College of Business: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign

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Business Role Models


By Barlow LeVold

It may be a great irony that the same enthusiasm for self-improvement common to business school students, often blamed for corporate greed and national crises, is producing equally dedicated and tenacious people bent on helping their communities, fixing bad corporate practices, and preventing future crises. The power of professional motivation, at least at ILLINOIS, is changing the world of business for the better.

To make my point, I rely on a recent business graduate who left ILLINOIS to work for JP Morgan as an investment banking analyst, Hetal Patel ‘08 (Pictured with John Hedeman, assistant dean, Honors). Many people in our college may remember Patel as a typical wide-eyed undergraduate who arrived in August 2004 and left in May 2008 after giving the class graduation speech. Patel was initially invited to join the College of Business Honors Program’s inaugural class of students, an offer that fatefully changed her mind about attending ILLINOIS. Membership included a Mary Sparks Alley and a Convergys Scholarships totaling $6,000 each year.

Such funding allows capable and motivated students to strive for otherwise unachievable goals. Very real economic challenges faced by families frequently short-circuit educational aspirations leading students to choose shorter-term solutions like working multiple jobs while taking classes, choosing an education for its immediate job potential, or forgoing graduate education. Financial pressures can rob a potential leader of a lifetime of opportunities.

Now a product manager at a national wireless telecommunication company in Chicago, Patel works in very real ways to improve the experiences of a diverse customer base. Patel also attends the University of Chicago Booth School of Business where she is working toward an MBA. Her education at ILLINOIS gave her the tools on which to build her career as well as the experiences that enabled an understanding of her personal strengths and weaknesses and the type of work she finds fulfilling. 

The satisfaction that highly motivated people like Patel receive when recognized for their cultivated qualities drives them to each new height. While many smart students join the Business Honors Program, they must also nurture an impressive history of applying their innate abilities to develop a full range of skills. Applying oneself in high school, seeking the challenge of a top college and the distinction of an honors program requires a conviction about ones’ abilities and persevering despite inevitable setbacks along the way. For Patel and those like her, improving the world around them and being recognized by like-minded peers as well as the social and monetary awards that follow, defines their essential energy.  Tenacious ambition is a quality common to Business Honors students.

Business Honors students take it upon themselves to lead in whatever ways they can and returning value to the College of Business is an important expression of that leadership. It is important because every student believes they received uncommon opportunities for personal fulfillment and societal improvement from their program.

This past year Patel and two other Business Honors alumni Jason Mueller ‘08 and Beth Rahn ‘09 went out of their way, in typical Honors style, to encourage their fellow Honors students to give back to the program. They started communicating with all classes, current and past, asking for donations of time and money to help future students reach their respective potentials as Honors students.

With passion and diligence Mueller, Patel, and Rahn launched a newsletter to bring everyone up to speed on personal achievements, social happenings, and the needs of the Honors Program. One especially telling chart (included below) shows how the financial assistance received by Honors students has dwindled as a percentage of tuition.

While the class of 2008 received 78% of their tuition in supporting funds, the class that graduates this year received only 28%, a 50% drop in only four years.

“Clearly something needed to be done” said Patel. “The Honors Program is based on a founding principle that we need to give back to the College. It doesn’t end with graduation. Honors students and alumni know this and want to make the College the best it can be.”

Despite the fact that the first College of Business Honors students graduated in 2008 and the program boasts only 150 total alumni, $30,000 was raised to support two students for the entire four years of Honors Program membership. The successful effort produced nearly 100 donating alumni and current students who gave an average of $300.

“Each Honors student already experienced the benefit of the scholarships, so giving back is really an easy thing to do,” added Patel. “If you think about what you spend on one night out or one dinner, and you know every little bit helps, it really becomes an easy decision.”

“What I received from the Honors Program changed the course of my life,” added Patel. “The honors trip abroad to Korea and Japan, the great resource of connections to other students, and the way they challenge me even today, and also the need for leadership in the College to give back and to show support for the efforts put forth by people like Dean Hedeman are important.”

Dean Hedeman believes, “It takes people of conviction and high principles to donate so soon after graduating. I am proud of our honors students who set the bar high as role models for future classes in the College.”

The world of business is changed in countless ways by leaders who persist in pushing themselves and others in the right directions. Honors alumni of the College of Business are making progress.

UIUC College of Business