Former Bosnian Refugee is NKU's Outstanding Young Researcher of the Decade
When Dr. Aron Levin was trying to launch the Marketing Research Partnership Program (MRPP) at Northern Kentucky University in 2001, he knew NKU needed a program that could capitalize on the abundance of world class research companies in Cincinnati.
“I knocked on a lot of doors and made a lot of calls,” he says. As a relatively young professor without a vast network of research professionals, it was tough sledding. But the challenge only fueled Dr. Levin and validated the need for a robust program. If he struggled to get in front of industry leaders, what chance would his students have?
NKU’s MRPP, as much as any program at the university, was developed with students in mind. “Our goal is to get our students in front of as many marketing research professionals as possible,” Dr. Levin says. “I’m going to take under my wing the students who are interested in research and connect them to marketing research professionals who are living proof that the career is an exciting and rewarding one.”
Soon, doors began to open. Today, he is considered by industry insiders an expert educator and consultant in the field of marketing research. His program, which celebrated its tenth anniversary last year, is based on a simple premise –Cincinnati is the hub of` marketing research, so NKU should offer students practical, hands-on experience managing marketing research projects and extensive networking opportunities.
The program features a capstone class where student teams act as full-service marketing research suppliers for local small businesses and nonprofits. NKU undergrads perform state-of-the art work and what they deliver – Dr. Levin calls it “the talk and the walk and the data” – doesn’t just strengthen local organizations. It also creates a sought-after workforce ready to hit the ground running.
The MRPP has placed over 100 graduates on relevant and successful career paths. Last year, the university honored one of the most celebrated – and interesting – of those graduates with its first Young Researcher of the Decade award.
Young Researcher of the Decade
Mirsada Kadiric is everything that makes a great marketing researcher. She loves crunching numbers and lives for those moments of elusive insight when a “golden nugget” of data explains consumer behavior. And she prefers to do her work outside the glare of the spotlight.
While Dr. Levin has seen his share of outstanding students over the years, Kadiric was a “no-brainer” for the program’s highest honor. But while the choice for the award was an easy one, the path that brought Kadiric to NKU and the MRPP was anything but.
Born in former Yugoslavia, her life was pretty normal until she was 10 years old. That is when the Bosnian War started. Things went south quickly. “Unfortunately, a lot of what I remember from my childhood is just really bad,” Kadiric says.
Her father was taken away and murdered in a concentration camp. She and her mother were forced into a separate camp, but managed to be smuggled out of the country a week later via taxi to waiting uncles in Croatia.
She spent a year in Slovenia and five in Switzerland. In 1998, she came to the United States as part of an Immigration and Naturalization Services (now Department of Homeland Security) refugee program. She spoke Bosnian (or Serbo-Croatian, depending on which side of the politics you find yourself), Slovenian, German and Swiss dialect. She also had a pretty good understanding of French. She couldn’t speak much English.
She spent six months in an English as a Second Language program at Boone County High School. It was a rough adjustment, but she graduated a year and a half later. If Kadiric was going to college, she decided early on it would be at a smaller campus where she wouldn’t get lost. “I needed a place where I could have access to the professors and a lot of one-on-one interaction,” she says. “So NKU was perfect.”
Her mom encouraged her to pursue a traditional business degree, and marketing seemed to make the most sense. She was introduced to Dr. Levin, and the rest, as they say, is history. Soon she was vice president of the Marketing Club and completing a co-op at Parker Marketing Research. In 2004, she graduated as NKU’s Most Outstanding Marketing Student.
In the nine years since, Kadiric has gone from an entry-level researcher at Parker to a marketing research manager at Kao, an international beauty care, human health care, fabric and home care, and chemicals company with its Americas headquarters in Cincinnati. She also earned her MBA from NKU in 2009.
After leaving Parker in 2006, Kadiric climbed the corporate ladder at Ipsos, the third largest research company in the world. There, she worked with Procter & Gamble brands. The job was rewarding, but demanding and stressful; she soon began to yearn for something more.
Kadiric set her sights on a career pivot that is very rare for young researchers – from supply-side research to the client side. This would allow her to be more closely involved in business decisions and research that directly influences planning and product development. Dr. Levin says that none of his former students had ever made the move, and only one has since Kadiric blazed the trail.
Despite having no connections at Kao (she laughs as she recalls submitting her resume through Monster.com), Kadiric was hired in 2011. Her boss, Global Director of Marketing Research Gay Janowicz, was impressed right away. “Mirsada is ‘one in a million,’” she says. “Beyond being a terrific researcher, she is an exceptional young woman. She hit the ground running and was up to speed on our business in record time. She brings a level of strategic thinking and professional maturity that I have rarely seen in someone so early in their career.”
Kadiric credits her experience in the MRPP. “It solidified my interest that this is what I wanted to do,” she says. “I am a numbers person; I love to analyze things. I’m very inquisitive and I ask a lot of questions. Research was a natural fit for me.” She says she’d have probably never been able to break into the industry without her experience at NKU. “The marketing research world is actually very hard to penetrate and get into,” she said. “It’s not easy because it usually requires some form of very specific expertise.”
Despite her meteoric rise, Kadiric says her Young Researcher of the Decade award came as a “complete and utter shock.” She says it was nice, though, to have validation of her efforts and accomplishments.
And it meant the world to the mother who was at her side every step of the way – from a Bosnian concentration camp through the recognition ceremony at the Contemporary Art Center. Last year marked the 20th anniversary of their departure from Bosnia. Mirsada returned for the first time, visiting her father’s grave and finally finding the one thing that had most eluded her – closure.
Kadiric might not have been exactly who Dr. Aron Levin had in mind when he was working tirelessly a decade ago to launch the MRPP, but she is a poster child for the program.
“I’m proud of how I have managed my past and all of the negative experiences and was able to make that a positive,” she says. “I didn’t let the negative drag me down. I’m always a glass-half-full person. You can easily get bogged down in this business – I turn it the other way around.”
From Northern Kentucky University