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One-on-One with Jorge Christian

January 9th, 2007 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

While some MBA students are working on their tans in tropical locations this winter break, others are searching for that perfect summer internship. One Smith student, however, has already lined up his summer internship and can enjoy the winter break worry free. Jorge Christian is currently vacationing in Puerto Rico but agreed to take some time away from the beach to answer some questions about his internship search.

Blogger: Jorge, where will you be working this summer?

Jorge: In Huron Consulting Group’s Legal Financial Consulting division. The company has not yet assigned me a specific project but said that I would be working in a support role with consulting teams. I hope to learn more about an associate consultant’s day-to-day activities and the firm’s services.

Blogger: You have an impressive resume. You studied accounting as an undergrad at the University of Maryland. You later went to work for Ernst and Young and earned your master’s degree in accounting at Notre Dame. Now you’re back at Maryland for your MBA. With that type of education and experience, you can have your pick of internships. Why did you choose Huron Consulting?

Jorge: I chose Huron for several reasons. First, the numbers are good. Consulting Magazine rated Huron as a top 10 Best Company to work for in 2006, and Huron has been ranked number one on Entrepreneur Magazine’s Hot 100 list for two years in a row. Second, the people are good. Huron emphasizes that employees are the key drivers of the company’s success, and this message comes directly from the CEO. Huron is a mid-size company of about 800 employees, so the CEO’s leadership influences the company and impacts everyone in the firm. Third, Huron is a growing company; there is a lot of potential.

Blogger: It sounds like Huron is a good fit for you. But how did you manage to link up with Huron and promote yourself to the company?

Jorge: Last October I visited the Huron consulting booth at the Career Quest Career Fair at the University of Maryland. Huron specifically targets the University of Maryland for interns, and several Smith alumni work at the firm’s Washington, D.C., office. After the career fair, I went to the D.C. office for some follow-up interviews and also spoke with the Smith student who had interned at Huron last summer. I knew that Huron was where I wanted to be; it was just a matter of making the connection and showing my interest.

Blogger: Your focus paid off. You are one of the first Smith students to find a summer internship. Do you have any advice or suggestions for students still searching for the perfect internship?

Jorge: Finding an internship is time consuming. I attended three career fairs: the National Black MBA Association Career Fair in Atlanta, the National Society of Hispanic MBAs Career Fair in Cincinnati, and the Career Quest Career Fair at the University of Maryland. I approached recruiters at the fairs and saw how they responded to my resume. This experience helped me to evaluate the types of positions to apply for and the experiences in my background to highlight. I realized that to work in the consulting industry, I should leverage my strong financial background and Big 4 public accounting firm experience.

Leveraging previous experience is a must to get good internships. MBAs looking to switch career paths completely should focus their intern search on smaller companies. The internship experience will help career switchers build their resumes and gain relevant experience for the real challenge of finding full-time positions.

I also recommend that students develop contacts, not just to get internships, but also to get full-time positions. I know several second-year students who met recruiters while looking for an internship, and later used those contacts to find a full-time position the following year.

Blogger: Thanks, Jorge, for taking the time to answer these questions. I’m inspired to get back to work on my internship search…just after The Beauty and The Geek marathon ends.

Jorge: No problem! See you end of January.


Party at the Lanes

December 13th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

The year ended with a bowling night, and it was actually fun! We went to this bowling alley in College Park that only had duckpins, which is like mini bowling. Here are some pics:Eduardo with the highest score
bowling shoes center stage

Track 1's Winning Certificate Things get crazy...


And in the News…

November 30th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Two more weeks of classes; the semester is coming to an end. I am already feeling “senioritus” even though I have only been at school for a semester. The days are colder, but my mind is on the summer and where I will work for my internship.

The internship is the all important pinnacle of the first year of business school, because it often leads to a permanent job offer. Even if there is no end-of-summer job offer, or the student finds that the company is not where she wants to work full-time, the type of internship often determines how employers will view a student during the permanent job application process.

