2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Swati Patel, Rice University (Jones)

Swati Patel    

Jones Graduate School of Business, Rice University

“Dedicated to science. Determined to influence. Driven by inspiration. I dare to break limits.”

Hometown: North Brunswick, New Jersey

Fun fact about yourself: English is my third language. Although I was born in Queens, NY, my parents had to send me to live with my grandma in Rasnol, a small village in India. I was raised by my grandmother for a few years until my parents were able to make a proper living and bring me back. So, I ended up learning Gujarati and Hindi as my first languages. When I returned to the United States, around age six, I had no knowledge of English and was put in ESL for a couple of years. Eventually, I surpassed the language barrier, quickly picked up English, and was placed in Honors English for the rest of middle school and high school life. I’ve always had a passion for learning languages and pursued Spanish until AP Spanish and took up to intermediate Japanese in high school. In the future, I hope to fortify my Spanish and Japanese skills so that I can communicate with others in five different languages.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  1. Rutgers State University, B.S in Astrophysics, Minor in Asian Studies, 2014
  2. Rice University, M.S. in Space Studies, Aerospace Engineering Concentration, 2019
  3. Rice University, MBA, 2019

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? C2 Education, Assistant Center Director

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? The Boeing Company, Active Thermal Control Systems Engineer Intern for the International Space Station

Where will you be working after graduation? The Boeing Company, Spacecraft Operations for Boeing Defense, Space, and Security.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I have community work that I do but it’s not specifically for business school. My Boeing team organizes a monthly volunteer session at Loaves and Fishes downtown. Otherwise, I have volunteered at the Houston Food Bank and Baker Ripley shelters during Hurricane Harvey. As for leadership roles, I’m on the Jones Student Association as Partio Chair (explained in the next question) and on the Boeing Women in Leadership Communications Committee.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Partio may sound a little silly as it stands for party on the patio. But like anything in business school, it’s not about a single isolated event but the whole picture. Partios are more than a simple, average social gathering for the MBAs at Rice Business. They are part of a tradition that’s lasted through every class and is the glue that brings the small class size together to build a true Rice Business family.

My main goal as Partio chair is to encourage a more collaborative and open environment among the students to enhance the MBA experience and build stronger networking bonds. Learning from previous years, I saw Partio as more of a free food/drinks area where people can hang out with their friends and families. However, I noticed that there was a significant drop of attendees and lack of excitement around the parties as the year went by. Moreover, everyone was segregated into either teams, sections, or years. As a graduate student at Rice, I also saw the massive divide between the Jones School and “Big” Rice. So overall, I tried to collaborate more with organizations on campus and with internal club sponsorships. I also tried to make Partios more fun and memorable so that more of the students would come and join, whether it was for a variety of food, better drink options, or just a fun email. This also created a willing environment to network and get to know other classmates. Some of my proudest Partios are:

  1. The First ever JSAP/JSA/EMBA Mixer on a Friday. I organized this mixer with EMBA, hoping to expose the full-time class to EMBA “knowledge” aka their experience and advice. It was the first collaboration between all three MBA programs and will continue to happen (in bigger and better ways) after I leave.
  2. Rice Business Plan Competition Partio in collaboration with the Graduate Student Association and Rice Alliance. It was a good effort to lay the groundwork for future events to encourage MBAs to network with Big Rice since all of Rice is huge on entrepreneurship. It was a pretty good turnout with pitches from a mix of MBAs, graduate students, and even undergraduates. It helps foster stronger relationships and collaborations within the entire university.
  3. I’ve helped organize several company-sponsored Partios including Accenture, McKinsey and Phillips 66. These Partios were mainly targeted to allow for a social networking opportunity in a more relaxed environment while bolstering Rice’s relationship with the prospective companies.

My next goal is to get clubs to be more open and collaborative with each other. I’m hoping to do themed events or joint events so that it fosters teamwork and raises camaraderie among the students/clubs

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It is difficult for me to isolate one achievement that is my proudest moment because I feel proud, of myself and my coworkers, going into work and help to sustain the capability and safety of the International Space Station every day, furthering the boundaries of space exploration, and expanding the envelope of scientific knowledge. Over the past year and a half, I have worked as an Active Thermal Control Systems Engineer Intern at Boeing, where I have gained intimate knowledge of ECLSS hardware requirements and verification, specifically working on International Space Station (ISS) systems.  Specifically, I have helped manage requirements development, verification and exceptions for payloads, coordinated with matrix organizations and vendors to fulfill requirements, and conducted thermal testing and analysis.

