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Friends Advisory Board Spotlight: Niaz Khan

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Niaz Khan

This article was originally published in our spring 2023 newsletter, View 630'.

Born and raised in St. Louis, Niaz Kahn has been obsessed with the Arch for as long as he can remember.

Today, Kahn is the director of people technology and analytics for Coursera—he’s the company’s sole employee in Missouri—and is a proud member of the Foundation’s Friends Advisory Board (FAB).

The FAB is a group of young, St. Louis professionals charged with raising awareness and funds in support of our mission, and the group hosts the Foundation’s annual Picnic in Your Park benefit, this year happening on June 11. Kahn has been involved in Picnic’s execution since the beginning, helping ensure its success.

We sat down with him to talk about what Gateway Arch National Park means to him and why he supports the Foundation’s mission. 

What inspired you to join the FAB? 

It all stemmed from my childhood, just an obsession with the Arch, with the structure. My family emigrated from Bangladesh to St. Louis; still having family and friends there, we would always get lots of visitors. Every single year people would come to visit us. That was the excuse to get to go Downtown to the Arch and go up the tram, experience the Museum and enjoy the park and the riverfront. So that’s what started it all.

When I was fresh out of college and starting my first professional job, I bought a loft in Downtown West, and at that time I was an avid runner. Every morning I would start my day off with a run, going from 20th and Washington down to the Arch, and during that time, around 2013, I think, I realized that the park grounds were going through the transformation that we enjoy right now. And it got me thinking what else could I do to help support not just the Arch but the overarching area? And it’s just always been in the back of my mind. 

From there, I joined the Regional Business Council’s Leadership 100 program while I was at Commerce Bank, and an opportunity became available to join the [Foundation] board. I jumped on it, I didn’t even think about it, it took seconds or minutes, and two short weeks later I met with Amanda and joined in February of 2021.

“Even though I live in the suburbs now, I still make an effort to see, enjoy and bask in the glory of the park.”

What keeps me passionate about it is being able to share that same lived experience. [As a child] I only had been able to go and enjoy the Arch and park grounds whenever family was in town; that all changed when I moved closer to the Arch, but it hasn’t changed since I moved away from the Downtown area. Even though I live in the suburbs now, I still make an effort to see, enjoy and bask in the glory of the park. My wife works at SLU Hospital, so after I began working fully remote at home, a lot of days I’ll drop her off and then go and watch the sunrise at the park and just meditate, journal and enjoy the sunrise. 

I want to help push people out there and not just have it there for visitors and people passing by. I think it’s something the overall community needs to take advantage of, as well.

What have you enjoyed most during your time as an FAB member? 

The dedication. When I hear Amanda, Alissa and the entire team speak about our Arch and about our park grounds, everyone is so passionate about it, and there’s a genuine interest from them to keep the park alive and to grow it and make it even better. That passion is real. It’s a nice group to be a part of; everyone is just so welcoming. You don’t find that everywhere. The group is bigger than it’s ever been—bigger isn’t always better, but at the same time, it’s people who are not just doing it for the sake of doing it. Everyone has their own ‘why’ around what the Arch means to them and what excites them about it. It’s cool to hear each and every one of their experiences and what they’re trying to accomplish.
It’s also just really cool to be able to do Picnic and help with that. I’ve been able to attend both years. Amanda and Meagan have done an amazing job assembling the volunteers and making things happen from the operational side. 

We learned so much from that first year in the sense of what to do, what not to do. For example, let’s make sure all the sprinklers are turned off! But also it was super hot that day so I appreciated it! Let’s make it more interactive, let’s bring in music, bring in games, let’s include parking, let’s partner with the St. Louis Cardinals. It’s continuously getting better and better. And the picnic baskets are awesome; those alone are worth it. The food is so good, too, from Butler’s Pantry. My wife and I get the deluxe with the most portions, and we just snack on it. 

What do you find most compelling about the Foundation’s mission? 

To me what’s most important, no. 1—when I look at the Arch, I look at it in the sense of—it’s an engineering marvel. There is no other arch in the world that was structured the way it was and when it was. You had engineers and architects and builders defy all odds with only tools. I just find it super inspirational. But no. 2, it has a certain way of welcoming you as you drive in from the east to the west. Not to be cheesy, but yeah, it is the “Gateway to the West”—you aren’t going to be welcomed like this in any other land in any other city. When you’re driving back and you see the Arch, it’s just home. To me it just fills up my heart.