During the past couple months, I have attended corporate presentations and job fairs and tweaked my resume. Over the winter break I plan to put my job search into high gear. Second year students are currently in the midst of full-time job interviews, and many of them already have job offers.

I ask one of my second year mentors to describe his every job interview to me in detail. Employers ask him questions such as, “What do you think of the current price of oil and gold?” “How would you determine a discount rate for the company’s new office projects in a third world country?” “What is your opinion on today’s yield curve?” “What do you think about the market?”

Listening to my friend’s descriptions of his interviews gave me an idea for a new type of business class called “Staying Current With the News.” Basically, students would spend the class discussing the day’s news and developing opinions on things like the price of oil and gold. Every class a few students would give some presentations to get the discussions started. The only homework would be to read several newspapers.

I know that staying current on the news and discussing the news are things that MBA students should do on their own without having a professor standing over them. I have a subscription to the Wall Street Journal, which I try to peruse everyday along with the Washington Post and the Financial Times. But in reality, reading and discussing the news are often forgotten in a shuffle of presentations, practice problems, and case studies.

If I were designing the curriculum, I would substitute a news class for the leadership class and instead teach leadership with a week long project in the real world. For example, teams might volunteer on a Habitat for Humanity project or work on a company’s promotional event. Even staged competitions, such as on The Apprentice, could work well to teach students about teamwork and leadership. The week long class would end with a group discussion and written analysis of the week.

A leadership class in the real world would bridge the gap between school and practice; bringing the day’s news into the classroom would be another way to bridge this divide.


Imagine a Leader

November 2nd, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

The first quarter ended last week, and two new classes started, Leadership and Marketing Management. Both classes focus on softer skills, and this is a relief after slogging through Managerial Economics and Financial Accounting for the past seven weeks. I’m curious to see how Professor Henry “Hank” Sims Jr. teaches leadership. As I wrote in an earlier post, the MBA is a life skills degree, and many of these skills cannot be taught in the classroom.

I believe most leaders are born with the charisma and passion to excite and organize, while other leaders learn to lead from experience and circumstance. In some cases, a leader is the person who is willing to take on the most responsibility in a group. And other times leadership is thrust on a person. For example, my friend who was a teacher at Montgomery Blair High School said she became a team leader because she left a meeting to go to the bathroom, and when she came back, everyone else had already elected her. This was a lucky bathroom trip; her leadership experience taught her a lot and helped her get into Harvard for graduate school.

Professor Sims started the first class in an unorthodox fashion by asking everyone to close their eyes and picture the word he said. First he said “elephant,” and I pictured those psychedelic dancing elephants from Dumbo. Then he said “water,” and I pictured dipping my hand in a running stream. Then he said “leader,” and I pictured a male military general.

Surprisingly, only three students (all of them women) pictured a female when Professor Sims said the word leader. One woman pictured herself, another woman pictured President Bush and mentally replaced the President with a generic figure of a female businesswoman, and the third woman, from Holland, pictured Queen Beatrix.

People put forth several interesting theories to explain why only three people envisioned females when asked to picture a leader. One student said that, for him, leaders signified power, and while there are many female leaders, powerful leaders are usually male military or political figures.

Another student said that people usually pictured offices first and then filled in the specific person. For example, when the professor said leader, many students pictured President Bush. If the president were a woman, many more people would have pictured a female. In a similar example, if the professor had asked us to picture a domestic maven, almost everyone would have thought of Martha Stewart. The most famous domestic maven is female, but a man could just as easily be a domestic maven. (There are several of them on the Food Network.)

Another theory put forth was that people expect leaders to be aggressive and assertive, and the words aggressive and assertive bring to mind strong men. An aggressive or assertive woman is more likely to be labeled a bit** than a leader. Some students also mentioned that women have not been allowed to fill leadership positions in the past, so there are fewer female leaders to imagine.

