2020 First Generation MBAs: Nandita Jaya, Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)

Nandita Jaya

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Class: 2021

Hometown: Bhagalpur, Bihar, India

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’ve dug a small, possibly marine animal’s, fossil by hand.

Undergraduate School and Major: Birla Institute of Technology, Mesra – Bachelor of Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Program Manager Intern, Microsoft Corporation

What did your parents do for a living? Father has a government service, mother is a homemaker

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? Father is a diploma holder, mother has done her high school

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? My mother is my biggest inspiration. She has taken all sorts of odd behaviors from the society, having borne three daughters in one of the most backward, sexist Indian states. Through all of this and through the tricky financial situations of the family where my father would receive salaries erratically (once in a few years), she not only made sure that we always continued our education but always taught us to be feminists and powerful in our own right. She is the reason I do anything that I do.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? As a kid, I had always dreamed of having a company that would be owned by me and my two sisters. My mother has always raised me to grow up and be self-sufficient. She used to recite stories of her own grandmother, who’d handle the agriculture way better than any men of the family. There wasn’t any one moment which led me to decide that I wanted to pursue higher education but there were many. It was all of those stories, all of those empowering statements that my mother pushed in my direction that pushed me towards always considering higher education as a must.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? My biggest worry was lack of knowledge. My skirmish for undergraduate degree started way before I was eligible. It started when my elder sister had to go for her undergraduate degree and we had no clue of the name, quality, eligibility and admissions process, fees structure – pretty much anything about the colleges in India. It took me two months of constant one-hour trips to internet cafes for which my father used to give me 10 rupees every day (22 cents from the then value) to prepare a diary full of all the information of top 100 engineering colleges in India. My family remained the unofficial counseling hub for a lot of kids of the surroundings for many years to come.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? The most challenging part of getting my undergraduate degree was balancing survival behaviors with my dreams. So far, all the decisions that I made were driven by the need to survive and the need to succeed. Now, I was in a place which was a hub of people from different class, social structures, lifestyles, and upbringing. This new surrounding taught me to tackle the next problem and start having dreams that I would like to fulfill for myself. As a result, the most challenging parts were following those dreams and justifying decisions to family which had so far as well focused on survival. Simplest decisions like taking up a job I liked for two-thirds of the salary that I could get in a job where I wouldn’t be happy was a big decision, big introspection, and big “walk the talk”.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better? My family just didn’t know about higher education experience, period. My father relied on what a couple of neighbors would tell him (since none of the family members knew anything). The neighbors belonged to “upper caste” (India’s systemic discrimination structure) and wouldn’t be forthcoming with the knowledge. Same was the case with his friend circle. This was the crutch which was weakening our decisions as whatever he would find was unaffordable for us, even from an education loan perspective. I wouldn’t say that I wished my family understood this better because there weren’t many ways for them to do so. The internet brought me this capability. They didn’t have these resources to overcome these knowledge gaps even with their hearts in the best place.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I have had a long-standing dream of being an entrepreneur. It was this dream that kept getting dwindled and kept getting rekindled at every step of the way – with every changing job and every new city where I relocated. This dream eventually led me to pursue my MBA degree to gain the knowledge to be prepared to tread the path I want to follow but haven’t been able to find myself in the right place yet to do so.

How did you choose your MBA program? I chose my MBA program, to be honest, for the repute, name, and scholarship. CMU is a big brand and a great place of education in the US. More so, it is also well known in India where I’ve a plan to relocate back to in a few years. Also, the scholarship I was getting was good enough for me to compliment my savings and loan with to be able to plan an education along with decent repayment plans.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? My biggest worry before starting my MBA was classic: my family finances. I had been a support system for my family, financially, for five years before I reentered education. Through this time, I supported my two sisters in getting their graduate degree. At home, I fulfilled several commitments. Detaching myself of the “responsibilities”, mentally, was a chore for me. My entire family worked upon me for almost a year, to make me understand that things are fine and that I can start investing in my success the way I want. So, yes, that was my biggest worry but not humongous in size as my family constantly and consistently was there to make a case for MBA.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? A substantial part of my finances is split between scholarship and student loan. For the rest, I saved some money in the last year of my job, broke my government “provident” funds and am supported by my family.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? The advice I have for other first-generation college students is that they try to balance survival with dreams early on. We are always going to have to make decisions for survival. However, after a while, the definition of survival changes. For example, when I took the job which paid me slightly less than the best survival decision, I had made a trade-off that I’ll manage my definition of survival with the kind of money I was getting but with a job should that left me happy at the end.

Hence, I would like to advice that there are several more rungs that we have to cross if we want to reach the levels of second-generation students. However, if it does not make you happy at the end of the day, is it worth it? That’s a question we all need to ask ourselves.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? After graduation, I plan to get a job and pay back my loans for the first few years. Once I’ve done that, I plan to pursue my dream of entrepreneurship.


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