Ready, set, CASE!

One of the key takeaways from all my interactions with MBA students and alumni was to make the most of my time here and to manage my time effectively. Through it all: classes, homework, MBA+ project meetings, informational sessions, coffee chats, networking events and some more networking events, I found myself constantly trying to squeeze in that extra half hour to do something different. Three months into the program, I believe I’ve gotten so much better at it, and I’m sure you will too!  So I’m going to pass on what I’ve repeatedly heard on to you – make the most of your time here and manage your time effectively – and while you’re at it, make sure you spare some time for a Case Challenge.

At McCombs, we have five main case challenges during our first semester – the Global Case Challenge, Deloitte Case Challenge, Finance Case Challenge, Operations Case Challenge and the Marketing Case Challenge. They are typically all-night challenges, except for the Finance Case Challenge (so keep your schedules free from ~6pm – 3pm the next day). While the first two challenges are more broad in scope, the latter three are more concentration specific and offer you more insight into typical cases you may encounter in your selected field.

Case challenges are quintessential for those looking to get into consulting. While some may say that they are not interested in pursuing a career in consulting, I strongly believe that everyone in the program, whether they are interested or not, should give it a shot at least once. So far I’ve participated in the Global Business Challenge & the Deloitte Case Challenge, and my experience there has been nothing short of amazing! I’ve not only learned a lot from the topics we were provided and from working in teams under pressure, but also got a chance to network with some of the leading companies that sponsor these events.

Listed below are highlights/tips from my case challenge experiences:

  1. Find your team – They say you’re only as strong as your weakest link. People with diverse backgrounds typically work well in these settings – each person bringing different strengths to the table.  Also make sure they are fun to work with. You’re going to be spending 12 straight hours with them.
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  2. Goodbye Sleep, Hello Caffeine and Candy!
    1. Get TONS of sleep the night before and try not to over commit to anything on the day of.
    2. Stack up on candy!  For those particularly health conscious, save your cheat day for today!
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  3. Reserve a nice spot to crack the case, whether at home, a nice cafe or a study room at Carpenter/Reliant Center, make sure you find a spot that you’re comfortable spending all night at (other than your bed).tumblr_ndrsomiCp11rm4mpho1_500
  4. Book a communication coach: Highly recommend booking two hours of communication coaching before presenting the case. These communication coaches are available 24/7 and need to be reserved beforehand. The first hour should be 3-4 hours after you’ve reviewed the material, brainstormed and formulated a preliminary framework for your presentation idea. The second hour should be 2 hours before you decide to present to effectively deliver your speech.
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Now that you have all of that set up, here’s my insight on how my case challenge nights have wound up.

6:00 pm – Case debrief. Put on your happy face. Meet and greet the sponsor companies. Chit chat with your teammates and other teams.

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Between 8 pm and 7:59 am:

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7:59 am – Last minute to submit! All in one night’s work is now officially submitted. But the best part still remains – the Presentation!

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9:00 am – Put on happy face again. Present confidently. Support your findings. Definitely watch out for the time limit.

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Post Case Challenge: Get some sleep! Tell yourself how amazing the experience was; how much you learned from it; how you’ll never do it again!

 

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Post post case challenge: Sign up for the next Case Challenge!

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This is me with my Finance Case Challenge team. It starts it two weeks! Wish us luck! Till then, stay tuned…

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Posted in Academics, Austin, Full-Time, Student Life

Career and Networking: Leveraging Your Resources!

