EPIC Spotlight: Rwan El-Khatib

Many told Rwan El-Khatib she would not be accepted by a United States doctoral program.

It had been difficult for business majors in her native country of Jordan to continue their education in a doctoral program in America, and she repeatedly heard about it. It was almost as if people were challenging her. Determined, she explored her options. Among them was the Fulbright U.S. Student Program, for which she applied. Competition to be awarded the scholarship is fierce, and the few Jordanians who become Fulbright scholars usually study science, engineering or medicine – not business. Which is what El-Khatib was seeking.

“That, by itself, was a big risk,” she recalls. “But that’s my passion.”

El-Khatib defied all odds and was granted the scholarship.

When she learned the Sam M. Walton College of Business is one of the top ranked colleges in the nation that also has a Ph.D. program, her husband, Abdel Fattah, quit his accounting job. They, along with their 3-month-old baby, moved to Fayetteville to attend the University of Arkansas.

El-Khatib says the University of Arkansas’ international education office was a tremendous help with transitioning her to academic life here. She says staffers offered an “amazing” orientation session and handled much of the necessary paperwork. She and her family were made welcome on campus, and especially at Walton, where she was impressed by the college’s diversity, including the finance department. “We had students and faculty of all nationalities,” she says.

She enrolled in Walton’s Master of Accountancy (MAcc) program, which is a challenging experience for anyone. But for El-Khatib, they went beyond that of a typical college student. For the first few months, her husband stayed home with the baby while El-Khatib got acclimated to her new routine as a Walton College graduate student. Abdel Fattah eventually enrolled at the University of Arkansas, earning a master’s degree in operations management.

El-Khatib says her research support was tremendous at the college, which has inspired her to offer the same kind of support to her students as assistant professor at Zayed University in Dubai, United Arab Emirates.

After earning her MAcc, El-Khatib received a scholarship from the University of Arkansas to pursue her finance Ph.D. She says finance Associate Professor Tomas Jandik and former accounting professor Tim West were encouraging during the doctoral program acceptance process.

“It was quite challenging and very competitive,” she says. “They kept motivating me and supporting me.”

When she graduated in 2012, she became the first female Jordanian to receive a finance Ph.D. from the United States. She says Tomas Jandik, and former Finance Professor Kathy Fogel gave her valuable guidance that was instrumental in her being hired by Zayed University, which many consider to be one of the best universities in the Persian Gulf region. Now she inspires students, especially young women who are much like her, to pursue their business education dreams. It’s working and evident in her teaching evaluations, which average 4.9 out of a scale of 5, and in the positive comments she receives from her students at the end of each semester. For example, she was consistently described as “the best teacher,” and many said, “She made us believe that a woman can do everything.”

El-Khatib’s research includes empirical corporate finance, such as social networks, governance, mergers and acquisitions. She, along with Jandik and Fogel, have a paper titled “CEO Networks and Merger Performance” to be published in The Journal of Financial Economics and was also featured by MarketWatch. The three have another paper, “Impact of Shareholder Activism on Functioning of the Market for Corporate Control,” which received the best paper award in the corporate finance field at the Southwestern Finance Association’s 2015 conference.

“My family always mentions me as a success story – to study something that you are passionate about,” she says.