Spotlight: Omar Ochoa, Former UT Student Body President & Canfield BHP Alum

After coming to UT as a Canfield Business Honors student and becoming the first Mexican-American student to serve as student body president, Omar Ochoa continues to make waves as an alumnus by running his own law firm in his hometown of Edinburg, Texas. 

Omar graduated from UT Austin in 2007 with a Canfield Business Honors undergraduate degree and a Master’s in Professional Accounting (MPA). He later earned his JD from the UT School of Law, where he became the first Latino to serve as Editor-in-Chief of Texas Law Review. Looking back on his experiences at UT, Omar considers his time priceless.

“I always say that some of my fondest memories are from UT,” he said. “The campus life is second to none, the city of Austin is such a great place to be, and the university an enclave within Austin that’s very culturally diverse. Having such a big research university with a great athletic program, great student involvement, and lots of organizations to be a part of is just a very dynamic place where you can really learn who you are and find yourself.”

While serving as the UT student body president in 2005 and 2006, Omar spearheaded a campaign to add another space on campus for students to convene. 

“At the time the student union was the only student space on campus and there really wasn’t a whole lot of spaces for students to build community,” he said, “So we organized a campaign to convince students that (adding a student space) was something that needed to be done and, luckily, they voted for it. Then came the student activity center.”

After earning his undergraduate degree, Omar went on to work for General Motors. He knew, however, that he wanted to be a lawyer, and came back to the forty acres a year later to earn his JD. 

“I had an internship with the general motors in Detroit, Michigan, and it was one of those internships ships that I took on not necessarily because I was looking for a longterm career with General Motors, but it was a great option that came up and I decided to try it out,” he said. “In the process of doing that job I got to know a lot of people there at GM and they offered me a full-time job upon graduation. So, I deferred my admission to UT Law for a year so that I could go work for General Motors. I did that with the idea that maybe I’d forego a legal career in favor of an accounting career and it was a really great job, but I knew I wasn’t going to get rid of the law school bug and that I would regret it if I didn’t go back, so I did and I loved UT Law.”

Omar said his business background from Canfield Business Honors helped him greatly when it came to law school and while practicing. 

“Every time I take on a new corporate client or every time I start a lawsuit where we’re suing a corporate entity, I have to learn all about that business, backward and forwards, financial statements, operations, you name it,” he said. “Being able to have a deep level of business understanding helps me to develop a good strategy for what I’m doing and ultimately serve my client. If I didn’t have that very solid business background from (Canfield) BHP I would not be as good of a lawyer as I am today.”

After law school, Omar went on to work for federal judges and at law firms in various cities, including Kentucky, Dallas, and Houston. Eventually, he found his way back home to the Rio Grande Valley, where he now runs his own practice with offices in Edinburg and McAllen. 

“I have a very special connection to the Rio Grande Valley. I was born and raised here, public school, right. All along the way. My family was very civically involved (growing up) and (they) are still down here,” he said.” I love the Valley and it is a very kind of deep part of my personality and it always has been. So I knew I would make it back here at some point in my career. I just didn’t know when or how.”

Professor Spotlight: Dr. Shefali Patil (MAN 336H)

For both online and in-person classes, Dr. Shefali Patil takes the Canfield Business Honors management curriculum to the next level. Dr. Patil teaches Organizational Behavior (MAN 336H) where she employs her research on decision making and operating in high-risk environments. Her passion for research stemmed from her own honors program at NYU Stern, where she pursued research in her senior year.

After graduating from Stern, Dr. Patil earned her PhD at Wharton at the University of Pennsylvania. Dr. Patil said she wanted to continue her work at a research-driven university. 

“I wanted to start off my junior faculty years at a very strong research-based institution,” she said. “UT was definitely on my list and, luckily for me, they offered me a job.”

Throughout her six years at UT, Dr. Patil has examined various behavioral questions by working with over 15 U.S. law enforcement agencies, the U.S. Army, and emergency medical rescue/healthcare organizations. For the past three years, she has been a professor for Canfield BHP. While introductory management courses are often critiqued for being overly theory-driven, Dr. Patil goes above and beyond in her curriculum development.