In a world revolving around “Time is Money”, leaving a paid job to pursue an MBA for two whole years clearly indicates our necessity to up the pace on our existing career graph, or plot a different career point on that graph – be it in terms of industry, function, or even geography.
When I came to McCombs, I knew that this would be the ONE opportunity I would have in a long time to translate my professional passions and talents into a future career. So in the last three months (as that roller-coaster ride called Semester-1 created havoc), it became crucial for me to track my career aspirations. Questioning was natural – do I stay in the technology sphere but move into business development? Or do I find my ‘fit’ in consulting – Google Airplane test, please! What classes do I take? Whom should I be reaching out to? How do I navigate the recruiting process?
The Career Management Cell (CMC) at the McCombs School of Business has provided a carefully drafted map to answer all of those critical questions, and more!  Before the MBA program even started, I received notices asking me to reach out to industry experts (working in my areas of interests) to understand the relevance of their experiences, both from the short and the long-term perspective. Once the program started, the first half of the Texas MBA Orientation led to my introduction to different career paths and opportunities. To know first-hand what daily life is for our alums spread out in different industries and functions is invaluable. Such opportunities have continued in huge numbers as the semester progressed. I personally found both the McCombs and the UT alumni network to be extremely reachable, always ready to guide me to choose the right post-MBA career.

PRO TIP: A pretty cool master tool that you would want to use is MARS. It will generate analytic reports on past recruitment data – basically which company recruits when, how many, and for how much (That’s my Analysis of Data class summed up right there). With the help of online business writing resources, Career counselors and second-year students, I made my CV more role-focused and impact-based and not, well, boring. I had the opportunity to attend the National Black MBA Career Fair in Atlanta this year and in order to prep, I got connected with the communication coaches, who helped me immensely with my introduction pitch, and taught me essentials of networking.

Career resources are spread out everywhere. That’s the great thing about being in a Business School. I cannot even begin to insist how important my interactions with my classmates and peers have been. Some of them have worked for the kind of roles in companies that I aspire to reach. Hearing a friend’s real-world accounts of what’s REALLY out there is the best way to explore these interesting but “uncharted” careers. The second-years who are budding entrepreneurs have time and again told me the importance of the McCombs Texas MBA brand in Texas. All you need to do is reach out to that person and a meet-up converts into an interview for a position created just for you! I think where the MBA has been really useful for me is not just by giving me concrete resources but by giving me the business acumen to identify the factors that will take me to the next level moving forward.

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Posted in Academics, Career, Student Life, Uncategorized

Knowledge Bomb

Mind = Blown

That about sums up my experiences during the first half of my fall semester and the close of final exams. I was told, re-told, and then told again that the first semester is a whirlwind. I was warned that I would have the constant FOMO (fear of missing out) for choosing one event over another that both happen at the same time, on the same day, on the opposite ends of 6th Street. I was told that the workload in Fall 1 (Accounting, Finance, Economics, and Statistics) would be significant. I was shown examples that my 24 hour schedule would be packed with 25 hours of recruiting events, socializing, happy hours, studying, classes, and projects. Even though I was repeatedly told about the rigors of the first semester and prepared as best as I could, I still felt caught off-guard and overwhelmed.

And I’d click the refresh button to experience it all over again in a second.

The people, program, and the city of Austin have all exceeded my greatest expectations of an MBA experience from a top 15 school. I have been able to meet fantastically intelligent people from around all corners of the globe. The professors in the core classes have done an admirable job in preparing all of us with a solid foundation in business principles, especially for a Biology and Chemistry student such as me. Lastly, I have been able to enjoy many of the great things that the city of Austin has to offer, including Rainey St. nightlife, food trucks, Texas football games, free concerts in the park, and amazing weather, just to name a few.

Here are just a few highlights of my first 4 months in Austin:

  • Catching a free summer musical, “Oklahoma!”, in Zilker Park:

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  • Watching the bats fly out into the dusk sky from under the Congress Avenue Bridge:

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  • Being taught by an economics professor that was yelled at by Castro for over an hour:

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  • Learning Finance from a great professor in Clemens Sialm:

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  • Having a fantastic study group that helped me understand that “walking down the demand curve” is not a euphemism and is an actual economic concept:

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  • Attending my first Longhorn football game with my wife:

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  • Experiencing the highs of an all-night business case challenge:

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  • And the lows:

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  • Playing racquetball next to Matthew McConaughey’s Intramural championship photo:

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  • Experiencing all things fried at the Texas State Fair, including deep fried pumpkin pie:

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  • And wrapping a post-finals weekend yelling my first “OU Sucks!” cheer at the Red River Shootout in Dallas:

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All in all, it has been a very memorable first 8 weeks of school. I have looked to make the most of all the incredible things that the McCombs School of Business and the city of Austin has to offer. And while the first 8 weeks have been full of many sleepless nights, I feel energized to begin a new half-semester of classes.

