Archives for Student Life

Schedule, Schedule!

In case you were wondering about planning aspects of your schedule while you are pursuing the MPA, I thought I would give you some input, based on my experience.  

First, when in doubt, talk to your academic advisor. Even though they are super busy, they are very competent, and always make it a point to try and reply to questions, understand your situation and work with you. You can e-mail them, meet with them during their walk-in hours or just schedule an appointment at the front desk of the MPA office. Everyone in the office is great about helping students .

Just don’t do what I did–which was wait ’til the last minute, and then send a million questions over e-mail to my advisor on a Monday morning. But thank goodness for Keri Ledezma, my academic advisor.

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Tax Planning

Professor Singer

Professor Singer

I wanted to talk about a particularly interesting class I am taking this semester, taught by Dr. Stuart Singer, called  ”Tax Planning for Business Entities,” for three reasons:

First, it is unlike any class I have ever taken before because the professor is funny, but the context discussed couldn’t be more serious.

Second, it makes you appreciate the crazy things that professionals have to think about when they undertake any restructuring deals (mergers, acquisitions, etc., etc.).

Third, the class doesn’t have any exams, and you’d think that’s nice, but I’m here to tell you… it’s not. It doesn’t really make a difference in graduate school, everyone. Exam or no exam, classes at this level are super challenging and you have to read a lot if you want to understand concepts talked about in class.

Speaking of concepts, you will get a healthy dose of them in this class, for sure. Taken from Dr. Singer’s syllabus: You can expect to learn topics ranging from “running the tax end of a deal,” to “determining whether it should be taxable or not, costing the variables for the client and identifying+ resolving the principal tax issues involved.”

Dr. Singer has years and years of tax planning experience. So he really takes the class through the practical side of things. We, in return, are expected to (try) to perform at a level equivalent to a professional with 4-5 years under his or her belt.  This is applicable to both the issues we address and the manner in which we do it.  So if a student starts a sentence with,”Like…”, or “Umm…”,  Dr. Singer will ask you, very politely, to start over. Intimidated? Don’t be, because the mood in the class is never dull or gloomy.  I think it’s because Dr. Singer puts students at ease with his sense of humor. His observations and comments make you think and laugh at the same time. Seriously, guys, this class is awesome.

Anyway, I ended up taking it because one of the recruiters during my interviews last semester told me that tax planning is a great area to get some exposure to. He was so right. The learning curve is steep. And, at the risk of sounding like a geek–never has it been quite so enjoyable!

MPA Daily Life: Five Need-to-Know Topics

For this week’s blog post, I thought I should describe some essential parts of daily MPA life. These are things to which you’ll become accustomed very quickly on a daily basis.

  1. MPA Mailboxes: Professors and TAs will return any graded assignments to your mailbox. Mailboxes are located on the fourth floor of CBA in McCombs. There is a room with four cabinets with cubby holes. Each cubby is assigned to one MPA student. It is here that you will find your graded homework, tests and announcements from the MPA Office.
  2. Blackboard: At my undergraduate institution, we had an online platform called eLearning, which professors used to post announcements, readings and assignments for the class. At UT, we use Blackboard. Most professors in the MPA program will use Blackboard to post the class syllabus, additional readings, class notes, practice tests and solutions to assigned homework problems. In my government and not-for-profit accounting class, we even submit homework assignments on blackboard.
  3. Name plate: At the beginning of the fall semester, the MPA Office gave each student a name plate to place in front of his/her seat in class. If there is one piece of advice I can give students, it’s don’t forget your nameplate! Professors usually stipulate in their syllabi that they expect students to have their nameplates for each class. Additionally, some professors will call on students who don’t have their nameplates.
  4. Suit lockers: During recruiting, you will be wearing a suit a lot. Most likely, you will only need it for an event immediately after school or for an interview in the middle of the day. To avoid wearing a suit all day, you can check out suit lockers from the MPA Office. It’s free, and the lockers are conveniently located around the corner from the changing rooms. You only need your UT EID to check out the lockers. They are available for check out between 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. A word of warning: If you don’t return your locker key on time, you will be locked out of the on-campus recruiting system until you return the key or pay a lost key fee. This is the system you will use during recruiting to apply for jobs and schedule interviews.
  5. Bevo Bucks: Many universities have their own version of this type of system where students put money on their student ID cards and use this like a debit card at on campus diners and select area merchants. You will also use Bevo Bucks to print in the main business school computer lab, the Millenium Lab, and in the Perry Castaneda Library.