I kept trying to think of a famous female leader to look up to and emulate. The obvious names that came to mind I quickly discounted. I do not share Margaret Thatcher’s hard-nosed political style. Nancy Pelosi, Barbara Boxer, and Cynthia McKinney are strong female leaders, but I dislike the taint of Capitol Hill. Hillary Clinton is another obvious female leader, but she has given up too much to get where she is; I hardly wish to follow in her footsteps.

Carly FiorinaI tried to think of other female leaders throughout history: Cleopatra, Joan of Arc, Queen Elizabeth of England, Catherine the Great, Marie Curie, and Evita. Smith alumnus and former CEO of Hewlett-Packard Carly Fiorina is another female constantly mentioned at Smith. Oprah Winfrey, Mary Kay Ash, and Katherine Graham are other examples of amazing business women.

I decided to do some Internet research and found this great site, World Wide Guide to Women in Leadership, which lists women in political, military, and religious leadership positions around the world. After looking through the site, I realized that there was no excuse for not picturing a well-known female leader. There are powerful female political and military leaders around the world who are aggressive and assertive. Even when societal norms relegated women to the domestic arena, there were exceptional women leading nations, wars, political movements, and research.

The professor spent about an hour on this “imagine a leader” exercise, and as he was questioning each person on his or her thoughts, I decided that the exercise was a waste of time. But after some reflection, I realize that the exercise was actually very useful. Good leaders know themselves well and also recognize their followers’ strengths and weaknesses. The exercise revealed my subconscious bias and ignorance of female leaders. Recognizing these faults is the first step to becoming a better leader and more thoughtful person.


Diversity at a Cost

October 19th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Some female business school applicants worry that MBA programs will be testosterone filled, male dominated environments. Few female students attended the schools I visited, but all of the MBA programs were trying to boost their numbers. One admissions representative said that her school admitted women with only a few years of work experience, because the older women became, the more likely children or other obligations would prevent full-time school. This trend of admitting younger women is part of an overall strategy that business schools are pursuing. In September 2006 the Financial Times published an article describing how business schools across the United States are admitting younger and less experienced candidates to attract more talent.

During my application process, the number of female students at a school was a consideration, but not a deciding factor. I felt a good fit with Smith, and it also happened that Smith had the highest percentage of female students of all the schools I visited. There are about 115 first year full-time students in the Smith MBA program, and about 30% (or ~35) are women. First year students are divided into two tracks, and in my track, there are about 16 women and 40 men.

During the first days of school, I was conscious of being the minority, but I’ve since found that there is little distinction between my female and male classmates. While males dominate the classroom discussion, this is understandable since there are over twice as many males as females. Also, it’s the same six or seven males who consistently make comments in class; there are just as many quiet males as females.

My groups have been a good mix of females and males, and the work and leadership have been divided equally. I worried that as a woman I might become the designated “secretary” in groups, but that hasn’t been the case. And depending on the group dynamics, a female or male may emerge as the natural leader.

The other day I was sitting in Rudy’s (As an aside, this is an area that needs improvement. The business school cafe rarely has any caffeinated tea. Why does it sell six different types of decaffeinated green tea and never any black caffeinated tea? Who has ever heard of pulling an all nighter with green tea? Or getting through Monday morning with an herbal blend?). I was eating some mediocre pasta salad and discussing female groups versus male groups with two female and three male classmates.

Views on the subject were mixed. One student said that he’s had bad luck working with females. Another student said that, based on her work experience, she preferred working with women. The two other guys said that they preferred working in mixed groups. One guy brought up his former company’s Christmas party as an example of a failed all-male project. He said that since the company was majority men at the time, the party was the most boring in the company’s history. A female student pointed out that a mix of genders is needed to balance out characteristics that may become accentuated in all female or all male groups.

