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What was one of the most important factors you were looking for in a business school and why?

I needed a strong foundation in the basics. There was so much that I pieced together on the fly at work but didn’t necessarily understand. I wanted my business school education to give me the tools to look back on those challenges and understand what I’d done right, wrong, or just okay; and I wanted to be able to use those tools on any challenge I faced going forward.  

What/who were some of the influences that helped you choose Booth?

One of my biggest influences in choosing Booth was the Chicago Approach.  Actually, as a liberal arts major in undergrad, I used to rail against the prospect of business school. I wanted my work to have human impact and believed I could fashion a career like that better on my own than if I bought into any of the hardcore capitalist principles that make up the business school stereotype. In the years before I finally decided to apply, however, I met a mentor through work who helped change my thinking. In working with her, I began to see my knack for organization and information gathering as less of a skill and more of a practice. As I took on bigger projects, that practice became more refined, and also more important to getting the full picture and ultimately to succeeding in my role. So you can imagine, when I read about the Chicago Approach I was surprised and pleased to learn that Booth anchors its philosophy in a framework of core disciplines. It felt like the next step in building my own work ethic.

After being admitted, what was one of your biggest concerns? 

My biggest concern was keeping up. I think anyone who attends a top-tier business school feels a touch of imposter syndrome at some point. I knew I was a good student and I knew I could excel in the workplace, but I also knew Booth would be my first time seeing statistics and economics since high school. It would also be my first time ever taking accounting and finance. The same flexibility and autonomy I’ve come to really value in the Booth curriculum at first made me feel like I was starting from behind the eight ball.  It wasn't until I arrived on campus and actually sat through my first class that I felt more at ease. I was relieved and encouraged to hear other people asking questions, and it was short work from there to form my first study group.

What classes or professors made the biggest impression on you and why?

Business, Politics, and Ethics made a huge impression on me, because I believe it was the only course offered at the time that explicitly dealt with ethics. There were others, like Value Beyond Profit and The Firm and the Non-Market Environment, that touched on it, and, there were moments when class discussions sometimes strayed in that direction. I appreciated the way Professor Barry taught the class because it forced us to formulate an ethical position and then defend it. Whereas many courses incorporated presentations, this one used debate. Aside from what I learned about my leadership style, the feeling that there was something on the line in these debates actually taught me some things about negotiation as well.

What were some of the ways you got involved while at Booth and how was that involvement important to your experience?

Early on, I decided I really wanted to push myself as a leader while at Booth.  So, one of the first things I did was run for Graduate Business Council (GBC), aka Booth student government. Right off the bat, I was answerable to 60 people I barely knew, but I also became a part of a community of 40 peers who were similarly motivated to raise their hands. The experience definitely had its ups and downs, but through it all, I had amazing partners to help me brainstorm and plan activities, and I got to know more of my class than I otherwise would have. I’m proud to have had a lasting impact: we were the first to sell merchandise to raise money to cover the cost of events, and we collectively changed the Council bylaws to create a new cohort leadership role.

How many concentrations did you have upon graduation? 

I graduated with a concentration in Managerial and Organizational Behavior, which was always my goal. What I find really remarkable is how closely I came to achieving a concentration in Econometrics and Statistics.  Despite at the beginning feeling like those were weak spots in my education, I found myself drawn to those courses. From introductory Business Statistics to an accelerated class called Data Science for Marketing Decision Making, I found so much value in learning to structure a business problem in quantitative terms.

What are some of the challenges you are able to conquer at work because of your MBA?

Working in HR at a tech company as big as Cisco often means navigating a complex network of people and teams, and a dizzying number of tools, systems, and policies. Sometimes it’s hard to pinpoint a problem, and even harder to understand which levers you have available to address it. My MBA has given me language and a framework to parse some of that complexity and start to articulate and enforce some guiding principles for our portfolio management and service delivery model. In the less than two years I’ve been with the company, I’ve had the opportunity to help rework the delivery of core compensation programs, shape two brand new roles, and set a vision and criteria for HR technology innovation. I didn’t land these opportunities because I had the experience, but rather because I am able to help others work through the problem to a sustainable solution.

What type of impact do you feel you’ve made in your current role because of your MBA?

There’s a notion that HR is one of the last business functions to digitize, but I would say more accurately that HR is one of the last business functions to think of its services as part of a single portfolio. Most people think of a laundry list of benefits when they think of HR, or else maybe they think of employee mediations or maybe terminations—transactional stuff.  There’s a whole suite of tools and dashboards under the surface that help us to do our jobs and that, if reimagined, could be shared more broadly to drive equity and inclusion in the workplace, or harness the power of social networks to create more productive teams. I see my greatest impact so far as helping to connect the dots between some of these bodies of work, and uncover new insights to drive a better employee experience.

What was one of your favorite places to visit in Chicago?  What makes it special to you?

Chicago has so many great outdoor spaces, but one of my all-time favorites will always be Smartbar. It’s an intimate 400-person, independently owned music venue near Wrigley Field. Some bloggers even call it one of the United States’ most important night clubs, but I remember it as my first real taste of Chicago. I’d arrived two days prior and happened to see that one of my favorite DJs was playing, so I decided to go. Despite not being fully unpacked, or even having really figured out public transit, I was waiting in line outside the venue to get my ticket on the night of the show and I happened to strike up a conversation with another woman in line. To this day, we’re still friends.  We’ve gone to countless other concerts together since, but meeting her for the first time that night really made me feel welcome in a new city.

What book, movie, or podcast do you recommend given the current state of the world?

The Access and Opportunity podcast with Carla Harris of Morgan Stanley. Carla asks the question: How can we connect capital with communities that traditionally have been left behind? One way is by talking to the people who are already doing it. Entrepreneurs, investors, developers and activists join Carla, who taps into her 30 years of experience on Wall Street, to explore why investors are unaware of the above-market returns that exist in investing in multicultural- and women-owned businesses, and how to dispel these misconceptions and exploit this market inefficiency.

What changes would you like to see Booth make that will help maintain your pride in being an alumna?

I’d like Booth to seriously invest in leadership education. LEAD (Leadership Effectiveness and Development) is a nice first entry point into leadership education. I think, however, that it could be enhanced substantially with more input and preferably instruction from faculty of color.

Sydney Ramgolan, ’19, currently works at Cisco in their People & Communities (HR) function, where she focuses on technology innovation and portfolio management, but she's always had an interest in how people work together. After getting her Bachelor's in History and Comparative Literature at Boston University, she moved to Washington, DC, and held different roles across project management and operations, ultimately making the jump into tech. It was after being promoted to lead her first team that she first developed an interest in management strategies like incentive design and started to think about pursuing an MBA. Booth was a unique opportunity to further expand Sydney's horizons. During her time at Booth, she went on multiple hiking trips with friends, set a goal of attending one concert per month, and even managed to squeeze in a study abroad quarter to Johannesburg South Africa. Sydney now lives in San Jose, California, and, despite the COVID-19 pandemic, has held onto that sense of adventure. Before choosing a permanent home, she hopes to work in at least one of Cisco's overseas offices and experience several more countries along the way.