Student Spotlight: Catherine Cheng

Majors: Canfield BHP, Finance, Certificate of Computer Science

Company: Evercore Investment Banking – Manhattan

Position: Summer Investment Banking Analyst – Mergers and Acquisitions

Topics of Interest: Finance, Mergers and Acquisitions, and Venture Capital

Class: Senior, Class of 2020

Catherine Cheng is a rising senior who’s excited for her final year in college. Throughout her first three years at UT, she focused on the University Securities Investment Team (USIT) – a finance organization out of the McCombs School of Business where she is the sitting president. Next year, she plans on starting a new internal USIT division focused on market intelligence where the topics of computer and data science will integrate with the more traditional aspects of finance – an integration that she and her peers at USIT have long asked for. Catherine and her team hope to establish this new division at USIT for the benefit of future generations and enable students of all majors to learn and pursue their interests in quantitative finance and data science.

Additionally, Catherine has been an active member of the Genesis Program – a student alumni effort to help student entrepreneurs raise capital at UT – where she currently serves as Due Diligence Partner. Catherine explains that she’s always been interested in finance and more specifically, venture-capital. “That’s basically what my journey has been like here at McCombs. I’m focusing on finance but more specifically, helping student entrepreneurs. Going into senior year, I’m actually really excited to have slightly fewer classes because it means I’m going to have more time to give back to both the finance and entrepreneurship communities.”

When Catherine made her college decision, she wrote an op-ed piece for the student-run publication “FreshU” titled, ‘Why I Rejected MIT’, and if you haven’t already read it, I encourage you to do so. Catherine discusses her reasons for deciding on Canfield BHP at UT versus the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). It’s a wonderfully-refreshing look behind a student’s indecision between two outstanding programs and the process of elimination. I wanted to talk to her about her thoughts behind this piece and more.

I read your article on “FreshU” and thought it was wonderful. Now that your junior year is practically over and you’ve spent three years at UT and Canfield BHP, how do you feel about your decision to come here? What have been your takeaways so far?

This is a question my parents actually ask me a lot because they weren’t the biggest fans of my decision. Of course, I have a deep love for both universities, and I continue to believe both schools are absolutely amazing – that’s why the choice was so difficult for me. At the end of the day, though, my answer has always been that I think coming to UT is one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life. I think the reason why I say that is because I have met a group of incredible people who are passionate about business here and that’s what I came to college to learn more about.

The community aspect has really driven it home for me. Between the team that I found at USIT and Genesis and through the Canfield Business Honors Program, I’ve met so many incredible people who are all doing incredible things that they’re really passionate about. It’s really inspiring and I think that’s the best part about UT. I’ve also had the chance to interact with students studying engineering and computer science through Genesis. Since there are so many students here, it means the opportunities are really endless, and you can go wherever your heart desires. Having the opportunity to be more hands-on with my learning is crucial – whether that’s through extracurriculars or internships.

Austin is also a great place to be because there are so many technical and finance firms around this region. It affords you the opportunity to go work at one of these firms during the semester and start making connections in the community. I’ve met some great mentors along the way simply doing that.

Being honest, though, I haven’t read or thought about the article in a long time. That said, it will still sometimes come up in conversation. I am just happy that others have been inspired to think more about their college decision as a result. I think I made the right decision for me and know my experiences at UT so far reflect that. I found my family in USIT and Genesis, represented McCombs at various national competitions, gave back through research and teaching assistant positions, and have the fortune of pursuing a career I am excited by. The actual reasoning of the article matters less than its more general message – sometimes the best decision isn’t necessarily the easy decision or the one chosen by others.

What did you experience at Discover Canfield BHP that helped push you over the proverbial “edge”?

It was hearing the experiences of current students. I remember a panel event where they featured six current Canfield BHP students from different backgrounds and their experiences at UT. I remember one of the students went to New York Fashion Week as an editor and another went on a cruise for half a year just visiting numerous different countries. It was incredibly refreshing knowing that despite being joined by their interest in business, they were all pursuing different things and driven by different passions and motivations. Canfield BHP has a lot of very diverse people and everyone has their own story, which is something that I have really grown to appreciate.