I’ve observed that experience, not gender, sets students apart in business school. Students, whether male or female, who studied business as undergraduates or who worked at their former jobs on projects similar to class projects, tend to lead groups and class discussion. From this I conclude that if business schools want to groom future corporate leaders, they are cheating women, and men, by accepting students with one year or less of work experience. Seven weeks into school, I hardly think about being a minority in business school, except for the random moment when I’m sitting at a table full of guys and they start talking about “hot girls.” Then I just have to laugh and think of it as preparation for the boardroom.

[Sidenote: I received my first fan e-mail yesterday. Someone in Massachusetts googled “silicone shoe packets” and my blog came up as the fourth hit down.]


None of Us is as Smart as All of Us*

October 11th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

TestudoI finished my last midterm yesterday. Taking tests again was stressful, and nervous energy coursed through the school all week. Every first year student takes the same classes, so we all went through test hell together. This past week taught me a lot, and I learned that sample tests and study groups are key to doing well on exams.

I have always been a lone studier and viewed group study as a waste of time. As an undergrad I studied theories. The only way to study was to read, memorize, and ponder deep ideas for long hours. Business school is skills driven, so most of the studying is practicing skills through book problems and sample tests. Checking my answers and methods against other people’s answers and methods helped me to learn the material. Several times I didn’t understand how to calculate an answer, even after staring at the answer sheet for ten minutes. Talking through the problem with other students always helped.

Group studying also works well in business school because many people have expertise in class topics. I couldn’t have done well on my accounting test without help from several very time generous accountants. All the engineers know statistics cold, so they are the ones to ask about regression analysis and interaction variables. And previous finance majors walked me through several capital budgeting problems.

Finally, there is the peer pressure of group studying. Studying alone, I could easily put aside the book for a more fun activity, such as watching reruns of Laguna Beach or eating ice cream from the carton while standing in front of the fridge. But in a group I can’t just call it quits after an hour. Other people are depending on me to work with them, and this makes me focus better and longer.

The other challenge I faced this week was finishing my first large group project. The project required three group meetings of two hours, and I spent about 12 more hours completing my section of the project. Luckily my team members were great to work with, so we formed-normed-stormed-and-performed with no problem. But I found group studying more efficient than group project work.

It’s ironic that studying for tests was done better in a group, while the group project could have been done faster individually. Why was group work more effective in one instance than the other? Even the professor seemed to signal that the group project was more about honing group skills than completing a case study, since the project accounted for only 10% of the final grade. Group study or group work, the end result is that my team skills are improving, and that’s what I’m here for.

*Japanese Proverb


Cool Town, Autumn in the City

October 4th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

When you note the seasons by Starbucks’ changing drink menu, you know you need to get out more. I am one of those people who knows its fall because Starbucks recently released its Pumpkin Spice Latte and Maple Macchiato.

Fall is the best season on the east coast; the weather is temperate and the leaves’ changing colors make driving down any state highway a scenic tour. Fall food is something to look forward to: yummy pumpkin pies, hot chocolate with marshmallows, crisp apples, and punkin beer from Dogfish Head brewery in Rehoboth Beach, Delaware. I also have several favorite fall activities, but for the past few weekends, my fall activities have consisted of studying, studying, and studying.

However, let’s do a thought experiment, as Professor Lele frequently asks us to do in statistics class. Imagine that professors suspended all homework, and I had a free Saturday in October. Here are some great fall activities around College Park, Maryland.

Apple Picking
Every fall the Washington Post publishes a list of local farms in Maryland and Virginia that open their orchards to people for apple picking. It’s a fun afternoon outside, searching among the branches for the best apples. Most farms also sell ready made apple pies, apple cider, pumpkins, and miniature squash. And, as added bonuses, there are hay rides and corn mazes. I recently read an article in Slate’s moneybox section hating on pick-your-own-apple farms. The author commented that apple picking is a cherished rite of fall that is also a wasteful scam. Interesting article, but I like to take a simpler view of apple picking: a fun fall activity that is cheaper than a movie for two.