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Posted in Academics, Austin, Full-Time, Student Life

Still Here

Hello again!

I realize it’s been ages since my last blog entry. Sorry about that. Between class, homework, studying, and everything else that makes up my life right now, I haven’t even had time to think about blogging let alone make an entry. I do, however, want to let you know that I’m still in the game. I haven’t dropped out, failed, or gone mad…..yet.

Here’s a little status update so you know where I’m at.

1. I’m still here. Only somewhat sane and slightly cynical but I try to stay mostly optimistic –So what if I have classes 3 weekends in a row, or  3 quizes and homework and a project due for the same weekend?! I don’t need friends, or human interaction….or sunlight. I’ll have knowledge. And nobody can take that away from me.

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2. I’m halfway done with the first semester of year 2. One more semester left before grad! *nervous laughter*

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3. Just had midterms for Managerial Accounting and Business Law & Ethics. *eye twitching*

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4. May have developed a tick *eye still twitching* somewhere along the way…and some random panic attacks.

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5. Still doing freelance work…although I did cut back on my workload.

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6. Still in a state of frustration when I think about midterms and finals for this semester.

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7. My life now consists of studying, working, going to class, and sometimes eating marshmallows in my sweatpants while watching Netflix…because my brain is too fried to do anything else.

netflixing

Other than that, all is well. I can’t believe there’s only one more semester left before grad. I guess time does fly when you’re busy.

Anyways, more to come. Sorry again about the long gap of inactivity on here. Let’s just call that a mental health gap. Just wanted to let you know….I’m still here.

Cheers,

X.

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Posted in Academics, Austin, Executive, Mexico City, Student Life

EMBA Year 2 Kickoff: ALS Ice Bucket Challenge

When I was given the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge, I knew just who to nominate.

Due to some logistical complications on his end, Dr. Burrows wasn’t quite able to respond within the specified 24-hour window.  But he did come through in splendid fashion.

What better way to kick off the second year of the EMBA experience?

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Posted in Executive

Summer School, Part 2: Advocacy

Not long after we began the Executive MBA summer session, I went to lunch with some fellow students.  As we talked about the classes we’ve taken so far, the question came up: Which class so far has made the EMBA experience worth it?  My response: “The one we’re taking right now” – referring to Advocacy.

When it came time to begin choosing electives, a 2014 EMBA strongly urged us to consider taking Advocacy from Dr. John Daly.  Let me be clear, fellow members of the Class of 2015: if you didn’t sign up for this elective, you seriously missed out.  By all means, read his book, but don’t think you will have gotten everything he covered in class; he goes into a lot more detail that isn’t included in the book.  See if the class is offered in the fall or spring, audit it if you must, but find a way to take the class.

The fundamental premise of advocacy is that it is not enough to just have ideas, or even the best idea.  Since ideas don’t implement themselves, somebody has to go to bat for them.  That means navigating corporate politics, identifying key stakeholders and resolving their concerns, recruiting allies.  All this takes an awfully high level of finesse and nuance.  It really seems like successful advocacy is a strange alchemy of equal parts salesmanship and diplomacy.

It was a particular treat to take a class from a professor who is so clearly in to what he does.  There’s a reason Dr. Daly has won every undergraduate teaching award at UT: he’s entertaining, knowledgeable and very much up to date on current events and trends.

The best way I can sum it up: if there were a single class that goes into some detail as to what precisely a leader does, how a leader is supposed to behave, Advocacy would come pretty close.

