Student Spotlight: Aaron Birenbaum

AaronAaron Birenbaum

Position: Corporate Development Summer Analyst

Majors: BHP, Plan II Honors, Finance

Company: Molex, Chicago, Illinois

Topics: Finance, M&A, Corporate Development

Aaron Birenbaum is a fourth-year Business Honors, Plan II Honors, and Finance major. This summer, he interned at Molex in Chicago as a Corporate Development Summer Analyst. “I worked for my company’s mergers and acquisitions group, so most of my job centered around understanding potential targets for my company to acquire. My time was mainly split between researching targets by reading through their earnings reports and market research reports, using Excel to create models with numbers that reflect my research-based hypothesis, and creating slide decks that explain my valuation model as well as qualitative factors that make the target valuable to acquire,” says Birenbaum. “I learned how to research companies, which I never thought would be an important skill. Reading a company’s earnings reports can be intimidating, and it takes practices to pick out the important information. I learned how to quickly create Excel models that serve as a good ‘gut check’ for how you think a company will perform. Additionally, I became much more skilled at creating slide decks, which is more difficult than it sounds.”

Birenbaum’s path to landing his internship was lengthy, but he was well-prepared for it. “The road to my internship was pretty standard, albeit on the long side,” says Birenbaum. “I had a phone interview, Skype interview, and on-site interview in Chicago before receiving my offer. To prepare for my interviews, I studied finance questions commonly found in investment banking interviews and researched potential stocks I would consider buying. Studying turned out to be helpful because, for my second round and much of my third round, the interviewer spent the entire time asking me various valuation questions and principles I learned from Finance 357H.”

Additionally, Birenbaum credits the Business Honors Program and his extracurricular activities with helping to prepare him for his internship. “BHP gave me a lot of the background knowledge I needed to perform my job. While every company has a different way of doing things and a different culture, it helps to have that strong business sense built up though BHP classes to ensure I’m never completely out of my comfort zone. For my job specifically, that background helped me understand the intricacies of a valuation target and how I can accurately reflect those details in my models,” says Birenbaum. “There are two major extracurriculars where I focus my time are Undergraduate Business Council and the UT Student Government Supreme Court. These organizations have helped me understand how I should logically approach problems, breaking them down in ways that make the overall problem easier to tackle.

Set to graduate in the spring, Birenbaum’s advice to younger students is to use the resources at their disposal, especially upperclassmen. “I think younger students too often shy away from asking older students about their job experiences, which is kind of a shame. Underclassmen should know that upperclassmen are happy to explain what they thought about their general career path of their specific companies’ cultures and co-workers. This is especially true in BHP where students work so hard to help each other. So, my advice for students, particularly freshmen, is to not feel nervous about asking for advice,” says Birenbaum. “Additionally, really think hard about why you want to pursue a certain career. People are often unhappy because they chose the wrong career path after being pushed into it by family and friends. You should focus on what you want out of life. “

Student Spotlight: Veena Suthendran

VeenaVeena Suthendran

Position: Data Analytics Intern

Majors: BHP, Management Information Systems

Company: Facebook, San Francisco, California

Topics: Data Analytics, SQL, R Studio, Python

Veena Suthendran is a third-year majoring in Business Honors and Management Information Systems with a certificate in Advanced Statistical Modeling. This summer, she was a Data Analytics Intern at Facebook in San Francisco.

“I worked mainly on the Instagram team, looking at the type of public content Instagram users consume. Amazingly, I got to spend most of my time understanding/researching Instagram influencers, like Ariana Grande and Daquan, who are creating original content for Instagram users. I mainly used SQL to mine data from Facebook’s servers, and R Studio and Python to find patterns, trends, and create visualizations with the data. I learned a lot about data privacy, product ideation, and how to speak to software engineers, designers, and product managers about what the data shows.”

Suthendran found her internship through a combination of hard work and persistence. “I started looking for an internship around October last year, and knew I wanted to experience the tech industry. I went to any information session that any tech companies had on campus. Facebook Austin held an information session at their office, and I heard about the data science position. I applied online and fortunately got an interview. I was flown out to the San Francisco/Menlo Park office where I had 2 rounds.”