Skyline Drive
Driving down Skyline Drive in Shenandoah National Park is another cherished rite of fall. Skyline Drive runs 105 miles north and south along the crest of the Blue Ridge Mountains and is the only public road through the park. You can enter Shenandoah at four places: Front Royal near Rt. 66 and 340, Thornton Gap at Rt. 211, Swift Run Gap at Rt. 33, and Rockfish Gap at Rt. 64 (also the northern entrance to the Blue Ridge Parkway). It takes about three hours to travel the entire length of the park on a clear day.

University of Maryland Sports
Maryland football games are spirited events. Tailgating starts hours before the game, and everyone wears red or their Terps shirt. Even though I’m not a football fan, I still enjoy the social aspect of the games. You can follow Maryland’s team at the Official Home of the Terrapins. And even before football season ends, the Maryland basketball season begins with Maryland Madness on October 13.

Fall Festivals
Every neighborhood, church, and community center seems to host a fall festival. At the Taste of Georgetown, on October 14, restaurants serve sample food and wine while musicians from Blues Alley entertain with live jazz performances. Adams Morgan Day is another street fair with food, music, and lots of people.

Finally, there’s Halloween, when my inner little devil comes out to play. During the month of October there are Halloween concerts at the Kennedy Center, ghost tours of Washington, D.C., old Town Alexandria graveyard tours, and “haunted” train rides through forests in Wheaton, Maryland. All this culminates in a crazy night in Georgetown when everyone dresses in costume and fills the bars beyond capacity.

Do readers have other suggestions for fall activities in the Washington, D.C. area?


80/20 Rule or the Justification for Happy Hours

September 25th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Full Speed Ahead!There’s a lot of talk in business school about the 80/20 rule. The basic gist of the rule is that 20% of your efforts result in 80% of your results; so focus the majority of your energies on wisely chosen activities. This is something I did not learn until recently. As an undergraduate I read every assignment, attended every class, and wrote the maximum pages for every project. I always wondered how my roommates had so much time for drinking; obviously they already knew about the 80/20 rule.

My husband taught me the 80/20 rule, and I soon started to see its application to most areas of life. In the newspaper, every article contains 80% of the pertinent information in the first paragraph. At work the meat of most projects takes only 20% of my overall time spent on the project. At the grocery store, 80% of what I need to buy is in the produce section and the bakery (as a result of my sweet tooth).

The 80/20 rule is very prevalent in business school, because there are too many activities and too little time. There are classes, homework, group meetings, corporate presentations, job applications, job interviews, club meetings, happy hours, and football games. Then there’s life outside of business school: family, old friends, the grocery store, laundry, and the gym. So time management is key, and I’ve decided to employ the 80/20 rule to get the most out of business school.

The first step is to focus on what I want from business school, which is a good job. The next step is to decide how to get that job over the next two years. During orientation several professionals with MBAs spoke about what to expect from business school; all of them said that employers had never asked for their GPAs. Another speaker, a professor for Smith’s part-time MBA program, advised that getting all As would not land that dream job. And the career management professionals advised leaving GPAs off of resumes. The take away point from this advice is that business school is not all about academics, like many other graduate schools. Does this mean that I never have to go to class or do the homework? (I wish.) No, but it does mean that academics cannot be my only focus.

After graduating from Smith, I will be able to build statistical excel models, do risk analysis, and create financial statements from scratch, but is that all I am paying for? Not really, since I could learn those same things for free on my own, at least according to the Personal MBA. Many people question the MBA and ask if the classroom is really the appropriate place for a professional transformation. Those doubters are correct that people and leadership skills cannot be taught in a classroom, and that is why much of the learning in business school takes place in the student lounge, at happy hours, at employer presentations, and at speaker events. These times outside the classroom teach students how to network, how to persuade and lead people, and how to fit into a business culture while still standing out. This unstructured learning, combined with classroom learning, is what will help me to get a better job than I could have gotten before business school.

