Mendoza classes, she didn’t always know finance was for her. She thought she would eventually pursue a future in the health-care industry. Beisenbayeva participated in a two-week medical internship for high school students at Stanford University and a summer research assistant position at Yale School of Medicine, where her research would be published in Nature, the world’s leading multidisciplinary science journal.

Eventually, a newfound interest in finance and investing eclipsed her health-care career plans. Homebound during the COVID-19 quarantine, Beisenbayeva and her father started investing in the stock market together. They researched companies and discussed industry trends during family meals.

“My father has a special place in my life, and he’s why I have a passion for finance,”  Beisenbayeva says.

Her encapsulating interest continued to grow and eventually led her to the AIFC Finance and Economics Olympiad in Kazakhstan, a three-part national competition focused on finance, investing and economics for high school students.

For three months, Beisenbayeva spent her time in the library studying from early in the morning to late at night for the competition. Prior to preparing for the Olympiad, she hadn’t taken an economics class, as her high school didn’t offer one. Her long and intense hours studying would pay off. Out of nearly 600 competitors, she placed third and won a gold medal.

Her national win made her eligible to participate in the International Economics Olympiad. She represented Kazakhstan on the international stage as team captain. During the investment game portion of the competition, Beisenbayeva placed in the top 20 in the world by turning the $6,000 in digital money given to competitors into $7 million.

Despite her success in economics competitions, Beisenbayeva says she felt there were limited opportunities for women in banking and finance in Kazakhstan because of cultural and social gender stereotypes.

Today, only 81% of Kazakhstan’s population believes that it’s acceptable for a woman to have a paid job outside of the household, according to the Gallup-International Labour Organization Report. It wasn’t until 2021 that Kazakhstan finally abolished discriminatory labor laws that legally prohibited women from holding about 200 occupations – a residuum of the Soviet era. The Solidarity Center reports that discriminatory lists of prohibited professions for women hinder them from entering higher-paid professions in male-dominated industries.

At Notre Dame, she feels accepted to explore the field she loves.

“This is the first time as a female I felt welcomed into the world of business,”  Beisenbayeva says. “I didn’t have that experience back home or even at other colleges in the U.S. when I was applying.”

Although NDIGI first brought Beisenbayeva to Mendoza , she closely identifies with the College’s mission. She proudly wears a cardholder on the back of her phone touting the school’s tagline.

“No matter what you do, the main point is to give back to the world, and Mendoza nurtures this value in you to ‘Grow the Good in Business,’” Beisenbayeva says. “I want to use my knowledge and potential to grow as a good human that will make my family and college proud, and, of course, have fun.”

Topics: Undergrad