Empowered by her network, student takes on opportunities
Among the lessons junior Mari-Elle Sudarkasa has learned at Rutgers Business School-Newark is the importance of empowerment.
As she began her sophomore year, she observed the resolve of confident women and learned the value of navigating life with the help of caring mentors. She gained eye-opening insights by pushing herself through new experiences.
She attributes part of it to her growth to the mentoring program Women BUILD (Business Undergraduates in Leadership Development) – the first student organization, she said, that caught her eye as she found her way around Rutgers.
“I came into BUILD and listened to these older students talk about internships and opportunities they were getting, and rather than being intimidated, I was inspired,” Sudarkasa said.
Inspiration is energizing, but it can’t erase fears instantly. Sudarkasa had to work on networking. “Force yourself,” an older student told her. “It will get more comfortable.” Sudarkasa went to marathon recruiting events at banks called Super Days. “I went to so many banks,” she said.
The older female students, mentors and working professionals she weaved together into a network gave her more confidence in her ability to take on the real world, the work world. “It gave me courage,” she said.
Amir Ismail, a Rutgers Business School alumnus and now a vice president of strategies and initiatives in corporate planning at Bank of America, met Sudarkasa last year when she started doing mock interviews through the Office of Career Services.
When Ismail first met her, he was impressed by her ability to drive a conversation and her diligence. She was worried, he said, about her ability to compete for internships. He has watched her mature and become strong at networking and in building professional relationships.
“She’s proving her capabilities,” he said. “The more networking she does, the more spotlight she allows to shine on her.”
Sudarkasa, who is 21, was born in Maryland. When she was a toddler, her family moved to South Africa and she grew up in Johannesburg, the country’s largest city. Her parents encouraged travel and living in different parts of the world. And they set the example.
Sudarkasa visited the U.S. many times to visit relatives when she was a girl. She was drawn to Rutgers Business School because she wanted to study management, and the diversity of the Newark campus was appealing. Being in Newark would also put her close to her two older sisters who live in New York City.
Sangeeta Rao, an assistant dean at RBS who runs Women BUILD, said Sudarkasa was still a freshman when she interviewed to become a member of the organization. “She brought that global world view that we want to promote in all of our students,” Rao said. “She came in with close to a 4.0 grade point average, eager for experience and a little tentative, knowing she wanted to develop as a leader.”
At the start of her sophomore year, Sudarkasa started zeroing in on finance. “It was something I didn’t know a lot about,” she said. “I started going to events. I joined the Rutgers Finance Society.”
She sought out advice and took it to heart. She was determined, but she thinks of herself as resilient. “I don’t want anything to ever stop me,” she said.
Rao told Sudarkasa about the intense summer program called Girls Who Invest. With education and work experience, the program immerses young women in the world of finance. Ultimately, its purpose is to empower young women to pursue asset management careers.
After four weeks at Notre Dame, Sudarkasa spent six weeks in Michigan working as an investment analyst intern at the non-profit Kresge Foundation.
“The number one thing I learned was there are so many different ways to go into the finance industry,” Sudarkasa said. “It was very interesting to see the financial industry from a non-profit perspective.”
The program also erased a stigma, she said, that a woman, a woman of color, would not make it in finance.
Rao said Girls Who Invest and the Kresge Foundation also gave Sudarkasa a chance to learn that investing can have a social impact. “She was able to find an opportunity that allowed her to explore all of her passions. She’s been able to follow through with her goal of wanting to make a difference.”
Sudarkasa has another internship lined up at Citi Bank in New York City this summer and a mentor who is working to ensure her experience there touches on different aspects of finance. Her dream job is to work as an investment manager. “I love strategy and problem-solving,” she said.
Ismail is betting that she accomplishes her goal. “She’s going to be sought after in the corporate world,” he said. “There isn’t anything she isn’t capable of doing.”
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