My problem before business school was that I had little opportunity to network beyond my small group of friends and coworkers. Most of the people I knew had liberal arts degrees and rarely used quantitative analysis on the job. Smith gives me the opportunity to broaden my circle and way of thinking. Looking at where I came from and where I hope to go, the chasm between is wide and deep. Smith is the narrow bridge that I will use to cross that divide.

According to the 80/20 rule, I need to focus energy on the 20% of my activities that will yield 80% of my job offers. In other words, I need to go to a lot of happy hours. All the law students reading this post should note now that business school is not about getting a degree in partying, but rather in life skills. So the next time I’m out late at the bar, just know it’s for homework.


What Will Classes Be Like?

September 8th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

It’s only the first week of classes, and I already know that business school will be very different from my undergraduate studies. To illustrate, I will describe my first class, “Data, Models & Decisions” taught by Professor Lele. The course title is code for “A** Kicking Excel Modeling and Statistics.” During orientation the second year MBA students all smiled knowingly whenever Shreevardhan Lele’s name came up in conversation. He has a reputation for being tough, and one second year student told me that when she took his class, the average grade on the first test was a 45.

I prepared myself for Professor Lele. I got to class five minutes early and quickly opened a word document on my computer to take notes. My highlighter, black pen, and red pen were at the ready. I had installed the StatPro software on my computer and completed the homework, including an Excel tutorial (given my qualitative background, I rarely used Excel before business school.

As an undergraduate I had a constant hand cramp from hours of note taking in class. So I was shocked when Professor Lele started the class by handing out preprinted class notes. Then he began the first problem, which read:

1. The Sterling Fund and the Taurus Fund are two competing mutual funds. Each invests in exactly two sectors-industrials and utilities.

a. For the most recent quarter, Sterling has a higher (percentage) return on its industrials component than Taurus, while Taurus has a higher return on its utilities component than Sterling. Which fund has a higher overall return?

b. Instead, suppose Sterling has a higher return on its industrials component as well as a higher return on its utilities component than Taurus. Then, which fund has a higher overall return?

The answer to question 1a was obvious; it depends because there is not enough information to say which mutual fund has a higher overall return. The answer to question 1b was not as obvious, and it reminded me of Joe Bloggs and the GMAT. Everyone who did test prep with Princeton Review knows Joe Bloggs. He was the example of an average test taker; the test taker who chose obvious, too simple answers to complicated problems.

At first glance the answer to question 1b appeared to be Sterling, but it seemed too simple. No one in the class was happy choosing Sterling as the answer, but there was no clear reason to answer otherwise. So Professor Lele said we would come back to question 1b, and we moved on to the next question. I silenced my Joe Bloggs radar. After a quick read through of the next question, I began to rethink my decision to return to school for an MBA. Question two read:

2. Consider the annual salaries of 100 executives at a large modern corporation. Of these 100 executives, 50 have an MBA, while 50 do not. 29 Positions are classified as senior executive positions and the remaining 71 as junior executive positions. Among executives with an MBA, the average salary is $158, 172.00 and among executives without an MBA, the average salary is $133,616.00.

Ok, so far so good, although I would have liked to see a bigger difference between the average salaries of MBAs and non-MBAs. The question continued:

Among the junior executives, the average salary of those with an MBA is $120,431, while the average salary of those without an MBA is $124,867. Among the senior executives, the average salary of those with an MBA is $199,058, while the average salary of those without an MBA is $212,360. How is this possible?

As the professor read this last section aloud, rustling and whispering sounds filled the class. By now I was ready to go ask the bursar’s office for a refund. But then Professor Lele asked us to take another look at the question.

As a class we reasoned that since the averages in the problem were weighted, the proportion of employees with MBAs at the senior level was much greater than the corresponding proportion among the senior employees without MBAs. The benefit of having an MBA was getting promoted, not having a higher salary than employees without MBAs. Professor Lele explained that the seeming inconsistencies in the question were examples of Simpson’s Paradox.