Posted in Executive

Globetrotting, Penguin spotting, Shark Dodging

Adventures in South Africa Part 1 (The “Fun” Part)

Throwback…errr…Monday- to my international trip to South Africa in April!  What a whirlwind and amazing trip! If you aren’t already aware, part of the MBA program requires that students travel to an international destination to learn about all of the inner workings of the country of choice.  Prior to departure, we research cost, laws, the political and cultural landscape and how it weighs in on our hypothetical company, and “pitch” the business idea to our peers based on industry within the country.  I’m happy to report our pitch went off swimmingly (#nailedit) and why wouldn’t it, we focused on wine and who doesn’t love all the research that is required for an in depth presentation on wine.

But, before descending on Johannesburg to join roughly 30 other Professional MBA students to discover the city, I spent a week exploring Cape Town and all it had to offer with a few of my classmates.  After all, Travel and Leisure did name it the number one travel destination of 2014.  Why not take a little extra time to knock off some bucket list items?

I’ve never jam packed so much business and pleasure into a trip internationally so I’ve done you readers a solid and decided to split my trip up by weeks into two blog posts.  Both weeks were amazing, but for very different reasons, so I hope you’ll come back and read my part 2 when I get around to posting it [so maybe check back in 3 months? ;)]

The country is just absolutely beautiful, and I just had to share, so here goes a basic photographical timeline of my first week gallivanting around South Africa –pic heavy!

Let’s just start at day 3 (after two days of travel): A full day of animals…

We begin the day with a slow boat ride to Duiker (Seal) Island

Duiker1Duiker2

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Seals are fat and lazy. That is all.

Did you know there are penguins in Africa?  The Boulders Penguin Colony in Simons Town is home to the endangered land based African Penguin.  These guys were amazing to watch and so neat to see walking around in their tiny tuxedos on the beach.

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Now let’s get to the baboons. Of all the animals in South Africa to be feared, none are feared worse than the baboon.  Lions? Nah (we’ll get to that later) Sharks? Nah (We’ll also get to that later).  I heard more warnings daily about baboons than any other animal, in the two weeks I was there.  Why?  Because they are crafty as hell.  They are smart, and can open car doors, and are strong and angry little creatures.  They realize that they can spend the day foraging for food, or attack a human carrying a sack and it will most likely contain a chocolate bar or something else that’s going to make it go bonkers and want to attack another human the next day.  We weren’t allowed to have our car windows down when driving slowly because the little buggers LEAP INTO YOUR VEHICLE.  Anyways, behold…the mighty baboon.

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After visiting penguins, we were able to hike a few hours all around the Cape of Good Hope, the Southeastern most point of Africa.  This area is gorgeous, with multiple bluffs overlooking the green and blue waters where the Indian and Atlantic Ocean meet.

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cape point point

What am I pointing at? I dunno. The guide told me to point, so I pointed. I’m assuming it’s Antarctica.

Cape Point 3

The original Cape Point Lighthouse was built in 1859.

Cape point 4

Lounging like seals at the Cape of Good Hope

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Hook ‘em!

On day four, I had the pleasure of hiking one of the eight natural wonders of the world, Table Mountain.  It was easily 100 degrees outside and with no cloud cover.  Most of the hike through the Platteklip Gorge that cuts through the main “table” (aptly named as the mountain is 2 miles of flat surface when you reach the top) is naturally shaded by the bluffs that surround you, but that’s only after hiking for roughly an hour uncovered in the sun.  But it was ABSOLUTELY worth it. Check out those views…

table mountain

Up, Up, Up

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View of Capetown from the top. The gold ring in the top left corner is the stadium where the World Cup was held in 2010.

