2020 Best & Brightest: Layal Zalkout, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

Layal Zalkout

Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University

An SMU student hoping to excel professionally and watch the Dallas Cowboys win a Super Bowl.”

Fun fact about yourself: I had a phobia of flying for many years, but I got over it and am now going to work for an airline full-time.

Hometown: Allen, Texas

High School: Allen High School

Major: Double Major in Finance and Public Policy

Minor: n/a

Favorite Business Course: Business Law

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles During College:

  • Resident Assistant, SMU Service House
  • Organization member of SMU Fem, MSA, O’Neil Center Armentrout Scholars Reading Group
  • Cox BBA Scholar
  • Second Century Scholar
  • James S. Kemper Scholar

Where have you interned during your college career?

  • Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation (JDRF), Development Intern, Chicago, IL
  • American Airlines, Financial Analyst Intern, Fort Worth, Texas

Where will you be working after graduation? American Airlines as a Financial Analyst

What company do you admire the most? The company, or non-profit organization, I admire the most is the Juvenile Diabetes Research Foundation. Interning there allowed me to interact with individuals of purpose, working towards something greater than themselves. The Illinois chapter of JDRF raises over $15 million annually toward research for Type-One diabetes, which I find truly admirable. The company fights for a cure to Type-One, passionately and actively.

Who is your favorite professor? My favorite professor would have to be Ms. Lilliana Hickman-Riggs. I have never met an individual who cared for her students as much as this professor does. Her accounting skills and ability to teach are notable and worth recognizing. She is someone I will always look up to, and I am grateful to have been her student.

What did you enjoy most about your business school? What I enjoyed the most about the SMU Cox School of Business is the endless opportunities it offers to students. Cox truly has it all, including networking events, interview workshops, career coaching, and company connections. It feels amazing to know how recognizable Cox is and how this school makes sure that its students have jobs lined up for post-graduation.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from studying business? Studying business made me realize that a company’s most important asset is its people. While many focus on company profits and business reputations based on numbers, people are the vital components that make everything work.

What advice would you give to a student looking to major in a business-related field? The advice I would give to an aspiring business student is to be confident in your abilities. The classes, networking, and recruitment process can all seem daunting, but with time and experience, the student will be successful. Don’t compare yourself to others. Focus on your skill set and work on yourself.

What has surprised you most about majoring in business? What surprised me the most about majoring in business is the opportunities that follow. I had no idea how valuable my major was until I began internship hunting. Majoring in a business-related field is more beneficial than it may seem, and it will pay off.

Which academic, extracurricular or personal achievement are you most proud of? The achievement I am most proud of is being selected as a James S. Kemper Scholar for high-achieving freshmen interested in pursuing a business career. I was one of the four selected from SMU (16 total nationwide), and we were the first cohort from our school to join the Kemper Scholars Program. This program blessed me with a non-profit internship in Chicago, mentorship, and scholarship that will leave me with little post-graduation debt from SMU. I am eternally grateful to Jerry Fuller and Jenn Merriman who run this program and change the lives of students.

Which classmate do you most admire? A Cox classmate of mine whom I admire is Monica Lee. She is a hard-working student I have known since freshman year, double majoring in Finance and Anthropology. She helps run the Consult Your Community (CYC) chapter on campus, has held leadership positions in Mustang Heroes and Amnesty International, and is overall a service-oriented student. She will be joining J.P. Morgan after graduation. Her hard work and dedication, along with her servant-leader approach, is inspiring.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? A person I would like to thank for my success is Julia McLemore, who graduated from SMU Dedman College in December 2018. Julia has been my rock throughout college, and her advice helped me immensely during my recruitment process. She has been my biggest supporter, and she was an asset to SMU.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? On my professional bucket list, I hope to 1) connect with more individuals, ranging from those who work at Fortune 500 companies to non-profit organizations; and 2) serve as a resource to future SMU students who come after me, once I become an SMU alumna.

What are your hobbies? I enjoy traveling, journaling, watching sports, and exploring new places with friends.

What made Layal such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“Layal Zalkout excels in the classroom, shows complete respect to her peers and faculty, and uses her free time to give back to her community. Layal exhibits a dedicated work ethic. In addition to her internship at American Airlines last summer, she has worked as a resident assistant in the SMU Service House since her sophomore year. Part of her duty is to design reflection programs for students about how to overcome adversity and maintain their mental health. In addition, this year she took a job in SMU’s Department of External Affairs as a program services student worker and front desk receptionist. In the fall, she also served as a teaching assistant for a Cox professor’s Advanced Financial Management class. Somehow in the midst of this busy schedule, she has maintained the strong academic record that earned her a coveted spot as a BBA Scholar as an entering first-year, and then later than same year, enabled her be chosen as a Kemper Scholar, a competitive national scholarship opportunity for high-potential business students.

There’s also something great about a student who was afraid to fly who now works for an airline. If that doesn’t show the transformative power of a degree from SMU Cox, I’m not sure what does. Layal is a shining light in our community, and we will miss her tremendously when she graduates. But we look forward to watching her grow into her career and representing the Cox School well.”

Jim Bryan
Associate Dean
SMU Cox Undergraduate Program





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