First Gen Fireside Chat: Banking Insights with Ana Barxha CAS ‘17

In celebration of First Gen Week at Penn, Career Services is highlighting experiences, perspectives and advice from first gen professionals in various career fields.

Ready to explore the world of banking and finance? Join us for a Fireside Chat Zoom Conversation with Capital One, Ana Barxha CAS ’17

Friday, November 12th, 2021
12:00p – 12:30p
LIVE via Zoom
CLICK HERE to REGISTER

** Want to listen on your own time? All registrants will receive a link to the interview.**

Tell us about yourself. 

My name is Ana Barxha and I’m a first generation immigrant from Albania. My parents won the Visa lottery to immigrate to the United States when I was 5. You’ve heard this story before: They had valued degrees and respected jobs, but they sacrificed it all for the education of their children. We landed in Philadelphia. I started kindergarten soon after, and cried on my first day because I didn’t know English. The immediate adversity as a child taught me the importance of education. I needed to make the sacrifice of my parents “worth it,” and since then, there’s been a voice in the back of my mind pushing me harder and harder. I’m a product of the “American Dream” but can speak to how much of a nightmare it was before my parents were able to achieve it. They worked so, so hard. Multiple minimum wage jobs, scraping by to provide me and my brother with everything so we could focus on school. As tough as it was for them, their efforts provided me with the opportunities I have today, and for that, I will always be thankful. Long story short, I graduated from Penn in 2017. I moved to Arlington to work at Capital One and have been there since.

What surprises you the most about your job?

In all of my roles at Capital One, I’m trusted to take a project and run with it. That was a big surprise at first. During my first year, I remember thinking, “Wait, they want MY opinion on this? They want ME to lead this?!” For example, I worked with our external partners for a launch, and this just so happened to be in the middle of contract negotiations with them. A delicate situation, to say the least. I was anxious about something going wrong. At the end of the day, it was fine, and my managers were evidently right in trusting me. But the imposter syndrome has never really disappeared throughout my career. It still surprises me when projects have big impacts and I’m expected to own that, even though I’ve done it plenty of times. I am thankful that my leadership continues to see potential and gives me the opportunities to achieve my goals.

How does your company mentor first gen professionals? (ie. Organizations, programs, workshops, professional development opportunities, etc.)

Internally, there’s no shortage of growth programs at Capital One, and it’s up to the employee whether they want to take advantage of them. The culture facilitates both formal and informal mentorship opportunities. We have a number of Business Resource Groups (“BRGs”) for underrepresented people. These BRGs host a variety of educational and professional development events, and regularly do mentor-matching. Individual departments will do the same; I launched the Mentorship program in our Partnerships space a couple years ago. Additionally, there are networking events across the different departments to allow people to interact with those they would not normally get a chance to. We have internal resources that span everything from Coding to Communication classes. If you want to learn something, it’s likely that there is an existing resource available. And if there isn’t, you’ll be hard pressed to find a leader that won’t remove obstacles for you to get there and connect you with someone to teach you.

Externally, Capital One partners with nonprofits. One of our partners, Braven, is an organization which seeks to close the education-to-employment gap faced by underrepresented young people, such as first-generation students, students from low-income backgrounds, and students of color.

What unique qualities do you think first gen students bring to the table?

First gen students have many similarities, but I recognize that our backgrounds vary. I say all of this at the risk of generalizing!

First gen students have a unique perspective into the lives of a huge underrepresented part of the population. Take advantage of that perspective and lean into that. I didn’t even realize it was a strength until, during a performance review, I got props for always keeping the customer in mind. A couple years later, I was hired internally for a product strategy role specifically because of that strength. Now, people look to me to make sure we’re thinking through customer needs. I push for empathy, representation, and the customer experience every day. Regardless of the industry you go into, I hope you do that as well because you are uniquely positioned to be a voice for others.

Curious about opportunities at Capital One, check out Capital One’s First Gen Focus Program:

Capital One’s First-Gen Focus is a program that is built on providing supplemental resources to and enhancing the overall knowledge of first year, first generation college students through a semester-long program that teaches skills related to Financial Wellness, Career Readiness and Personal Wellness.  To Learn More, CLICK HERE.

By Ariana Alexander
Ariana Alexander Associate Director, Graduate School Advising Ariana Alexander