The next morning we hopped in the car and cruised the coast 2 hours to Gansbaii, some of the best whale and great white viewing in the region.  For a small fee, paid both in South African Rand and life years, you can swim in a small cage, loosely attached to a boat while “qualified” fisherman goad Great White Sharks toward you using chum and large, smelly, fish heads.  Did I mention they throw in a free on-boat lunch? Yum.  Still, it was one of the most unique experiences seeing these misunderstood creatures up close and personal, and as you hear the boat operators speak fondly of these smart animals you develop a great appreciation for them. I sort of fell in love- no, seriously. It’s those Bull sharks you have got to watch out for and luckily we were very far from them…I think.   These pictures were taken from a viewing area at the top of the boat after the actual swimming in the cage.  It’s a completely different rush seeing these things start to circle the boat from yards away, as you try to quiet the Jaws theme that’s playing as background music in your head.

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I’m just gonna take a second here to talk about the best food I had while in South Africa.  It was at a little place called Mariana’s, in the small “crafty” town of Stanford.  The owners grew their herbs in the back yard, and served only 10 tables a day…you arrive when you want, they serve you when they want- what an amazing concept!  The food was outstanding!

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And onward, we drove three hours into the mountains to go on safari.  It was one of the most gorgeous drives I’ve ever been on.  Much of the land is used as vineyards, and we could go an hour without seeing a town.

And finally, the game lodge.  Not much explanation necessary here, just lots of amazing animals in their habitat.   I took about a thousand pictures, but since I’ve already bored you with so many, I’m just dropping in a few.

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Can I pet you?

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What about you in the back?

Point of this entire post is to tell you to try to take a little bit of extra time on your own to visit the country while on your international trip.  You’ll get to see plenty of amazing things while with the group, but there are just some things you won’t see while being shuttled around on a greyhound bus.  Namely, a lion this close.

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Posted in Global Trip, Houston, Uncategorized

Summer School, Part 1: Entrepreneurship…It Ain’t Just For Startups

Summer is upon us.  Most of higher ed actually, you know, takes the summer off.  But for those of us in the Executive MBA program, it generally means it’s time for electives.  Yes, we EMBAs willingly agreed to sacrifice any notion of a full-on summer vacation so that we could attend school.  But classes are generally held only on Saturdays and Sundays, so that makes it okay!

One of the electives I’m taking this summer is New Venture Creation, taught by Dr. Rob Adams.  As the name of the class suggests, it’s all about startups.  I’ll be honest: I didn’t really pursue an MBA to become an entrepreneur.  But it’s an elective, it fit with my very tight schedule, and several members of the Class of 2014 highly recommended the class, so I signed up for it.

I will not mince words.  If you are not game for doing a startup, Dr. Adams will not attempt to persuade you otherwise.  In fact, if you’re only lukewarm on the idea, he might try to talk you out of it.  From day one – which started just as we were completing our final exams from the spring semester, I might add – he made it very clear that the startup world is not for the faint of heart, that anybody looking to start his or her own venture is fighting very long odds.  In fact, since any new venture is far more likely to fail than succeed, his recommended approach to entrepreneurs is to fail fast and fail cheap.  If your idea won’t find any paying customers in the marketplace, Dr. Adams says, you’re far better off finding out as soon as possible.

As we develop our business plan, I’m finding that our MBA skills and general business backgrounds are really put to the test.  You take an idea, start hammering on it to discover if it really has potential, begin sketching out how this company might attract funding, where you anticipate taking it three, four, five or more years down the road.  What kind of prices can you really charge for this product or service?  How will it stack up against the competition?  What kinds of customers will you pursue?  How will you ramp up production?  Finance, marketing, accounting, leadership, hiring decisions – it all comes together.  ”Use your MBA skills,” Dr. Adams said more than once during our weekend marathon.

