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cROSSroads: Business School Is Back After an Unprecedented Year


“These are unprecedented times…”

Isha Lele, BBA '22

This story originally appeared on PoetsandQuants.

I got too used to these words after attending school virtually for the last five quarters. As much pride and excitement I have for the Class of 2022, we were definitely among the unlucky ones when it came to prime collegiate years. 

Despite these continued “unprecedented times”, schools nationwide have dedicated themselves to creating a safe, in-person learning environment this year. That includes the Ross School of Business. I was doubtful we would have the in-person experience I was used to over my first year and most of sophomore year; however, I have been surprised and delighted as to how normal business school feels again. 

The pandemic taught me to appreciate college life and the opportunities we have at a top-tier business school, so I wanted to share the five biggest things I missed most about Michigan Ross and what I’m stoked to have back: 

1. The Ross Campus and Community

One month into this school year, the conviviality within the Ross buildings are back. All of my classes meet regularly in-person with virtual options for students feeling under the weather. Clubs can meet in classrooms again and student fairs and tables fill up the entrance of Ross. 

Most notably, though, is the Winter Garden — the “heart” of the business school where undergraduate and graduate students come together to study, collaborate, and celebrate. Back are the days that students gather to socialize before class, grab a coffee at Starbucks, or have lunch at Seigle Café with food brought in from local cafes like Zingerman’s. On the tables that fill the Winter Garden, you’ll find business cards of campus organizations and tutoring services for students to grab as they pass by. At the same time, you’ll hear celebratory cheers and laughs filling the three-story hall at the end of exams or when good news breaks.

At first, I was nervous that the building would not feel the way it did before the pandemic. As a senior, there were no upperclassmen to set the tone of community like I was used to seeing. However, I quickly realized it was up to my class, the Class of 2022, to set this standard. I remember my friends and I introducing ourselves to unfamiliar faces, encouraging them to sit in the Winter Garden and make new friends with the people sitting next to them. Almost immediately, the community dynamic of the Winter Garden was back and the chatters of excited students refilled my ears.

Outside the Winter Garden, I have enjoyed getting to take advantage of other study spaces around the building. Whether it be relaxing on one of the couches in the basement of Blau or working on a group project in the White Room on the third floor of Kresge, I have enjoyed completing my school work outside the confines of my own room. School becomes a lot more exciting when you experience it with your friends around you. Additionally, getting to access professors’ office hours in the building and utilizing resources from Kresge Library has made the building even more helpful when you stay there. 

Walking into Ross, you always see someone you know. Whether it’s someone from your class, dorm, or student organization, it is almost guaranteed that you at least wave to a few people as you pass through the building. Sometimes, quieter study options are necessary, which is why I love getting to utilize the study and interview rooms throughout the building. Every Ross student can book these rooms daily in order to do some quiet work or complete a live interview. These rooms have whiteboard space and monitors to help make the most of your “grind time”.

2. Festifall and BBA Meet the Clubs

One of my favorite parts about going to a larger school like the University of Michigan is being able to find and pursue different smaller groups and experiences among such a diverse crowd. Coming into my first year, I wanted to be involved in anything and everything; however, I was confused as to what was available to me and where I would find my passions. Within the first week of school though, Michigan puts on an event called Festifall. During this event, the more than 2,000 student organizations on campus fill the Diag to showcase their clubs offerings and membership. Here, I learned about club sports, Mock Trial, service opportunities such as Blueprints for Pangea, the Quidditch team, and many other opportunities.

Last year, Festifall was moved to a virtual platform, where students could drop into an online room to meet each organization. While this was an effective way to learn about opportunities, it was even better to walk around the Diag again this year and see posters of what students were passionate about and how many achievements students raked in from their hard work. This event is special because it introduced me to some of my favorite groups on campus like my business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi, and the Campus Farm where I spend my weekends gardening. Even as a senior, I still signed up for new opportunities. Next semester, I’m excited to try out the Michigan Ballroom Dance Team and work on initiatives such as the Prison Birth Project.

Another opportunity for students to learn about campus organizations is at BBA Meet the Clubs. This event is exclusive to Ross-affiliated organizations, including impact-oriented business clubs, business fraternities, consulting and investing clubs, and many others. There are over 60 Ross-affiliated organizations open to both Ross and non-Ross students. Some are focused on experiential learning, such as consulting clubs that place you on a project with a local business to improve their operations or accomplish new ventures. Investing clubs are given $25,000 grants from the university to invest and have students build their own portfolios. Other opportunities focus on education such as the Michigan Investment Banking Club that teaches students about banking roles and equip them with the finance skills necessary for banking positions. Personally, I joined APEX Consulting, Global Investments Committee, and a business fraternity, Alpha Kappa Psi

I also joined BBA Ambassadors, a paid, on-campus position where I connect with high school students interested in Ross through tours, information sessions, and one-on-one meetings. Personally, connecting with Ambassadors during Campus Day was what got me excited to come to the University of Michigan. So, I knew I wanted to help other students make the important decision of where to go to college. Through the position, I have also gotten to grow close to other Ambassadors in my year and other years. Some Ambassadors are even students I mentored while they were in high school applying to U-M and I have gotten to see them choose Michigan and join the team just like myself. 