I also loved being able to meet some of the faculty members. The faculty here is incredibly impressive and I can’t believe we get access to them. Specifically, I remember observing a mock business ethics class ran by Dr. Prentice. Dr. Prentice is incredibly passionate about ethics and business law, areas that I’ve always been interested in, so just hearing him talk about philosophy was really engaging and inspiring.

What aspects of the faculty do you appreciate?

Honestly, there are so many things. For one, they do incredible research. But I think the more important part of it for me is the fact that they care so much about the students. For example, a lot of the Canfield BHP professors will host dinners at their house or come to social events. Professor Konana does that, Dr. Prentice does that, and a lot of other professors do the same thing. I also love that when they’re teaching class, they always try to make it meaningful from an engagement perspective. That’s not to say that they just rely on cold calling people. Instead, they try to inspire discussion about sometimes very controversial or sometimes very tricky subjects to deal with. Everyone’s going to have a different opinion on how a business case should be handled or how an ethics issue should be resolved. Hearing them facilitate these discussions; that’s the reason why I like going to these classes.

On her advice for current students, Catherine encourages students to be open to all opportunities and make sure to evaluate all of them seriously. She explained that any college or major you consider deserves a fair chance to stand on its own. Additionally, she encourages you to “talk to as many people as you can. Whether they’re professors, current students, or alumni, talk to as many people as you can to get their perspective on things and learn from their experiences because often times it’s the people at that particular school that will shape your experience.” Most importantly, she stands by her belief that when it comes to choosing a college or major, it is difficult to make a wrong decision. If you work hard and approach things with enthusiasm and passion, you’ll be a success on whatever path you end up taking.

Catherine will be traveling to New York City over the summer where she’ll be working as a Summer Investment Banking Analyst at Evercore Partners in Manhattan. Interestingly, Catherine is a foodie! She explained that she’s a foodie in the sense that she likes eating food but doesn’t necessarily blog about it. She says, “I’m very excited to go back and just enjoy the city more. Downtime will be limited but I’ll make do.”

Alumni Spotlight: Aaras Shah

Aaras Shah is the Associate Director of Finance at Zeta Charter Schools, an organization whose mission is to build and sustain high-performing schools that forge thriving communities of lifelong learners, problem solvers, and innovators. At Zeta, Aaras leads budgeting, accounting, and financial analysis for the organization. Previously, he worked at Bain & Company as a Senior Associate Consultant where he focused on strategy and cost-work for Fortune 500 clients across a variety of industries. Aaras got his start working with charter schools at KIPP DC as a Strategic Projects Extern supporting their academic team. He graduated from McCombs in 2015 with degrees in Canfield BHP and finance. We caught up with Aaras recently and talked about his experiences at Zeta and how Canfield BHP helped prepare him for his journey.

Tell us a little bit about your current role at Zeta Charter Schools.

Zeta is a startup charter school network in New York City. We opened our first schools this past fall and have a very ambitious growth plan. I came on as the first full-time financial employee to help build our finance function. As part of that, I do everything across the board, from the smallest tasks to helping define our biggest strategic goals. That involves everything from ensuring we have enough money in our bank account and paying our vendors on-time to developing our current year and long-term financial budgets. In real estate – as we look to grow our network – we need to find buildings to accommodate our students, so I’ve been working on a number of real estate deals since I’ve been out here – just generally overseeing all things financially with the organization. Being in a startup, I’m also involved in a variety of different initiatives across the board just because that’s basically how start-ups work. I’ve helped set up our procurement system, developed our data dashboards, assisted with hiring, and even spent time tutoring some of the first graders in math. I basically have the opportunity to help out in many aspects beyond just what my title might imply.

What were/are your inspirations and how did it lead you to where you are today?

