2021 MBAs To Watch: Swetha Rajagopal, USC (Marshall)

Swetha Rajagopal

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

“All my career choices are governed by the desire to empower others to be successful.”

Hometown: Chennai, India

Fun fact about yourself:

I enjoy creative pursuits. I am writing my third fantasy fiction novel and am learning to paint from online lessons.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Commerce from the University of Madras, Chennai, India and a Master of Business from Anna University, Chennai, India

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Ascent Education – Wizako GMAT, which is a test preparation company in India. As one of the three executive-level employees in a small firm, I donned several hats. One as head of content development, in which I led the teams that designed online, in-person, and hybrid training programs for several Indian and International graduate admissions tests, including the GMAT. I was also a verbal tutor and an admission consultant.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Since summer 2020, I have been working as a graduate assistant in Graduate Career Services, USC Marshall. I am a part of the employer relations team, focusing on enhancing communication with recruiters and have also developed internal training programs and documentation.

Where will you be working after graduation? My passion is in higher education, specifically in ensuring that there is equity of educational and subsequent growth opportunity to everyone irrespective of race, national origin, gender, or sexual orientation. To that end, I am taking a two-pronged approach. I am in the process of recruiting with Universities and Business Schools for a role in the career center. I am also working on a startup with a classmate that will offer admission consulting services to diverse candidates applying to graduate programs.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Academic Honors:

Dean’s List (GPA 3.8)

Leadership Roles:

President, Leadership & Organization Club

VP of Special Projects, Mindful Marshall

VP of Alumni Relations, South Asian Business Association

Project Manager – Recruiting, MEDIAN (Marshall Equity Diversity & Inclusion Action Network)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As VP of Special Projects in Mindful Marshall, I crafted a self-development program for members called Mindful Masterminds. This 12-week program combines team activities, discussion and journaling exercises, and meditation practices in a small team environment to foster conversation and growth around mindful leadership. I am very proud of this program because it is designed to go hand-in-hand with the school year and enables participants to not just cope with the stresses of academics, networking, and recruitment, but also reflect on the more important aspects of leadership and self-development that cannot be as easily facilitated in a classroom environment. Mindfulness in leadership is the need of the hour. I am hopeful that at the end of this first year of execution, my peers will find that they have grown as individuals and that they are better equipped to handle the changing demands of the post-COVID era.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? More than the process improvements, cost savings, and revenue generation projects that I have implemented, I am most proud of the fact that I have enabled over 4,000 people to make meaningful decisions that impacted their long-term career growth. I found my purpose in life early on and there is nothing more satisfying than knowing that in some shape or form, my efforts have enabled people to become more successful. The icing on the cake was when GMAC chose to feature me in their “Expert Talk” video series on mba.com.

Why did you choose this business school? The Trojan network was a definite selling point. I wanted to be in an environment that fostered a sense of community more than competition and USC Marshall did not disappoint. I believe that anyone who pursues their passion in a systematic and skilled manner is going to be more successful and happier than those who are in the rat race simply because it is expected of them. A sense of community allows individuals to openly discuss ideas and exchange feedback and is, in my opinion, more likely to allow them to discover where their passion lies and how best to pursue it. The Trojan network and USC Marshall’s values, especially Collaborative Ambition and Impactful Service spoke to me.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It would be Kyle Mayer, a professor of Management & Organization with whom I took two classes: Contemporary Issues in Competitive Global Strategy and Alliances & Cooperative Strategy. I liked several things about his classes – the pace of learning (not to mention his mile-a-minute pace of speaking), the interesting and thought-provoking discussions in class, and the assignments that were not run-of-the-mill. More importantly, he adapted quickly to zoom classes, when we shifted to online classes mid-semester due to COVID and continued to take all possible efforts to keep the classes interesting.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? I really enjoyed the “Marshall takes the Mic” events. Conducted by the student body on a periodical basis, this event encourages students to share their stories around topics such as connection and inclusion. During these events, I have been able to relate to my peers in a manner that you simply cannot in an academic setting. I have shared my life experiences too and together we have forged a bond that will remain strong even after graduation.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If not for the unique 2020 we have all had, my answer to this question might have been different and I would not be saying that I would have packed more experiences into the seven months that we were on campus. If I could have divined that most of my MBA experience would be online, I would have said ‘yes’ to more in-person conversations.

What is the biggest myth about your school? USC is often referred to by the misnomer “University of Spoiled Children”. My peers are some of the most hardworking, supportive, far-from-entitled individuals I have ever met and I am glad that I am a part of the class of 2021 – a strong group of people who know what they want and strive to achieve it with determination, intelligence, and a fine sense of humor.

What surprised you the most about business school?Schools in India tend to be more rigorous and rigid. Even though I knew from communicating with my network of individuals that I helped gain an admission to US Business Schools that the learning environment here was significantly different from the typical learning environment in India, it was still a pleasant surprise. I was also approaching the MBA program as an adventure and the culture of the business school here was exactly what I needed.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I had talked extensively with students of the class of 2018 and 2019 at USC Marshall. The months during the application process was also a tumultuous time for the school (with the scandals at both USC and at Marshall) and I sought to equip myself with as much information as possible. I tried to get people’s honest opinions on how the school was braving the storm and was not afraid to ask the hard questions – either with the alumni or the admissions committee.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? While there are several classmates I admire, Sandra Luo (they/them/theirs) inspires me the most. From our first meeting, it was clear that Sandra was a bold individual and that they were leadership material. I have seen Sandra shoulder a lot of responsibility during these two years while always making themselves available to support our peers. Sandra knows what their purpose in life is and is very deliberate about their decision making. Most importantly, our conversations make me think about how inclusive we are being and what more we can be doing to make sure there is more EDI at the workplace.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? In some ways, COVID was not very disruptive to my plans. By the time we shifted to online classes, I knew I wanted to work in the university environment and I still had access to most of the people and the resources I needed to implement my career plans. Moreover, I adapt quickly to changing environments (I had just moved halfway across the world seven months ago, what was one more change?) and I am as comfortable working on my own as in teams. If anything, I have been able to focus more on the several projects I have going – working on the startup idea, working with Graduate Career Services, and academics. Sustaining the focus, especially a year later, is proving to be a bigger challenge because I am eager to begin the next phase of my career.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I have always known that I would pursue business at the graduate level. However, the founding director of Wizako GMAT, K.S.Baskar, had the biggest influence on the ‘when’. I had recently gone through significant changes in my personal life and was looking for a change and a challenge. Baskar was more than a colleague – he was a mentor and a role model. We had several conversations about how I could turn my life around. He inspired me to take the next step and to apply for an MBA program – a decision that would allow me to find myself again.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? Everyone is probably familiar with the 10,000 hours rule – that it takes 10,000 hours of intense practice before someone can achieve mastery. I have only one item in my professional bucket list – I want to work with at least 10,000 students at the graduate level and enable them to prepare for their dream career.

What made Swetha such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Working alongside the Graduate Career Services employer relations staff, Swetha quickly became an integral part of the team. During the uncertainties of COVID-19 and the transformation to 100% virtual recruiting, Swetha worked diligently with employers and staff to ensure job and interview opportunities were posted and advertised accurately to students. One of her earliest projects, if not the most important, was her dedication to the research and publication of our Recruiting Netiquette Guide, ensuring her peers had access to the best practices and skills needed to maximize the value derived from virtual networking events, etc.”

Mark Brostoff
Assistant Dean


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