Suthendran’s experience not only refined her technical and business skills, but it also helped her learn about corporate culture and personal fulfillment.“After interning at Facebook this summer, I realized that  lifestyle, benefits, and culture really make a difference in my overall happiness and productivity. Facebook’s culture of transparency/community allowed me to have insightful conversations with executives. As an intern, it was amazing to ask questions and hear from all these people I look up to. Also, Facebook promoted a really healthy work life balance. All employees encouraged to go home at a reasonable hour, and performance evaluations aren’t based just on ‘desk time’.”

Suthendran also credits BHP and McCombs’ student organizations with providing an excellent network that helped her pursue her interests. “Honestly, the support I had from my peers who were also BHP/MIS majors really helped me prep for the interview and the internship. The ambiguous/open ended nature of several classes that I had taken – such as Advanced Statistics and Management – taught me how to break down complex problems,” says Suthendran. “At my internship, my team gave me a relatively broad question and asked me to derive analysis, which was very similar to the final project I had done in stats. Also, since a majority of my cohort were math, CS, or statistics majors, my presentation, and communication skills really helped me stand out.”

“Being a part of Texas Convergent also really exposed me to the tech industry, and I was able to meet a lot of students in both the computer science school and McCombs that were interested in emerging technologies and how data was used to shape decision making,” says Suthdendran. She advises other students to get involved and leverage the resources within McCombs to try new things. “I honestly didn’t even think I was interested in the tech industry or data science coming into McCombs. Being open to opportunities that come your way, and trying out a lot of different things, instead of planning out everything is how I fell into Facebook! I think it is important to step outside of your comfort zone and try a different organization or check out an info session that seems interesting.”

Student Spotlight: Rachna Parikh

Rachna

Rachna Parikh

Position: Business Strategist Intern

Majors: BHP, Management Information Systems

Company: Quisitive, Dallas, Texas

Topics: Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, Internet of Things

Rachna Parikh is a third-year Business Honors and Management Information Systems major. This summer, she was the Business Strategist intern on the Emerging Technologies team at Quisitive, a technology consulting firm in Dallas. “My internship experience at Quisitive was amazing. I got the opportunity to work on the emerging technologies team, which meant I got to work with Blockchain, Artificial Intelligence, and Internet of Things and find ways to implement these into industries from accounting to healthcare,” says Parikh. “These technologies used to seem like buzzwords that were so abstract to me, but now they have turned into things that I love to talk with people about, and solidified my passion to work with emerging technology as I move forward in my career.”

When asked about how she found the path to her internship, she revealed that it was an interesting process. “Landing a sophomore internship is no easy feat, and my experience reflects that heavily. In fact, I changed my major from marketing to MIS midway through my sophomore year, which just added to the confusion and difficulty of the situation,” says Parikh. “I found this internship through a lot of research and reaching out to people. I ended up getting my interview and offer from Quisitive during late March/early April. It was honestly because of very, very understanding and generous recruiters and leadership.”

Parikh also asserts that the classroom experience and coursework from BHP helped enhance her internship experience. “Countless topics from BHP classes popped up throughout my internship, but I think the most valuable preparation BHP gave me for this internship was the ability to learn and excel quickly in new areas. BHP coursework can be pretty intimidating, so it requires a lot of focus and adaptability to succeed. That was paralleled closely in my work environment, where I was dealing with foreign subjects and tools that seemed daunting at first. I found myself constantly referring back to the thought of BHP coursework that seemed impossible at first look that I eventually worked through and completed. It reminded me that I was capable of picking up new skills quickly and that I would find a way to work through any challenge that came my way.”

By learning how to quickly adapt and excel in new skills, Parikh has gained a wealth of diverse experience. “There was a moment in my internship where one of my supervisors asked me to create 21 user experience screens in Adobe Xd. I had never heard of that software, I had never done anything minutely related to UX, and none of my mentors were UX designers,” says Parikh — but she didn’t let that stop her. “I took on the challenge knowing that BHP has shown me that I can learn quickly and that this was an opportunity for me to grow. I broke up the task into a few different chunks, planning out how I could potentially be successful at this, and after a week and a half, I had a foundational understanding of UX design principles, the stages of the process, and 21 mockups to review with my supervisors. I was so glad I took on that project even though it didn’t align with my experience, because I ended up loving UX design, and had the opportunity to do even more UX  projects as my internship progressed.”

