There’s a natural relationship between experience and education. We live our lives, and we learn as we go. When, then, does life ask us to formalize that learning?
For Shabnam Ighani, an Academy lead at Store 2864 in San Antonio, Texas, the journey began in 2004. Kelly Clarkson’s hit “Breakaway” was at the top of the charts, and Shabnam was in an unparalleled period of change. She had just immigrated to the United States from Iran, where she was a religious minority with little autonomy. Formal education had, for much of her life, been far out of reach.
She got her first job the same year at Walmart Store 575 in Woodstock, Georgia. It wasn’t easy, but it did offer something special: growth.
“One of the things I knew I had to be really open to when I came here was learning the culture,” Shabnam says. “And when people found out my situation, they always included me at the table in the breakroom. I understood one out of 100 words they said, but when they laughed, I laughed too.”
As her English improved, Shabnam’s ambition grew.
She applied to a local college, and for a few months, she was chasing her dream of a formal education. Then, tragedy struck when her father became ill. She dropped out and concentrated on her career at Walmart to support her family.
For 15 years, Shabnam focused only on work. And it showed! In 2019 Walmart CEO Doug McMillon asked her to stand during Associates Week, where she was promoted to store manager. She was overjoyed by her Walmart journey. But she held education in the back of her mind. In October 2021, Shabnam’s dad passed away, and she knew it was finally time.
“I was super close to my father, and when he passed, I was looking for something I could feel good about. My dad always wanted me to go to school,” Shabnam says. “And I am so deeply thankful Walmart gave me the opportunity to go back—because I know my dad is somewhere smiling.”
Last month, Shabnam successfully put a checkmark next to a bucket list item: a certification in project management with Agile. Through Live Better U, Walmart’s associate education benefit that makes tuition and books totally free to associates, she completed more than 200 hours in coursework, including classes in effective project management and risk planning. It was a huge step. And it again highlighted the harmony between experience, knowledge and growth.
“I was constantly thinking during the course, ‘Oh wow, we do that at Walmart, we just call it something different,’” Shabnam explains. “My experience helped make the course so much more valuable, but I know now I can describe things to associates in different terms. It’s opened a different door for me.”
After nearly two decades at Walmart, it might seem surprising there are still doors for Shabnam to open. But her attitude toward learning has led her to all corners of the business—and prepared her for the present too.
“I moved to Academy lead because I wanted to learn even more, and this gave me an opportunity to make connections faster and get to know the associates and management in Market 506 faster,” Shabnam explains. “One of the most fun, interesting parts of the job in Walmart is that we’re in the people business. I get the chance to learn about a whole world of cultures just by walking through the doors.”
Her experience in LBU has led Shabnam toward more progress. And the bucket list keeps growing.
“I’m taking an English as a second-language course through LBU, which covers from beginner to advanced techniques,” Shabnam says. “I want to learn more about formal grammar to pick back up my bucket list.”
At the end of that list is something that, for Shabnam, represents a full circle: Write an essay.
“I want to write a summary of what’s happened in my life,” she says. “I’d like to share it with others. Because the ups and downs come, and I want people everywhere to understand: We can make a difference. It comes down to choosing. Eighteen years ago, I chose the right place to start working. And here we are.”
Is education on your bucket list too? Check out your options for free education at livebetteru.com.