My position requires a lot more communication skills and research needs, especially when problems regarding the ISS thermal systems or Express Racks arise. It’s been an incredible opportunity to help solve problems, work on the hardware, and learn about people’s experiences and more. I was able to listen to the astronauts, like my idol Peggy Whitson, directly while they did Extravehicular Activities (spacewalks). As a NASA contractor, it’s been a great opportunity to network with a variety of NASA professionals, astronauts, and Boeing leaders. I was even selected to represent Rice and Boeing at the Clearlake Chamber of Commerce with George P. Bush, Texas Land Commissioner.

Overall, I am aware I did not answer the question with one instance but if I have learned anything during my time in the Active Thermal Control Systems Team and the MBA program is that teamwork is everything and anything. Even if I helped reduce the risk of a problem, such as a leak or a malfunction, there was always a mentor or a teammate to guide and back me up so my greatest achievement is being part of the team’s greatest achievements.

What was your favorite MBA Course? My favorite MBA course was Business-Government Relations. This may be expected, as my field is heavily associated with the government, but I was actually surprised at how much I learned about the importance of business models in this class. First, being in the space operations field, the government is heavily tied to my career and so it was important to understand the policies and political behavior around businesses’ interactions with the government. The biggest insight, however, was that great ideas are only as good as their ability to implement them. This requires having a sound business model so that they can be adopted by the market. This concept is so critical and it was interesting to see how the government plays a huge part in the success of many businesses.

Why did you choose this business school? Rice University was attractive to me as a student because of its dual degree opportunity, small class size, and location. This was the perfect program for me as it catered to my unique interests in space operations and the business world. I was able to fortify my science and engineering skills while gaining invaluable business insights. Moreover, coming from a huge state university, I really wanted a small class size. The small class size provided an intimate learning environment, personal attention, and great exposure to the professional world. Overall, this program was a great compliment to my scientific skills to set me up for long-term business success.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? My advice would be to be yourself and embrace knowledge. Be yourself might be a cliché piece of advice, but it is the most essential and forgotten part of a journey, especially through a career. There are so many diverse opportunities at Rice University that following your passion will carve the best possible path for yourself. Authenticity is important because the intimate interactions you will get with professors, students, and other professionals. In terms of academics, I’ve learned, and appreciated, that Rice University’s MBA program is designed to prepare its students for the actual application of skills, not just feeding information. Rice is very focused on not only taking data and information but analyzing and understand its implications. Therefore, it’s necessary that the applicant focus on the whys and how’s, and not just the what’s to get the most benefit out of the program.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? Coming from a physics-heavy background, I admit that I did not realize how much of a challenge the MBA program would be. The first year was much more difficult than I had expected, and I gained a lot more respect for other MBA students. Moreover, I was forced to get out of my comfort zone during this program, for which I am extremely grateful. During the communications class, I had to surpass my fear of public speaking and share my personal stories as a professional development success story. Even with my quantitative skills, I found some classes to be quite challenging. For example, accounting is very technical, tedious, and tough without prior experience. Nonetheless, it was an essential course to being a business savvy person with a deeper understanding of the company’s performance. Two years ago, I wish I had been a little more prepared mentally for the challenges of the MBA program.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Apart from academics, business school has also exposed to me a lot of professionals, fields, and career opportunities. I’ve built some amazing relationships with my colleagues and professors that I hope will stick with me for a long time. I have expanded my tightly-focused goals from astrophysics research to a broader range of career paths, such as commercial space, space ops, project management, intelligence work, etc. Most of all, business school has made me realize my potential for being a leader. Whether at work or as part of the Jones Student Association, I strive to do things differently, be impactful and focus on long-term successes.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? One of the most unforgettable people I have met during this program is Flavia Sacerdotal. This is an amazing friend, hard-working classmate, and ambitious individual. Although I have moved from across the country to be at Rice, it takes a whole different type of strength to move to a different country. I respect Flavia as an international student for being brave to live in a new country, a new environment surrounded by new people. She made the step to leave her family, in hopes of finding a better career path and pursuing impactful work she can be proud of. She is the definition of an ideal MBA student, especially in this program. She is always herself and is not willing to compromise on her goals, whether it is to strive for better grades, learning experience, or job opportunities. She works extremely hard to not just produce grades, but absorb and implement the material. She does not change herself, personally or professionally, to get better opportunities or outcomes. She is truly genuine when talking to someone about something or completing a task. I have always been able to speak freely and ask her for help. Moreover, she is open to learning about different people and their cultures. She is always there for me and influences me to want to be a better leader and role model like herself.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My parents, being immigrants, had a tough start when they moved to the United States. My father, who was unable to afford education beyond elementary school, helped build a life for our family by managing his own small businesses throughout the years. He has worked hard every single day, working long shifts, saving money, and helping us get on our feet. Watching him struggle, I admired what he was able to do by managing small businesses without any help or education. It made me realize what the possibilities of having an education could be and helped me build upon all the hard work and inspiration my father gave me as a businessman. He is the reason I wanted to pursue business in college. I hope to be able to return the favor one day and make him proud. Because of him, I went from a humble little girl living in a small village in India to a well-educated, well-rounded, and soon to be successful, ambitious individual.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…if I hadn’t gone to business school, I would not be headed to an amazing leadership foundation based career opportunity with The Boeing Company but focused on an isolated engineering position.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? It is hard to put a dollar value on MBA education because it really depends on how effectively I use my degree to help me in my career. In a way, education is invaluable because it provides people with expansive and endless potentials. It is up to the person receiving the knowledge and opportunities to be proactive and persistent to create the best possible path for themselves. For me, even though I have more direction now than before my MBA, I am still trying to figure out my path to my ideal career path. I want to work on space ops in different projects preparing me for the future path of the space industry. Eventually, I would like to switch over to commercial space and have an impactful role in exciting projects such as Mission to Mars. Towards the end of my career, I would like to switch over to directorial like position in a science museum so that I can focus on pushing research forward, generate funding for scientific institutions, and build STEM outreach programs. I truly believe that my degree is essential to my endeavors and will be invaluable in the future.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Going back to my nerdy roots, one of the items on my bucket list is to see the Northern Lights/Auroras. A handful of courses have taught all the theories and functionalities behind creating such a beautiful and phenomenal sight. I have the specifics of the interactions between high-speed radiation emitted from the sun with the magnetic fields of the Earth, and yet still have not had a chance to see them in person.