“I’ve designed my entire course mostly on cognition and thinking skills and I challenge them to see always the opposite viewpoint– to see both angles and complexify the problem,” she said. (The class) is very much geared towards practicality, whereas I think a lot of research-based professors stick more to research in theory. For me, I just feel that undergrads are going onto different career paths, not necessarily research, so (pure research) is not what they need right now.” 

Dr. Patil said that she often implements significant group work and in-class activities to accomplish this application-based learning. As such, one would imagine that the recent pandemic would complicate things for her. Not one to be discouraged, Dr. Patil has actually used the pandemic to enhance her class. 

“I was actually pleasantly surprised because Zoom has amazing capabilities, especially it’s breakout groups. I have centralized my sheets and activities for students to download and then I’ve pre-assigned their breakout groups for (Zoom) classes,” she said. “Despite (everything) that’s going on with coronavirus, the exciting part is that students are relating everything that I’ve taught them in class to what’s going on in the real world.”

Five Ways to Prioritize Mental Health During Finals Season

Most students would agree that the end of a semester is a particularly hard time. Between last-minute assignments, final exams, and group project deadlines, it’s hard to stay sane, especially when coupled with quarantine. However, summer is just around the corner, and many Canfield BHP students have found ways to prioritize their mental health and stay motivated during finals season. Try out a few (or all!) of these tips and tricks to make the last couple weeks of school just a bit easier to manage.

1. Set a Schedule for Yourself
Many students have found that, because of quarantine, their routines and schedules have flown out the window. Now, more than ever, it’s difficult to focus on schoolwork and maintain the study habits that might be present while on campus. Canfield BHP junior Will Acheampong has found that structuring his days to be more like campus-life

“I know for myself it’s been tough to stay focused and on top of my work just because I’m at home with my parents and there are so many opportunities to not stay focused and really put in my best effort,” Will said. “I’ve been trying to structure my days in that I have certain hours I block off for classes and schoolwork and then other hours I have to do whatever I need to do for myself personally. By (doing this) I’ve been able to structure my life as I would if I had been at school.”

2. Prioritize Your Health and Wellness
This goes hand-in-hand with setting a schedule for yourself. Good nutrition and exercise habits are crucial for health, especially in times when the immune system might need to fight something. Canfield BHP junior Katelyn Anderson said a regular eating and exercise schedule has helped her manage life in quarantine.

“When this whole thing first started (during extended Spring Break), I kind of treated it as a big vacation.. there was no normalcy, no schedule,” she said. “I try to exercise and eat breakfast, lunch, and dinner at the times where those should be eaten to make each day seem similar to the schedule that I had back when I was on campus.”

3. Know When To Take a Break
Finals season is about more than taking exams. It’s also about taking care of yourself– be sure to take some time to yourself and continue to do the things that make you happiest. Canfield BHP freshman Rajit Garg says he’s been staying motivated by making sure he finds time to do things that make him happy as well.

“I try and stay motivated in a few different ways,” he said, “The first one is just by producing music, one of my biggest hobbies. (Music is) something I know I can rely on to take me away from school and work and stuff like that.”

Rajit says he also has been going on runs and spending extra time with his family when he’s feeling stressed. Doing these little things has helped him focus on schoolwork when he needs to, so he doesn’t feel overwhelmed. After all, study breaks are just as important as the grind.

4. Phone a Few Friends
While we might not be able to hang out on campus anymore, it only takes a second to scroll through your contacts and find a few friends to chat with during a much-needed study break. Canfield BHP sophomore Eri Adepoju said she tries to call a few friends a day, so she can keep up with them. She considers connecting with friends just as important as maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

“The transition to having classes online has not been easy for me, but I have been making sure to keep my physical, mental, and emotional health as a priority,” she said. “I make sure I eat three times a day, exercise or dance or move around at least once a day, and text or call my friends at least once a day, just so I’m not isolated.”

5. Take a Minute to Reflect
Of course, these tips might not be for everybody– every student is different, so it’s important to self-reflect and think about what might motivate you personally. Kisara Dang, a Canfield BHP freshman, said her self reflection has helped her manage the feeling of being cooped up at home. For Kisara, she found that using her Google Calendar and running have been the two best ways to stay motivated.

