by Rhea Mahato, MBA’16
“Go make us proud,” I heard my mom say as she bid me farewell at the airport. Going to live in a completely new country and pursuing an international MBA was as enthralling as it was intimidating. As my flight landed in Chicago and I looked outside the window, I realized “No going back now.” In India, I thought I was going to live for two years in a small city and I was preparing myself for a hectic two years of academic rigor.
Dream the impossible and plunge in its pursuit. I wanted to be a leader affecting sustainable economic and environmental change in the world. When I was packing to come to the Kelley Full-Time MBA Program, I believed the global exposure and business learning at Kelley would give me the skills to be able to do that after I graduate.
And boy—I was so right.
My leadership journey started right from the minute I walked in these halls.
During the first week of orientation and welcome events, I met my fellow classmates from the most common professional backgrounds to the most bizarre. Just to meet so many people from over 40 countries made me feel like a small speck in big wide world. We started with Me, Inc. and learned that we first need to discover who we are and what we really want, and then train for it accordingly. Being a computer science engineer, all this business talk about strategy, accounting, finance, operations and marketing seemed like talk from another planet altogether. Amidst the myriad group and individual assignments and projects, I picked up the pieces and got a sense of the rigor of the MBA education.
I participated in the events and projects for my Consulting Academy and met corporate representatives over the numerous networking nights. Learning to recruit in a new environment did take me time, I must admit. But with the training I was getting, I learned to make my way through. It did seem pretty daunting in the beginning, but one must keep pushing through. Plunging forward is a life skill I used extensively in other pursuits as well, most memorably when I was training for the Hoosier Half Marathon.
At the end of the first semester, I received the Kelley Values Award for Collaboration amongst the first year class and I was left handsomely amused. The close-knit environment here made me right at home and I felt I had arrived.
Using the knowledge
And then came the mayhem of the student body elections. Our team got elected to represent the MBA Association. Being an international student, I was thrilled to work as the Vice President of Globalization & Inclusion. I was able to participate in important decisions that affected the student life and the different clubs at Kelley. I was so proud to lead the process of facilitating the inclusion of the international students and gearing them up with the right skills. Throughout the year, exchange students came to Kelley from across the world and I had to manage their integration into the Kelley environment in a short period of time. It was, almost comically for me, like a test of how well I was able to live up to the Indian saying, “Atithi Devo Bavah” (Guest is like God). Deciding how to promote diversity in the student body, not just through events but more importantly by helping to break stereotypes, was a big task for me and I believe it gave me the biggest learning opportunities.
Then came the GLOBASE trip. Working for a real-world business halfway across the world in Botswana was an experience I will cherish forever. Unlike the cases I had worked on before with big case studies and clear information, this was a small-scale firm that needed our help immensely and my team had very little to go forward with. Here we were trying to define our own path and our own challenges to solve the problems for our client, even some they didn’t know they had. This was a true test of our knowledge and leadership.
Taking the plunge
Often along the way, I stopped to question a few things happening around me. Trying to understand how this country worked was a herculean task in the beginning. But after participating in the Business & Policy Program in Washington D.C. and being able to meet the congressman from Bloomington, it was a rewarding experience for me. Working amidst students from different schools across the country, I could distinctly appreciate the leadership skills and confidence Kelley instills in us.
When we came back from our summer internships, it was time to pay it forward—helping the new class of MBAs settle in and help them wade through the challenges we were undertaking just a couple of months ago. During my conversations with my mentees, I often reminisced at how much I had learned in the last year working in so many different teams. Before Kelley, working as a scrum master in a Fortune 100 technology firm, I had experienced a flavor of leadership from bottom up in a corporate environment. But here at Kelley, I realized that leading amongst your own peers is actually not easy. Leadership opportunities come in different forms, phases and times—some direct, some indirect. What we need to do is be ready to take the plunge!