Parikh challenges fellow students to push boundaries and be unafraid of rejection. “I have realized there is no ‘right way’ to achieve your goals, and boundaries are self-imposed. This revelation came directly from my internship mentor. Knowing that it is possible to thrive in a space that your background doesn’t align with perfectly is proof to me that sometimes you just have to go for what you really want,” says Parikh. “Try not to take rejections too seriously. Last year was a pretty rough recruiting season for me, but I would not trade anything for the experience I got at Quisitive. The entire process just reminds me that eventually, the right company will see your value and be excited to have you.”

Parikh also currently serves as the President of the Honors Business Association (HBA), where she is an integral part of shaping BHP’s culture. “I became president at a pretty dynamic time for BHP, and the biggest lesson I have learned is how incredible the people in this program are. So many students and alumni have reached out to me to see how they could help keep the community strong during a time of so many changes. I feel extremely honored to have gotten to experience firsthand just how incredible the BHP network is, and my goal as President is to let as many students as possible experience that for themselves.”

Finally, Parikh is looking forward to all of the initiatives, events, and work that HBA has planned for this year. “I really wanted to introduce mental health and mentorship to HBA, and the rest of the executive board also has some incredible ideas,” says Parikh. “I cannot wait to see these come to fruition throughout the year. I am really lucky to have such a passionate team working with me, and such a supportive group of faculty members that pushes us to make the organization as successful as possible. Come to HBA meetings!”

Program News: Interview With New BHP Director Andres Almazan

Andres Almazan

Professor Andres Almazan is the new Director of the Business Honors Program. Appointed by Dean Hartzell, Professor Almazan has taught Finance and Economics at the University of Texas at Austin for the past twenty years. As the new Director, Almazan says he is “looking forward to immersing [him]self in the BHP community and sharing very special moments in students’ lives.” Taking over the mantle from Professor Prentice, Professor Almazan demonstrates the same enthusiasm towards starting a new semester. “I feel that I will learn a ton from the students, from the rest of the BHP team, and from the undergrad McCombs community. Having a leadership role in a program like BHP is indeed a once in a lifetime opportunity. I can’t wait for the school year to start!”

Professor Almazan has historically been recognized for his great teaching by graduate schools both here at McCombs and elsewhere. When asked about the differences in teaching undergraduates and graduates, Professor Almazan highlighted compelling points about the advantages he sees in teaching undergraduates. “In both cases, my teaching style and philosophy has been very similar. I always have high expectations about my students’ performance and I think it is fair that they have high expectations about my performance in class,” says Almazan. “I want to establish clear pedagogical objectives, to develop critical thinking, and to offer the students state-of-the-art knowledge of the subject matter. With that being said, undergraduates may have a relative lack of professional experience compared to graduate students. This, however, is amply compensated for by their energy, passion, and ability to learn new ideas with very little preconceptions. Having the opportunity to teach a student relatively early in their life allows me to have a greater impact on the student’s mind.  This is particularly true with subject matter like Finance that requires students to develop new ways of thinking about problems.”

Professor Almazan also believes that the Business Honors Program is successful because of the quality of students enrolled in the program. “Our main strength is having access to a pool of students of superb talent. Our students have the potential to think and behave as the leaders that our firms and our society demand,” says Almazan. “We must do everything in our hands to enhance students’ human capital and ensure that such potential materializes. To accomplish this objective, we must keep doing the many good things that we now do in BHP without losing sight of what is happening in the business world and in society.  Our permanent and long-run challenge is to ensure that we are keeping up with our mission of making our students systematic thinkers, individuals who act with integrity and conscientious leaders.

When asked what he would like students to know about him, Professor Almazan was quick to highlight his personal investment in the well-being of students. “They should know that I care,” says Almazan. “This means that I strongly value the success of the BHP community and fully identify my success as BHP director with the success of the BHP students.  I embrace this responsibility and look forward to giving my best to accomplish what I consider as a very noble goal.”

