An Owl Leaves the Nest for UVA

The summer after my sophomore year at Rice University, I did research on a math topic called Transportation Theory. Basically what I learned was that I didn’t want to study math the rest of my life. Being halfway through college and having not taken many relevant courses outside my concentration, I didn’t have an option to switch majors, so instead I finished out the math major and supplemented it with some business and statistics classes.

Late my junior year, I received an email from McIntire’s Graduate Admissions about the M.S. in Commerce (MSC), which was specifically for non-business majors, and helped them pivot into a business career—how perfect. I jumped at that opportunity immediately, scheduling a meeting with them to learn more about the program at UVA’s McIntire School of Commerce. After hearing that the Business Analytics (BA) track helps bridge the gap between hard core statistics and managerial decision making, I knew that was the right move for me.

Graduating from Rice in Spring 2016.
Graduating from Rice in Spring 2016.

I played with a few other options, but MSC won out in the end just because of the speed of the program and the promise of real skills. I applied to the April 1 during my senior year and was accepted in May.

The program started in early August, but I drove up from good ol’ McAllen, Texas late July. I wanted to have some time to acclimate before school started. The biggest difference that was immediately obvious between Rice and the University of Virginia (UVA) was the overall set-up. There’s no more safety of an outer loop; the school and the community overlap plenty, and the school is a bit more spread out. One of the first few days I was there, I walked around for like three hours and looked at all the sights like the football stadium, the rec centers, the basketball stadium, and the Rotunda.

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James in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains.

One interesting similarity between the two schools is that UVA has this place called the Corner which is comparable to Rice Village, but way less boujee and easier to get to. It has plenty of restaurants ranging from fast casual to sit down, and some pretty fun bars. I average about two lunches a week there, and sometimes in a pinch I’m able to get small grocery type items if I don’t want to go all the way to Kroger.

The biggest wake-up call came with a change in living arrangements. All four years at Rice, I lived on campus and had a meal plan. Here at UVA, I live at an apartment with three roommates and no meal plan. My roommates and I met on the Facebook page for accepted MSC and M.S. in Accounting students, and we decided to live at a place called the Flats. It’s a great place: only a 10-minute walk to McIntrie, I’ve got my own room and bathroom, and there’s a common area and kitchen.

The toughest parts are: shopping for myself, cleaning up after myself and cooking for myself. Most of the time, I just stick to sandwiches and cereal, but recently I’ve strayed into spaghetti, hamburgers, and mashed potatoes. The good change from Duncan (where I lived on campus) to here is that the laundry arrangement is soooo much better. I no longer have to worry about only 5 out of 20 washers working at any given time or about the dryers never fully drying.

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After a team presentation at McIntire.

As far as the program itself, it is incredibly interesting. It forces to me to develop ways to understand problems and businesses. I am always working in groups, so I’m learning about how other people operate and how to manage group dynamics. Compared to my math major, the work load is a bit higher, but it is rewarding to see how I’ll be able to apply a lot of what I’m learning in the future career.

There is a wide range of classes and professors, all excellent. They want to see you succeed, and it is easy to develop a relationship with them. Within class, attendance is vital, since most of the benefit comes from the conversations about real life instances. This means that the grading in most classes are heavily weighted on participation, which is a blessing or a curse depending on the person. Most professors recognize the difficulty for people to speak up in class, and accommodate to different personality types.

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MSC students on the Corner.

Seeing as one big reason for some to go through the program is to get a job, having a strong career services center is key. At McIntire, Commerce Career Services (CCS) works so hard to put all the students in the best position to get a great entry job. There are periods of class time dedicated to important skills like interviewing, building a resume, and getting set up on CCS websites. They advertise times for one-on-one assistance with anything you might need in your job search. They bring in guest speakers through their huge alumni network. At Rice, a center like this does exist, but they seem to be less proactive. Although definitely go to them if you haven’t already. They really fixed up my resume my junior year before I started applying to schools.

All in all, I’d say the program has definitely been worth it. I feel that I’m more marketable to employers, with both my high-level understanding of math acquired at Rice, and MSC business skills.  The past few months have forced me to get better at communicating to higher-ups in the form of presentations and to my peers through group work. I feel confident that what I’m learning is useful and will be directly transferable on the job.

Go hoos!

-Written by James Kittleman, M.S. in Commerce 2017


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