Growing up, my family always placed a large emphasis on education. My older sister is also a UT graduate. She went into education for her career and that sparked my interest. While at UT I was involved with Texas Blazers, an organization that worked very closely with a local underprivileged high school. I got to see firsthand some of the disparities in education between my own and others. My interest grew through those experiences, and as I spent my time at Bain – although I didn’t focus on the social impact of education necessarily – I stayed involved through consistent volunteering or pro-bono project work. After a few years at Bain, I had the opportunity to take an externship in that space and that’s how I found myself at KIPP in Washington, DC. There I knew I wanted to jump in full time, both because there was a lot of opportunity and because I felt confident that I could make a difference. I then stumbled upon Zeta, which seemed like a great fit and was actually recommended to me by another former Canfield BHP student. Since I’ve been here, being able to see that we’re making a difference in students’ lives everyday has reaffirmed my interest in working in education long-term.

What do you enjoy most about working for an organization like Zeta Charter Schools?

The most important thing is the mission. That vision is really powerful and inspirational to me and I see plenty of that in what our teachers are doing and in what our school leaders are doing. I think that the opportunity to be working in an organization that’s so focused on such a mission is pretty powerful. Combining that with the team they put together and the level of responsibility that I’ve been able to take on has made it a great role. It’s been an incredible challenge but it’s something that I have felt prepared for thanks in large part to my time spent at Canfield BHP.

How do you think your BHP and Finance degrees from UT aided you in what you are doing?

Tactically, just through the finance coursework, it’s brought me a lot of familiarity with many of the responsibilities that I oversee. When building our budget, I’m reminded by what the power of compounding will do to our expenses over time based on my practice with financial modeling from MIS301 with Professor Konana. Those are some of the basics that I got more tactically. Then, there’s the fact that my job is not just restricted to finance. That’s where having that really strong, general business background has made a huge difference because I can go back to the lessons I learned in BA324 when I’m focused on helping out with hiring, for example. I can think about MIS when helping out with our data dashboards, or operations when I’m thinking about procurement, so having a general business background has just been incredibly valuable. Beyond that – the emphasis on teamwork and team projects – that really drove learning how to communicate with others who may have different priorities than you or different backgrounds. Getting that experience in all of my Canfield BHP classes has been so valuable and relevant to working in this type of role.

Any advice for current students?

It’s easy to get caught up in seeing how everyone seems to have what they’re doing “figured out” so early on. Whether that’s the exact professional interest or even something like getting an internship early, I think that you’ll find that with the skills you’re developing and the relationships you’re creating within Canfield BHP – if you allow yourself to explore what you like – you’re going to be able to make a pretty good career out of it and you’ll be able to make a big impact in whatever it is that you do. Don’t stress out so much about how everyone else has their stuff together because you’re going to do just fine with the education that you’re getting right now.

Student Spotlight: Nivva Emmi


Majors: Canfield BHP, Finance, Pre-Med

Company: Apple

Position: Americas Operations Intern – Austin, TX

Topics of Interest: Healthcare Administration and Management, Mergers and Acquisitions, Mental Health, Biotechnology

Your time in college can be challenging but it can also be a wonderful time of self-exploration. You find out who you are and what you want to achieve during this time. The chance to explore what goals you want to achieve in life and how you can reach them makes these years especially crucial. With access to so many student organizations, it’s easy to find yourself planning about how in the world you’re going to be in so many different places at once and whether or not you have the time to commit to all of them equally. It’s a slippery slope that often leads to burnout and exhaustion. The important thing to remember is that you’re human and your time here is finite. This makes it doubly important that you prioritize what you want to achieve so you can do so with purpose and avoid the pitfalls that come with doing too many things at once.

We caught up with Nivva Emmi recently to talk about this and her aspirations. Between prioritizing goals and also having time to give back to her community in tangible ways, Nivva has dedicated herself to helping other people as much as she can. Nivva is a sophomore (soon to be Junior) majoring in Canfield BHP, Finance, and she’s also Pre-Med. Nivva isn’t just someone who is interested in the world of Canfield BHP, Finance, and Pre-Med as separate categories. Rather, she is someone who is deeply invested in the synergy found between them and the role they play in the lives of others.