An interesting fact about Professor Almazan is that he has a multitude of global experience. “When I arrived to the US in 1991, I could spend months without paying attention to what was happening in other parts of the globe,” says Almazan. Now with a background replete in experiences such as teaching in London, presenting at conferences in Amsterdam, Montreal, and Beijing, and being a dual Spanish-American citizen, Professor Almazan is well-aware of what students need to compete on the global stage. “Nowadays, globalization is a reality in business and in everyday life. We recruit, compete and measure our success in the global arena.  We prepare ourselves to address challenges that affect the whole world and should embrace such challenges with passion and an open mind.”

One of Professor Almazan’s major goals of his first year is to engage with students and let them know that he is here for them. “I want to be visible to the students and available as another resource to them. I want to become a familiar figure in the program,” says Almazan. How does he plan on starting? “I will meet freshmen in a kick-off event, teach all sophomores this semester, organize some town-halls for upperclassmen and ensure that all students can visit me if they wish to do so. I plan on having an open door policy in my office — to be frank, this will be the policy even after the first year.  I want to know what is going on in students’ experience in BHP and I want students themselves to talk to me about it. Of course, I will also be delighted to participate in students’ initiatives and events. In fact, I would like take this opportunity to invite the students to visit me and to ask students to invite me to their activities as well.”

Finally, Professor Almazan has a unique and ambitious long-term vision for the Business Honors Program. “Technology is playing a more crucial role every day. We can seize this opportunity to be more interdisciplinary without losing any of our current strengths. It is paramount that we keep the special character of BHP, a program that produces visionary business leaders who act with integrity.  If we do our job, we will be among the top business programs in the world, and we aspire to be second to none. Since I see no ceiling in the achievements that our students can reach, I set my expectations accordingly. I firmly believe that the sky is the limit.”

Student Spotlight: Callie Blumenfeld

CallieCallie Blumenfeld is this year’s Make-A-Mark campaign chairperson. “The Make-A-Mark campaign is a fundraising campaign used to promote involvement as an alumni before students even leave the university,” says Blumenfeld. “The program encourages graduating BHP seniors to donate to the program or scholarship endowment to start giving back to the university and elicit greater involvement.” Blumenfeld, who will graduate this spring with degrees from BHP and Marketing, helped the Make-A-Mark campaign fundraise over $50,000.

As the chairperson for the committee, Blumenfeld was able to combine her love for the program with her talent for logistics and planning. “I decided to get involved because I love BHP and it has given me so much, and I was so excited to have a chance to give back. BHP has allowed me access to some of the best and brightest students and professors in the nation, which has really opened my mind and challenged me in incredible ways,” says Blumenfeld. “I also love planning events and interacting with staff and my class members, so it was a great experience overall. The most rewarding part was actually hitting our goal and receiving an extra donation on top of that. Knowing that I was a part of bringing in so much money to the program to help make it even more amazing in the future is wonderful.”

Blumenfeld and her team used innovative strategies to help meet and exceed their fundraising goal. “This year, the Make-A-Mark campaign was able to raise over $50,000 for the scholarship and program endowments for BHP. With over $20,000 in student donations, the campaign was a success! We played around this year with making the campaign a month long instead of the traditional two weeks, and while it was a stressful month of work, I am so happy that we were able to meet our goal and give back so much to this program,” says Blumenfeld. “The campaign will directly impact current BHP students through the program endowment, which provides funds for a variety of different events that BHP hosts throughout the year that students attend for free. In addition, the program will benefit future BHP students through the scholarship endowment, which provides scholarship money to incredible students!”

After graduation, Blumenfeld will be in Houston, Texas working as a business analyst for McKinsey & Company, a global strategy and management consulting firm. Her advice to current and incoming students is to live in the moment.  “Be conscious of the fact that college is only four years. It may seem like a lifetime at the start, and in some very stressful moments you may want it to be over with. Once you get to the finish line, though, you’ll wish that you went to that professor dinner to really interact and take advantage of the moment, that you stayed longer at group project meetings to really get to meet your classmates, or that you attended every football game. Sometimes, school feels overwhelming and it feels like a bad grade can make or break you, but in the grand scheme of things, what you’ll remember from college will be the late nights and long talks with friends. Take it from one sappy senior: college goes by in the blink of an eye. Enjoy it.”