While Professor Lele was discussing the second question, I kept thinking back to the first question. I suddenly realized that even though Sterling had a higher return on its industrials component as well as a higher return on its utilities component than Taurus, Simpson’s Paradox made it possible for Sterling to have a lower overall return than Taurus.

In this first class, I learned what business school classes will be like. Professors will ask that I solve problems with my classmates and then independently apply those lessons. My next two years at business school won’t be spent taking notes and memorizing theories. It will be active learning, and I’m looking forward to the next class.


Orientation and the Girl Named Peach

September 4th, 2006 by under Uncategorized. No Comments.

Testudo, our mascotLast week was orientation week for first year MBA students at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. No one wants to make a bad first impression, so students were on their best behavior. I kept waiting (and secretly hoping) for someone to start a fist fight or chew with their mouth open, but no one did. I am now completely convinced that all my classmates are practiced professionals and well-balanced individuals.

Everyone asks the same three questions at orientation: 1) “What’s your name?” 2) “Where have you been?” 3) “Where are you going?” If you plan to attend any orientations in the near future, take detailed notes on the following, and make sure to prepare your own concise answers to all three questions.

“What’s your name?” is a relatively simple question if your name is Joe Smith. Most of the students I met during orientation were not able to give such simple answers. Thirty seven percent of the full-time Smith MBA class is from abroad, and that means many have names difficult for Americans to learn and pronounce. Most international students were kind enough to introduce themselves by their given names and then simplify them. For example, a Chinese student might say, “Hi, my name is Chuntao, but you can call me Peach.” Peach is a great name and so much easier to remember than Chuntao; I picture a big peach in place of this woman’s head and am able to remember her name.

Other foreign students introduced themselves by an American name that they had adopted, whether independently or in English class in their home country. For example, one foreign student introduced himself as Nicholas, which had no relation to his given name. He said that his Chinese English teacher had given him this name. His story reminded me of my high school Spanish class, and my “Spanish name” Irma. If I were to study in Mexico, would my name be Irma? As Shakespeare wrote: “What’s in a name? That which we call a rose by any other word would smell as sweet.” Nicholas must agree with Shakespeare.

The second question, “Where have you been?” consists of two parts. People ask this question to find out what geographical location you came from and what you did before business school. At first I told people that I was from Texas, but then they assumed that I was new to the area. Then I told people I was from Washington, D.C., but then they assumed that I had been spending my Easters rolling eggs down the White House lawn. So I finally settled on a two part response: I grew up in Houston, Texas, but have spent the last eight years living in Washington, D.C. I wasn’t the only one having problems with this question. One student told me that his passport said that he was from Switzerland. This was a mysterious answer that I did not question.

The second half of the “Where have you been?” question has as many pitfalls as the first half. When I answered this question with a short description of my work with asylum seekers at an immigration law firm, most students stared blankly at me. Other students’ jobs were more familiar than mine. I met a pilot, a factory manager, a market researcher, and an electrical engineer at orientation. The factory manager told me that he had supervised manufacturing for several types of products, from the silicone packets in new shoes to small metal pieces in storm windows. I had never thought about the silicone packets in shoe boxes before, but talking with him forced me to consider the construction of every manmade object surrounding me. Even the flimsy paper folder I held at that moment was a livelihood and daily occupation to someone. This thought was too deep for me at eight o’clock in the morning, so I didn’t ponder it for too long, but it did make me appreciate life’s many layers.

The third question people always ask at business school orientation is, “Where are you going?” In other words, what do you plan on doing with your MBA? People never ask this question during undergraduate orientation because they assume that most students have no idea what they will do after graduation. Even though many MBA students have no plan for after school, few will admit it. As I repeatedly told people about my plans to work in commercial banking or corporate finance, I kept thinking, what happens if my plans change? What if I don’t get an internship? What if I don’t get a job? Uncertainty is a huge part of life and business school, and career uncertainties often become career anxieties during orientation. One honest student made me laugh when I asked him what he planned to do with his MBA: “I want to make big money,” he said. That’s one thing we can all say we want to do with our degrees.