Moreover, the skills required to become a successful entrepreneur are hardly limited to the startup world.  He pointed out that plenty of people end up becoming “intrapreneurs” – starting some type of new venture within their existing companies.  As it happens, this is precisely the situation I find myself in within the confines of my day job. Developing realistic financial projections, scoping out a marketing plan, determining the type of customer that would be an optimal fit for a new offering – these are high-level business questions, not merely entrepreneurial considerations.  And while it can be heartbreaking to take your pet idea and subject it to a pretty harsh interrogation, it’s for your own good to check your ego and tender feelings at the door and take a cold, clear-eyed assessment of what it will really take for that pet idea to see the light of day.  In other words, not only is New Venture Creation a good way to put me through my paces midway through the program, the class could hardly have come at a more opportune time in my professional life.

So I’m a bit bemused to find tremendous value and unexpected use of a class I hadn’t expected to take in the Executive MBA program.  After a year in the program, this is where the rubber starts to meet the road.

Now, if you’ll excuse me, I have a paper to help write.  And some financial projections to put together.  And a book to finish reading.  And some lectures to listen to online.  And…

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Posted in Executive

Blue and Orange

This blog is not about school. I thought I would write about something else for a change. So here I am, talking about Texas! It is right now the season of Bluebonnets. I have seen those on medians on highways. I have seen those before but something stuck with me this time. The shimmery blues, bright oranges and grass swaying with the wind. The result – this poem. As I wrote this poem it dawned upon me that the number of days in Texas are so few and I know I will terribly miss my home of almost 7 years. Texas was where I landed when I first came from India. But then bigger and better things await! Hook ‘em!

BLUE AND ORANGE

Whizzing along at a speedy seventy
it’s your day of colors and beauty;
you don’t at all seem to mind,
some sizzling salsa to unwind.

You bend once and rise above
forever so joyful, you dearly love,
this fateful game of hide and seek,
you bend some more, then take a peek.

The chase for once interrupted by red
when green’s a go, back to moving ahead;
a short halt, a stretch, some rest
a stealing glance, on the bright and best.

You’re not all blue, there’s your orange mate
it was destined to be, for it is but fate;
your moves coax him to dance along,
right here, right now is to belong,

All’s in place, all’s just perfect today
to unheard livening music you sway,
the fiery ball has been gentle too,
you beam with pride, why wouldn’t you.

The resplendent, invigorating display,
colors galore and fragrant spray;
no one stops but you carry on,
the long, lonely roads you adorn.

(Copyright: Chirali Bhandari, 2014)

I still have a few more things to share before I sign off with my last blog. I was incredibly lucky to be able to attend President Clinton’s speech in person. But that story is for another day. Meanwhile, look around, stop for a while, take in the colors and carry on!

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Posted in Austin, Student Life

Wash-(wow)-ington D.C!

The Washington Monument

The past few weeks have been eventful. For the first half of my spring break I was in Austin. I watched a Shakespeare play, went to a Broadway show ‘Wicked’ playing in Austin (enjoyed every second!), went to the graffiti park (one block from my apartment), spent time with my husband who was visiting me from California and simply relaxed. For the second half of my spring break, I went to Washington D.C. for the Washington Campus Study Program. And yes, I am more than excited to share details about that trip!

It was my first visit to DC and all the narratives I had heard from others, about it being a beautiful city with lots of things to do, were all true! It is definitely one of the most beautiful cities I have been to. The best part is its public transportation system that allowed me to traverse from Point A to Point B without a rental car or taxi. But first let me tell you about the campus study program. It was an opportunity to learn about the public policy making process in the U.S., how the policies are framed, influenced, changed; who are the key players; what challenges they face; why is it difficult to reach a consensus; how does the government function. The speakers were experts in their fields with a long track record of public service.

Main reading hall in the Library of Congress

What stood out for me was how accessible the institutions are to the common man. I went inside the Capitol, saw the Senate Gallery, and attended a voting session in the House. The Supreme Court was equally accessible and open to public and The Library of Congress was one of the most beautiful libraries I have seen so far. I also attended a hearing where Secretary of State John Kerry was reading his opening statement to the Appropriation Committee. All of this was truly phenomenal. Read more ›

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Posted in Academics, Full-Time
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