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Interview with Swarna and Sara: Our Summer MBA Interns

Posted in Knerds on July 25, 2011 by

Sara Ittelson

This summer, we’re lucky to have Swarna Srinivas from HBS and Sara Ittelson from Stanford GSB working with us as interns in marketing and business development. Whether you’re looking for insights into the MBA experience or thinking about pursuing a career in edtech, this interview will give you some perspective from two women who have hands-on experience in both arenas.

1. Can you tell us a little bit about your background and why you decided to pursue the MBA?

Sara: As a consultant straight out of undergrad I learned a lot about business ‘in-the-trenches’, so by going to business school I wanted to round out any foundations that I may have missed and gain functional exposure that I hadn’t experienced as a consultant. After consulting I worked for Chicago Public Schools implementing performance management processes, so another driver of my pursuit of a MBA was a firm belief that ‘business-thinking’ could dramatically improve our nation’s education system. For me, finding a strong joint-degree program in education where I could meet other similarly driven individuals was a top priority.

Swarna Srinivas

Swarna: I grew up in sunny San Diego and moved out to the east coast when I started college at Harvard. At Harvard, I majored in economics and was actively involved in student government and numerous tutoring-based extracurricular activities. After graduating, I pursued jobs in tech, education, and entrepreneurship. I gained experience working in start ups, incubators, and venture capital before starting business school at HBS.

2. What is the most surprising or unexpected thing about the MBA experience?

Swarna: I have met so many great and extremely talented people. Everyone from your classmates, to your professors, to your career counselor wants to help in any way they can. They offer great advice and make you think hard about your career direction, the impact you want to make, and what’s most important to you.

3. What advice would you have for prospective MBA applicants?

Sara: Find a friend who is applying to law school. Ideally this friend is also your roommate. Then you can study and write essays together. It’ll make up for any deficit in your social life due to application season, without adding any stress that may come from prepping with other MBA hopefuls. If you really want to do it right, agree to go out for cupcakes for every interview or acceptance either of you get!

4. Are there any myths about the admissions process you would like to debunk?

Sara: I think after you’ve shipped off your application the blogs can do more harm than help. Some of the blogs had nonsense about the exact time of day that Derrick Bolton makes his famous calls and applicants posting when they got the call and their location to try and track his telephonic path around the globe. This stuff can make you crazy if you think the magic time has passed. I got my call later in the evening than I’d call a grandparent. That’s a lot of unnecessary angst!

5. You chose Knewton for your summer internship. What about this internship experience appealed to you?

Sara: I sought an MBA program that would allow me to build my knowledge in both business and education, Knewton is right where I want to be at the intersection of these fields using data and analytical thinking to make education more efficient and engaging. Not to mention, as an aspiring edtech entrepreneur, seeing a start-up from the inside is incredibly powerful and our technical team’s openness to educating me is invaluable.

Swarna: I chose Knewton for several reasons. I’ve always been passionate about leveraging technology to build high quality and accessible education. I was aware of Knewton’s great product offerings and strong vision before I started school. It’s been great to be part of a visionary, hard working, team that really wants to change the face of education.

6. The MBA is not for everyone. What kind of people do you think are best suited to pursue a full-time, 2-year MBA program?

Sara: A couple profiles are easy – 1) You want to start your own company while you’re in school. Go build the team, get the expert support, and apply each class directly to your immediate work. 2) You’re a career switcher. Why continue doing what you don’t really like? Instead network like crazy in your target career, and make the most of the summer internship. Otherwise it’s probably a really personal choice. What I have enjoyed most about the full-time, two-year program is the opportunity to really reflect and explore while not being accountable to anyone but myself for making the most of it. And, if you are someone who believes like I do that you will learn immensely from your classmates, being in a program where your classmates aren’t also juggling job expectations is a big advantage.

7. How have you enjoyed living and working in NYC thus far? Discover any favorite neighborhoods?

Sara: I have loved living in NYC. I’ve only been here a couple weeks so a favorite neighborhood may be a little premature but so far I have loved that every neighborhood seems to have a new place to explore around every turn. Even if I committed to not repeating a single destination all summer, I’d barely scratch the surface. And I’m not sure I could give up my daily stop at Oren’s for iced coffee.

Swarna: NYC has been great this summer.  A large portion of my MBA class is in New York for the summer, so it has been great to explore the city together and exchange stories on our summer internships.  In addition, there is a thriving entrepreneurship community here and it has been wonderful to take part and learn from one another.  As for favorite neighborhoods, Knewton has prime location right in Union Square.  It’s been great to explore this area with my co-workers, who have created a diverse list of favorite lunch spots.  Finally, I’m living in Columbus Circle.  Proximity to Central Park, numerous brunch spots, and plenty of cultural attractions makes it my favorite.

8. And now for the best part. Pick one from each pair:

A) MOMA or Metropolitan Museum of Art:

Sara: Met – Just saw Savage Beauty which was amazing.
Swarna: The Met, there is not enough time to see all the great exhibits they have!

B) Magnolia’s or Crumbs:
Sara: Write-in alert! Molly’s Cupcakes in Chicago. See answer #3 above.
Swarna: Tribeca Treats

C) Summer in New York or Christmas in New York:
Sara: Summer. It’s the obligatory answer for a summer intern.
Swarna: Both

D) Gossip Girl or Sex and the City:
Sara: Sex and the City
Swarna: Gossip Girl

E) Dive bars or rooftop bars:
Sara: Rooftop. Preferably with good Belgium beers on tap.
Swarna: Rooftop.

F) Woody Allen or Seinfeld:
Sara: Seinfeld
Swarna: Seinfeld

G) Shake Shack or Corner Bistro:
Sara: I just had Shake Shack for the first time 3 days ago and it was delicious! If this is even a remotely fair match-up then I’m moving Corner Bistro to the top of my list.
Swarna:Sara and I probably have the same answer – we just went to Shake Shack together and loved it.

H) Steve Jobs or Bill Gates:
Sara: Steve Jobs.
Swarna: Bill Gates.

I) The Economist or Bloomberg Businessweek:
Sara: Economist.
Swarna: Economist.

J) Pumps or flats:
Sara: Flats. There’s nothing worse than the “I can’t walk in my own pumps” hobble. Regardless of heel, if you can’t walk to a meeting or through the airport as fast as another coworker, you’re in the wrong shoes.
Swarna: Flats, I was thrilled when ballet flats came into fashion.

K) Kindle or Ipad:
Sara: iPad.
Swarna: iPad.

L) Twitter or YouTube:
Sara: Youtube.
Swarna: Youtube.