“I’ve been reflecting a lot on what motivates me personally,” she said. “I know if I schedule something in my Google Calendar I’m more likely to get it done, so I’ve been scheduling both work and workouts in my calendar… Running has been really helpful for my mental health. It’s been an escape for me to be able to run instead of sitting inside all day.”

Whether it’s using the G-Cal, going for a quick jog, chatting with a friend, or grabbing a bite to eat between assignments, remember to prioritize your mental health during this time of year and reflect on what motivates you to get through it all. Although it may feel like it, finals won’t last forever!

Canfield BHP Alumni Kevin Curry Discusses His Entrepreneurial Journey

From management consulting to social media marketing to entrepreneurship, Canfield Business Honors Alumni Kevin Curry has a host of experiences under his belt. After graduating from UT Austin in 2004 with degrees in Canfield BHP, Management Information Systems, and Hispanic Studies, Kevin led a career that resulted in the creation of a fitness and nutrition blog unlike any other: Fit Men Cook

While Curry works solely for Fit Men Cook now, it was not always his main gig. The blog began as a side hustle– a way for Curry to document his eating habits and crowdsource ideas on how to live a healthy lifestyle. 

“I was at a point in my life where I really wanted to lose weight and I was tired of spending all this money on personal trainers. I realized that I was tripping up a lot more in the kitchen, so I went to Half Priced Books and bought every single book they had about nutrition and fitness and I just started to just consume the content,” he said. “The stuff that I learned from BHP kicked in– the hustle– and I was thinking, ‘I don’t want to pay for personal training, so maybe I can find a way to crowdsource my diet.’ The idea was to start up a blog and post every single meal I eat and to talk about my whole life transformation. It seemed like the perfect way to get the internet to tell me what to eat for free, but then the reverse happened.” 

Before even beginning this blog, Curry explored management consulting, law, and social media management at KPMG,  Shea & Larocque, Dell, respectively. In the midst of all this, he also spent a year abroad in Ecuador and later earned his master’s degree in Strategic Management and Political Advocacy & Leadership from the Harvard Kennedy School.

“Right out of (undergrad) I went to work with KPMG and I did consulting with them, but I really wanted to do something to help change the world” he said. “I wanted to find a way to combine my public sector interests with my private sector competencies. So I went to grad school in Boston for two years and then I wanted to go into politics or maybe even as something else, like social entrepreneurship.”

Curry’s journey then brought him back to Dallas, where he worked for the city before joining the social media and marketing team at Dell.

“I had a rude awakening and realized that (working for the city) wasn’t something I wanted to do long term. At the same time, I was heavily involved in marketing with some of my friends from grad school and some people I met up in Boston,” he said, “I did this project with them for a hip hop campaign and it went very well. Then, an executive over at Dell saw it and said, ‘Looks like you’re pretty good in this marketing and social media stuff. Would you come and work for us and become the global social media manager for Dell Services?’ and I said yes.”

It was during his time at Dell that Curry began working towards living a healthy lifestyle and had the idea for Fit Men Cook. 

“I just fell in love with (Fit Men Cook). Once I started, I realized there are people out there just like me who are tired of the same boring, bland foods,” he said. “I was just learning and cooking and putting stuff together and people just loved it and learned from it and I began to cultivate a community.”

While he enjoyed working at Dell, Curry felt like something was missing after he found his passion for Fit Men Cook. He said he wanted to create real value for individuals, but he was often too far up the corporate chain to see that value in action, so entrepreneurship was especially appealing.

“I want to be able to make a difference. I want to feel that. I think that’s something many people really crave,” he said. “There was something really special about me posting a recipe that I just made and then having literally somebody in Sweden email me an hour later, ‘Hey, just tried this for dinner. It was great– thank you so much!’ Wow. That shows the power and global impact of social media.”

Curry eventually left Dell and turned down a job opportunity at Google to pursue Fit Men Cook full time. Now, Curry’s Instagram boasts 1.5 million followers and his blog has hundreds of recipes for all to enjoy. His advice for budding entrepreneurs is that there is no perfect time to start a business– it always takes a bit of foresight and a leap of faith.

