The Worst of Times, the Best in People, and Who I Am Today
It was bitterly cold on the evening in January 2020 when Ambika Sahay Verma (M.B.A./M.P.P.A. ’22) arrived in Chicago from the United Kingdom to begin her graduate studies at Illinois Institute of Technology. Despite the freezing temperatures, she says, the energy of the city and the warm welcome she received at Stuart School of Business set an upbeat tone to start her first semester.
Within weeks all was upended by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the accompanying lockdown in Chicago and a switch to online courses at Illinois Tech. Looking back on the abrupt changes and uncertainty, Sahay Verma sums up the experience: “As they say, ‘the worst of times brings out the best in people.’”
“What stood out to me at the time was the determination of our professors to make the most out of the situation,” she recalls. “They spent long hours changing their lesson plans and incorporating the ever-changing current news. In my M.P.P.A. [Master of Public Policy and Administration] classes, the pandemic posed an opportunity for us to analyze new policies and strategies across the world, and our assignments were changed to keep us engaged with the world around us.”
When the fall semester rolled around, Sahay Verma began taking Master of Business Administration courses, the other half of her M.B.A./M.P.P.A. dual-degree program. “Our classes remained online, but our interactions became more open,” she says. “We learned to be more spontaneous and informal, and the virtual classrooms proved to be spaces where we engaged in some of the most thought-provoking discussions.”
Because most classes in her programs are small, she says, “My professors really got to know me, and it allowed me to build stronger relationships with the faculty and my peers.”
Before coming to Stuart, Sahay Verma worked at Jaguar Land Rover in the U.K. on a team implementing the General Data Protection Regulation across the company. “That got me interested in understanding the public sector,” she says. “I also wanted to take on more managerial roles with a long-term career plan of getting to the C-suite of a tech company, so Stuart’s dual-degree program seemed the best way to build the right skill sets to reach my goals. It also helped that this is a business program at a tech-focused school, so I will have a strong analytical base once I graduate.”
“Most of the projects for courses in both the M.B.A. and the M.P.P.A. programs allowed us to pick a current company and work on something that would aid our future careers,” she adds. For example one group project involved analyzing the strategic plan of a nonprofit youth development organization in Chicago, interviewing the nonprofit’s CEO, and then creating a new strategic plan that was used by the organization.
Sahay Verma says that career readiness courses at Stuart played a key role in preparing her for the application and interview process that landed her a summer internship in 2021 at financial software and services company Intuit.
She built on her internship experience in her M.B.A. capstone project course. “I got to create a digital transformation strategy for Intuit, which is where I will be working after graduation as a technical program manager in the cybersecurity, risk, compliance, and fraud prevention unit,” she says. “It gave me a chance to learn more about the organization and connect with a people across the company, not just the team I’ll be working in.”
“The Stuart School gives you a strong base of skills to tackle the global corporate environment,” Sahay Verma adds, as she looks forward to moving to California to launch her career in the Bay Area. “This school has helped shape me into who I am today—a competent professional who has a lot to offer to the world.”
Photo: Ambika Sahay Verma (M.B.A./M.P.P.A. ’22)