International bestselling author Ernie Zelinski once wrote, “Trust not what inspires other members of society to choose as a career. Trust what inspires you.” Feeling impassioned and inspired about one’s work is a dream that many strive for, but it is easier said than done. Going where curiosity leads takes tenacity and a willingness to jump off the deep end. Ariana Lily Nikmanesh ‘18 has made that leap and uses her interests and enthusiasm to forge her path. 

Nikmanesh is an Iranian-American woman born and raised in Colorado. Growing up here, surrounded by sunshine and natural beauty, was profoundly impactful, and no matter where she is in the world, she feels that Colorado will always be her home. As she grew up, Nikmanesh faced expectations for her future career. “I think this pattern is seen in many different cultures, where there is pressure to pursue fields that may appear more prestigious or practical for that culture.” Surrounded by these narratives, she found solace in the Bhagavad Gita’s philosophy: “It is better to live your own destiny imperfectly than to live an imitation of somebody else’s life with perfection.”

When the time for college came, the location and diversity of the CU Denver Business School spoke to Nikmanesh. “I knew I wanted to be somewhere I could learn from diverse perspectives and be near Denver’s action and opportunities.” Inspired by entrepreneurship and driven to cultivate more female representation in business, Nikmanesh pursued a Bachelor of Science in Business Administration degree with a marketing concentration, a political science minor, and a strategic communication certificate. While in school, she embraced her curiosity and explored many paths. This, coupled with her passion for creating positive change, led Nikmanesh to become a Marketing Assistant for the Business Career Connections, a College Council Business School Representative for Student Government, and a Research Assistant for the Director of Management at the Business School. 

At an event hosted by CU Denver, Nikmanesh was introduced to the founder of the National Millennial and Gen Z Community, an organization dedicated to promoting millennial and Gen Z voices while combating generational stereotypes. Nikmanesh quickly got involved, and soon, she became a founding representative tasked with building the organization’s Denver branch and advising prominent organizations including Google, Microsoft, Coca-Cola, the White House, and more.

As an undergrad, Nikmanesh visited Japan as part of the Kakehashi (Building Bridges) Project, which allowed her to collaborate with the Japanese government and businesses. Through this work, she discovered an interest in the intersection of international relations and the business world. “I appreciated witnessing the cultural differences between the two countries and finding that although we had different cultural backgrounds, we were able to collaborate and find solutions to some of the country’s most complex issues.”

“I appreciated witnessing the cultural differences between the two countries and finding that although we had different cultural backgrounds, we were able to collaborate and find solutions to some of the country’s most complex issues.”

Ariana Lily Nikmanesh

This experience inspired Nikmanesh to pursue her Master of Science in Foreign Service degree with a concentration in Global Politics and Security at the Georgetown University Walsh School of Foreign Service. She graduated with graduate certificates in Gender, Peace, and Security and Diplomatic Studies. Like during her undergrad experience, Nikmanesh was incredibly involved while obtaining her Master’s. She served as a Presidential Fellow for the Center for the Study of the Presidency and Congress, a Fellow for the United Nations Graduate Fellows program, a Graduate Intern for the U.S. State Department’s Office of International Media Engagement, a Fellow for the Global Network Initiative, and a Master of Science in Foreign Service Fellow for the Deputy Director of the Master of Science in Foreign Service program. 

Her hard work and dedication would come at a cost, however. “During undergrad, I prioritized work, school, and extracurriculars over my health. The demands of deadlines and academic pressure took precedence, leaving little room for exercise, rest, or just checking in with my body.” Due to her busy lifestyle’s toll on her health, Nikmanesh decided to make a change. She earned her 200-hour Yoga Teacher Certification, and to her, this represents the culmination of personal growth and self-discovery. Nikmanesh not only deepened her understanding of yoga postures and their philosophies but how to live a more balanced lifestyle and support others in achieving one as well. She now preaches the importance of promoting and prioritizing mental and physical health. “Whenever I am asked to speak on panels or interact with students, I always make a point to tell them that no role, amount of money, GPA, or relationship is more important than your own physical, mental, or emotional well-being, and by prioritizing your health, you can perform more impactfully in other important areas of your life.” 

Today, Nikmanesh serves as a Senior Policy Analyst for Salesforce’s Office of Ethical and Humane Use, ensuring the company’s technology improves society and upholds the basic human rights of every human being. Nikmanesh specializes in international human rights due diligence and is the co-creator of Salesforce’s first Artificial Intelligence Acceptable Use Policy where she wrote and implemented company-wide ethical use policies designed to ensure the ethical use of Salesforce AI applications worldwide. 

Mentors from or associated with CU Denver helped guide Nikmanesh through her academic journey and beyond. “I’m deeply grateful for the continuous support of my CU Denver mentors. Their belief in my potential, guidance, and encouragement have been invaluable in my personal and professional development. I am fortunate to have mentors who play a significant role in my journey beyond graduation. Without them, I wouldn’t be where I am today, and I am forever grateful for their unwavering support.”

Last year, Nikmanesh co-created the Center for Asian-Pacific American Women’s Mentorship Program (CAPAW Women’s Mentorship Program), paying forward the guidance she once received. The program helps foster leadership skills among Asian-American women and women of color as a whole. Nikmanesh’s work with CAPAW earned her an invitation to represent the organization at the White House in celebration of Women’s History Month in March of 2024. “It’s truly humbling and rewarding to have played a role in creating a platform that champions women’s advancement across diverse fields.” 

Breaking from expectations and creating new paths isn’t easy, but Ariana Lily Nikmanesh is a testament to the power of curiosity, exploration, and entrepreneurial spirit. From Japan to the White House, she has followed her passions and created a rewarding career legacy and balanced personal life. She continues to help others on their journeys, speaking with current CU Denver students on the importance of mental and physical health and uplifting those around her through mentorship. All around, Nikmanesh embodies the spirit of a lifelong Lynx.

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