3. Classroom Learning

Ross’s reputation for academic excellence is a product of many factors, particularly faculty. From distinguished research-focused professors to practitioners still working in their respective fields, each professor is able to tailor the curriculum to their research, experiences, and passions. Coming back into the classroom, I have enjoyed meeting with my professors over their content and our shared interests. Being able to work with team members side-by-side has also felt more personal and engaging.

Some of my favorite in-class experiences have occurred during office hours sessions with my professors. Each professor holds weekly office hours where students can come in and ask questions about class content or just get to know their professors better. Also, many classes have additional “help sessions” with teaching assistants, where students can get homework help and more exam preparation. These additional sessions help students feel confident when walking into an examination room. One class I took junior year, TO313 - Operations Management, covered supply chain topics such as capacity throughput rates and newsvendor models, which were completely new to me at the time. Sometimes, certain concepts did not click. However, I was able to go to office hours sessions led by seniors that had taken the class the year before where they walked through concepts covered in class and gave extra examples. My team and I were also able to receive help on our case studies and work through problems with the teaching assistants. I became a lot more confident in my work thanks to their help and ended up completing the course with a better grade than I expected! 

This year, I have had the opportunity to be on the other side of the classroom as a teaching assistant for Strategy 445 - Base of the Pyramid. I took this class last year, and connected with Professor Ted London over his work in for-profit businesses in developing economies during office hours and after class. He asked me to TA the class this year and I have immersed myself back into the course content as well as helped new students learn it. During the office hours sessions I hold, I engage with students and help with their questions from the class, along with assisting teams to make progress with their final presentations. This experience has helped me learn the content better while also letting me try a teaching role for myself. 

4. The City of Ann Arbor

The University of Michigan is Ann Arbor and Ann Arbor is the University of Michigan. What I mean by this is that U-M is located in a true “college town”. This means almost everything going on in the city is accessible and dedicated to students. Last year, many parts of Ann Arbor were shut down. However, with safety precautions, most parts of Ann Arbor are back and better than ever.

On campus, the countless coffee shops and restaurants are full of students doing work or catching up with friends. Some of my favorite restaurants on campus are quick lunch spots I run to right after class like Rich JC on South University St. or Bopjib on Church St. These family-owned businesses are home to signature Korean stews and support the emphasis on locally-owned businesses throughout the city.

Just a 10-minute walk away from campus is downtown Ann Arbor where students and Ann Arbor residents are offered an array of options to further explore the city. Sports bars like Regents are where my friends cheer for Michigan teams during away games, and next door is my family’s favorite restaurant to eat when they visit - a Cuban street food restaurant called Frita Batidos. Whether it's going on a walk in The Arb or celebrating Restaurant Week downtown, Ann Arbor is filled with amenities and streets to explore. Weekly farmer markets in Kerrytown support local farmers and give students access to healthy, organic produce. Live music and performers at the Blue Llama Jazz Club and MASH give students the opportunity to explore local arts. 

Many of my favorite memories this year have been going to Theatre Nova, a local theater that puts on shows free for students. My roommate and I always seek out the new shows they put on monthly. We recently watched, “The Lifespan of a Fact”, a comedy highlighting the importance of the truth in journalism. After not going to shows for a year during the pandemic, it was fun to laugh in an intimate theater again. 

Michigan also has numerous athletics amenities open to students. Last fall, I worked to improve my beach volleyball skills at Elbel Field. My friends and I would show up and team up with people we met on the court. We played loud music as we dove for balls and jumped around the sand. I started loving volleyball so much that I am now on an intramural team where we play weekly games against other student teams. While my height still holds me back, playing sports with my friends has become a great way to meet new people and stay active. 

5. Being a true Wolverine!

Chants of “it’s great, to be, a Michigan Wolverine!” fill my ears every Saturday as over 100,000 people fill The Big House (Michigan Stadium) to cheer on the Michigan Football team. As I look around at the sea of Maize and Blue and the excited faces of students around me, I cannot help but grin at how lucky I am to be a student here. So many people are proud to be Wolverines and support each other when they can. At football games, we are not only cheering for the players, but the alumni who are highlighted during timeouts and the marching band at halftime.

In addition, women’s volleyball is popular on campus as well as basketball, soccer, and so many others. My personal favorite is hockey games where the student section is the loudest group I have ever heard. One time, a friend and I had the opportunity to sit against the ice. From there, we were able to see the entire student section dance along to the chants and scream as we scored. I remember the band playing directly behind us and not being able to hear for at least a few hours after that. Toward the end of the game, a puck actually flew over the net, closest to our seats. As a hockey fan, I know how rare this is to happen and so I dove quickly to grab it. The puck still sits on my desk at home - a token from one of the best days of school. 

There are also numerous opportunities to cheer on fellow Wolverines outside of athletics, too. Heading up to North Campus, I enjoy supporting and cheering on the student theater there. Recent performances include “Nora: A Doll’s House”, where it is hard to believe these are amateurs performing. Poster presentations for science and policy research are also accessible to the public and students alike. 

This year, I feel I’m back to truly being a Michigan Wolverine again. 

What is a Wolverine? Being a Wolverine means walking around campus and seeing students practicing tightrope in the Diag or dance groups choreographing a new piece in Angel Hall. Being a Wolverine means volunteering at a local school and going to a student-made movie showing at Michigan Theater right after. Being a Wolverine means being in a community where the options and opportunities are endless and your fellow Wolverines are eager to help you on your personal, academic, and professional journeys.

Isha Lele, BBA '22

Read this story on PoetsandQuants

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