I hope that by listing these five things you’ll have a better understanding of daily life in the MPA program. Sometimes describing commonplace things like the ones above paints a move vivid picture of what day-to-day to life is like here.

Yummy Sandwiches!

Ok, first things first -  I have been extremely lazy about blogging this semester, for which I apologize!

Anyway, I have been trying to stay a little healthy this semester, going to the gym in the morning and also eating better. The latter is pretty hard for two reasons: First, I love to eat out a lot, and there aren’t a lot of healthy options in that category. Second, cooking is time consuming, and sometimes, I need meals to be convenient. The convenient, economical, healthy meals I have come up with so far are: whole grain cereal in the mornings, yummy odwalla granola bars for a pick-me-up between classes, and yogurt with granola from Prufrocks. And of course, the leftovers of my son’s meals! 

But then the other day, I found a place that has now become my single most convenient, favorite lunch pick-up places ever. It’s on the drag – the NW side of Martin Luther King and Guadalupe, called “Bite Mi”, next to the Vietnamese cafes in the area. Great tasting sandwiches, for a great price ($3.50 for almost a footlong). Plus, they are healthy – they have vegetables and no mayo/dressings. If those are not enough reasons to try one, here is another: the place is run by an entreprenial alum, who built it up from scratch by himself.  I would definitely recommend the Pork Special sandwich, for $3.75. So try one if you get the chance!

Life without a bike

bicyclesTwo key decisions that affect my day-to-day life, decisions about housing and transportation, were made last spring. Before arriving in Austin, my wife and I decided to leave our car with her in Pittsburgh as she finished up school. Knowing that I would be reliant on public transportation, I figured that I wanted to live close to campus. At the time, I had absolutely no concept of Austin’s neighborhoods or geography. So, at the suggestion of an acquaintance, I decided to settle in Hyde Park, a neighborhood just north of campus–two miles from the business school. Naively, I figured that I could walk to campus every day. My first commute to campus, a steamy forty-five minute treck in direct sunlight, taught me what a silly idea that was. While a two-mile walk in the northeast is a quick and easy trek, when you factor in the summer heat and having to navigate a dozen stop-and-go intersections, the same trip in Texas can be torture. The bus quickly became my sole option for transportation.

On weekdays, the bus–Capital Metro and UT shuttle–work really well. The buses along my routes (1M/1L with Capital Metro and the IF bus with UT shuttle) tend to run 8-12 minutes apart during the daytime, and they run pretty regularly. (By the way, UT students can ride all of the local buses for free with a valid student ID.) However, taking the bus at nighttime can be trouble. One night last summer, I emerged from the PCL library around 11 p.m. and ended up waiting an agonizing half hour for the bus to come. On weekends too–if you miss a bus, you can get stuck with a 20 to 30 minute wait. (Quick Tip:  You can check bus and shuttle schedules online at the Capital Metro website.  Outside of rush hour the stop times are usually spot-on. During rush hour, they can be way off).

After a summer of reliance on the bus schedule, my dad was nice enough to give me his old road bike to use for the fall semster. It made a world of difference. If you live within three miles of school, the bicycle commute is the best way to get here. There are lots of small neighborhood roads that snake around campus, which means that you can get to school without having to risk your life riding on a main thoroughfare. Also,with a bike, you can come and go when you want without worrying about finding parking or hitting traffic. If I catch the bus right when it arrives at my bus stop, I can get to the business school in twenty minutes (door-to-door). Usually, it takes longer, between 30 or 45 minutes. By bike, it only takes me 15 minutes to make the ride. 

On the downside, when you ride a bike, you suffer in bad weather. 

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