The other item is to watch all the Disney movies in chronological order from 1937 to the most recent Disney Pixar Movie and blog about it. I’m a huge Disney nerd and unfortunately haven’t had time to watch 145+ movies in a row, but I really hope to do that one day!

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want people to remember me being a supportive peer and friend, giving everyone the best experience possible, helping out whenever there’s a problem, and always shooting for the stars, literally.

Hobbies? I love to dance. When I was younger, I trained in Kathak, a classical Indian dance, for a few years as long as my parents could afford it. From then on, I normally choreographed Bollywood Fusion dances for school events, family weddings, and social gatherings. When I attended Rutgers, I co-founded the Rutgers K-Pop Dance Cover Club, HARU, and was able to grow the organization from an unfunded group of about 10 people to a fully funded, event-hosting club with over 40 members. I don’t dance as much anymore, but I’m certified to teach MixxedFit and hope to teach Zumba soon! I also love watching Korean Dramas because it is just addictive.

What made Swati such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

“Swati is an exceptional individual characterized by her unique interests, leadership, good humor, and professional range. As a member of our Full Time Class of 2019, she distinguishes herself among her peers as a respected leader and a role model. A few examples that stand out to me as to why Swati would be a great fit for the Poets and Quants Best and Brightest are the following:

  • She is a dual degree candidate getting her MBA while concurrently pursuing a Masters in Space Studies (Aerospace Engineering concentration). Her goal is to work in space operations in the short term, with a long term goal of becoming a director in a space museum so that she can push research forward, generate funding for scientific institutions, and build STEM youth outreach programs.
  • She has accepted a job with Boeing as a Spacecraft Operator – she will be working on top-secret missions with the Intelligence Department!
  • She is incredibly engaged with both Rice Business and the Rice University graduate population – an anomaly for an MBA student. Swati is part of the Rice Business student government and holds the position of “Partio Chair” (she plans and puts on our weekly Party on the Patio). In full Swati fashion, her goal was to create a more collaborative environment amongst the students to enhance the MBA experience. She did all of this while also bartending at the on-campus graduate bar, and taking part in Beer Bike (a very popular Rice tradition).

Swati is an important member of the Rice Business community, contributing to numerous organizations, managing to do all of this while getting two degrees and working for Boeing throughout her second year of the MBA program. It is this diversity of interests, experiences, and activities that make Swati’s personal value proposition all the more interesting and inspiring. In closing, I would note that Swati is known for her caring and kindness. She is a person who others care for because she cares for them.”

Brooke Sabo
Executive Director, Student Programs

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