“There’s not really a perfect time to go ahead and start working on stuff you actually love, but there is a wrong time to start, and that’s when you haven’t prepared. As long as you’re planning for it and you make the necessary adjustments to your life, you have to just go for it,” he said. “You’ve got to bet on yourself and your own dopeness and know that you are dope enough to make it work.”

Curry said that Canfield BHP students come out of undergrad equipped to take entrepreneurial and career risks. When choosing between Google, Dell, and Fit Men Cook, he used his mentor’s words and past experiences to make the best decision for himself.

“Here’s the thing, especially if you’re in (Canfield) BHP, you’ve got to know you’re the cream of the crop and that if this doesn’t work out, you can go and do something else,” he said. “Some of the advice my mentor gave me was, ‘You’ll sit your grandkids down on your knees one day and say, ‘Hey, here’s this thing called Fit Men Cook. Here’s how I (gave) it all up.’ or ‘Here’s how I made it.’ Don’t let your passion be the thing that you look back on and wish you could’ve pursued.” 

Canfield BHP Alum Cybil Zhang Discusses Her Career in Social Impact

For students who are passionate about social impact, Canfield BHP alum Cybil Zhang is a living example that it’s possible to turn your passion into a career. After graduating from UT in 2014 with degrees in Canfield Business Honors and Supply Chain Management, Cybil has had a host of experiences in her career.

Currently, Cybil works as the Social Impact and Strategy Senior Manager at Bumble, but she didn’t start working at Bumble right after earning her undergraduate degree. In fact, she started her post-UT journey working as a consultant.

“I started at Oliver Wyman and was in management consulting,” she said. “At the time, I think I was one of two people from UT who were hired there because they previously mainly recruited at Ivy League schools.”

Although she started her career in consulting, social impact work had always had a place in Cybil’s heart. Part of the allure of Oliver Wyman was that it provided her the opportunity to pursue a social impact fellowship in Zambia.

“I was interested in social impact and social enterprises, but I didn’t know what I would do with it, so I went into consulting, which is a very common decision,” she said. “But I didn’t want to lose sight of what I wanted to do longterm, so part of the appeal was actually the fact that people would leave consulting frequently. For me, that was a reminder to reassess what I wanted to do every couple of years. Beyond that, Oliver Wyman had a nonprofit fellowship program and I took advantage of that. I ended up going to is Zambia for about four months to do a volunteer consulting gig.”

The social impact fellowship was with TechnoServe, a firm that focuses on applying business solutions to poverty-stricken communities. After working in Zambia, Cybil applied for a grant with a friend and launched a solar light pilot in Southern Africa.

“We were primarily in Botswana and in South Africa for six to eight months,” she said. “That was a totally different kind of experience– much less consulting style on much more of an entrepreneurial journey and I loved it.”

When she came back to the United States, Cybil began looking for a new job and landed a position at Bumble, where she currently works as the Social Impact and Strategy Senior Manager. Cybil says her position is best described as a chief of staff to the Bumble COO. 

“I came back to the U.S. and that’s when I joined Bumble, which was like the perfect mix for me– working for a company that is unapologetically mission-oriented and getting to have a dedicated part of my role focused on building (the social impact side) out was really exciting,” she said. “I help focus our giving so that it is connected to our product, our users, and our brand. (I) also help create longterm partnerships, because we want to be able to use our brand to add value to our partners and we can do so much more than just give dollars.”

While Cybil loves her current job, she had no idea she’d end up in her current position when graduating from UT. Her advice for students who might not know what they want to do in their career is to keep passions closeby. 

“Not knowing (where to go in your career) is common. Even now, if you were to ask me, ‘how do you have a social impact career or what does that look like for you next?’ I honestly don’t know. I just think it’s super important to keep it as a part of your life in some capacity, even if it’s not your full-time job. In the example I had with consulting, I always knew I would do this nonprofit fellowship, and it led me to where I am now” she said. “Don’t forget about what you really care about and or become disconnected from your passion. Keeping it close is so important.”