She is intrigued, for instance, by how healthcare administration and management, and quality of care is affected when two health institutions merge. “I’m really interested in the merging of healthcare institutions in business and how in the future, business is going to be increasingly more integral.” Nivva believes that mergers between healthcare institutions are going to be increasingly prevalent, especially in the next decade. She adds that she loves being on the healthcare fund of the University Securities Investment team and learning about how all the different pharmaceutical (pharma) and biotech companies are competing in the general market. “Different things like new technologies and new medicines– they’re coming up with how the market perceives that and also how already tied-in business is with medicine in terms of just providing basic health care for patients while also trying to make a profit. It’s a very interesting line that’s being walked.”

How do you walk the line between business and ethics in the healthcare industry? It’s a topic of much debate, especially in today’s political climate on health care, which has spread all over the world. Particularly, developing countries such as India where Nivva explains she has lost so many loved ones to easily preventable diseases and accidents. These experiences have inspired Nivva to eventually pursue medical school where she hopes to solidify her clinical experience and delve into the clinical aspect of healthcare administration. Ultimately, she aspires to become a Chief Medical Officer (CMO) one day.

During our conversation about her goals, a common theme started to emerge. Without taking credit, Nivva talked about the ways she has helped people throughout her involvement in volunteer organizations and how she will continue to help people in the future – even when it doesn’t directly benefit her. Highlighting her volunteer work is a stellar list of student organizations Nivva has been involved with. This includes the Undergraduate Business Council (UBC), Kappa Rho – a pre-med honors society, the Healthcare Fund of the University Securities and Investment Team, External Affairs Committee of the HBA, Texas Spirits, and the Community Service Committee. Recently, Nivva has also served as the Fall Case Chair. Beyond that, Nivva has chaired McCombs Next Top Talent and will be serving as the Vice President of UBC in the fall. In addition, she is also in charge of the President’s round table which takes place on a monthly basis. Nivva is also involved in other smaller projects that she is passionate about and explains why she enjoys helping others, “I was involved in a lot of community service in high school, and not because it looked good on my resume – I know that’s a big reason – but I just really have a passion for turning around and helping people. That’s directly linked to my career goals.”

In some instances, Nivva explained she realized early on she had joined many organizations she wasn’t passionate about and started to feel like they were becoming a chore or work, a feeling that she never wanted to experience about another organization again. Volunteering and giving back is something Nivva is passionate about but she also understands that she is human, “I realize that I have to balance my time. I can’t be in everything.”

On her thoughts regarding how to decide on your priorities in relation to your goals, Nivva mentioned that you need to “have a reason and intention behind all of your actions, have a reason and intention behind the decisions you make and have courage in those decisions. Be malleable and accommodating with whatever you might decide on and understand that your interests and passions might change along the way.”

Witnessing her peers becoming increasingly involved as well and the toll that having too much on your plate can have on one’s psyche, Nivva became somewhat of a mental health advocate. “I do understand that it all sounds very overwhelming. If I weren’t in a good mental place it would be very hard to balance all of the different things that I’m interested in. It’s very ironic because I say all these things but if I’m not taking care of my own mental health, how can I be an advocate for it? It’s something that I had to work through most of my freshman year, especially going to my sophomore year. The biggest thing I took away from that is to not be ashamed of when you are having mental health problems. Realize that it’s completely normal, that everyone is going through these things and then equally; to be vocal about it and reach out when you need help and equally; have good support networks.”

This summer Nivva will be interning with Apple’s Americas Operations team in Austin. She’ll also be studying to do well on her MCAT. To alleviate some of the stresses of studying and work, Nivva looks forward to spending some quality time with her family in Houston on the weekends as well as going to some local music showcases in Austin in her spare time.