The Good and Bad of UCLA Anderson

The other day, my mother asked me how I was doing in school. She was a farm worker most of her life (I worked at her side whenever I wasn't in class, especially while on holiday) so she knows a thing or two about hardship. My answer tiptoed around the truth: "It's going."

In reality, school was demanding, like the sun beating down on my forehead. School was frustrating, like the paycheck my mother brought home every other week. School was agonizing, like the back pain at the end of a 15-hour work day. But change hurts, right?

In the following article, I'm going to provide an overview of the things I liked and the things I didn't like so much about my first year at UCLA Anderson (School Profile of UCLA Anderson). I will also briefly touch upon my summer internship and the second year of my MBA studies.

Stretching Our Brains It's true. My brain is growing. Just the other day, I was holding my own in an argument with my partner Gary, a corporate lawyer and a onetime business school prospect, on the subject of short-selling. Also, a few weeks ago, I waded through Joe Nocera's article on the efficient market hypothesis without one look at Wikipedia. This would not have been possible nine months ago before starting at UCLA. Here I have acquired the knowledge and the judgment to comprehend the business environment and to succeed at it.

Just last week I was chatting with my close school friend, Chinny:

Chinny: Guess where I am?

Me: In Phoenix looking for an apartment before the start of your internship?

Chinny: On campus at our usual study spot, doing work with Nisarg.

Me: Aren't you beat from studying for finals? What are you working on?

Chinny: We are forming a company. Working on the profile.

Me: Wow. I'm trying to find knee pads, so I can piece together my garden after a raccoon invasion last night, and you guys are planting the seeds for a multinational consulting organization.

Chinny: I love your life.

Chinny, Nisarg, and I are slowly building a toolkit of ideas that will one day help us run and/or start our own business.

The Ties That Bind Us At Anderson, I'm building lifelong friendships and, most importantly, durable networks post-Anderson. After I set my heart on finding an internship in the education sector, I worked with our career center and with Anderson students to identify the Los Angeles area alumni who could help me find the ideal summer placement. The task could not have been easier.

This summer I will be working with the superintendent of Los Angeles Unified School District, the second-largest public school district in the country (and one of the most troubled by many accounts). My supervisor there is Matt Hill, who I met through Brandon Malmberg, managing director of Education Pioneers. Brandon previously worked with my close friend Lorena Villareal. Matt, Brandon, and Lorena are all Anderson alumni.

Of course, a lot more happened that is not included in my account (for example, multiple interviews), but I got my foot in the door because of our mutual connection to UCLA Anderson.

Studying in Groups Teamwork is a big deal in business school. Practically every other assignment was a group project. I enjoyed working with different study groups each quarter, which the school designed without student input. All in all, I worked with three groups (or 12 students in total) throughout my first year. Although it wasn't always easy, I learned how to avoid the predictable problems and how to how to manage differences with every group meeting. Despite the competitive nature of grading in core courses (more on that later), study group members willingly explained difficult problems. Every group included at least one international student. The large presence of international students (one-third of each Anderson class is from outside the U.S.) exposed me to different cultures and expanded the reach of my networks.

And the things I didn't like about Anderson:

The Dreadful Fall Quarter I don't fully understand why Anderson would load the first (fall) quarter with five courses— two of which are intensive, meaning they only last five weeks instead of the usual 10 weeks—and in the following (winter) quarter only assign three. Why not assign four courses each in the fall and winter? Doing this would make the beginning of the program less intense by eliminating the presence of the intensive courses. It is difficult enough, I believe, to learn in 10-week quarters much less five-week courses.

The Curve Final grades in each one of the 10 core courses at UCLA Anderson are graded on a curve. That is, the final grade of every student is representative of his/her work relative to their section peers. This means that about 20% of each section gets an "A" or better, 45% of the section gets an "A-minus" or a "B-plus," 25% of the class gets a "B," and the remaining 10% gets anywhere from a "C" to a "B-minus."

The unfortunate result that this system causes is for some students, even bright students who fully understand the core curriculum, to have a GPA that is below 3.0. For these students, a false sense of failure can quickly become the overbearing concern and not learning. In addition, these grading systems create a competitive environment where one did not exist.

Almost every professor in my core classes, before finals, apologized for having to distribute grades in this way. There must be a better way to fight grade inflation at Anderson.

Not All Bad Despite any hardships I may have faced at Anderson, I am a stronger, smarter person nine months later. I believe I have accomplished my first year goal, which was to learn how to move away from managing individual projects and learn to create and implement management strategies.

As I briefly mentioned before, this summer I will be helping the LAUSD superintendent create and implement several strategic planning initiatives, including helping to create transparent budgeting processes at the school level to increase school autonomy and, with it, administrator accountability.

My second year at Anderson will be dominated, in part, by a field study project, which will be an extension of my summer internship. My team and I will be working with the LAUSD superintendent on a project that will deal with school effectiveness. Last week, our team secured an adviser, Anderson's William Ouchi, an expert in the field of organization and effectiveness of schools.

I guess things are going better than I could have predicted. Maybe I will call my mom now and tell her school is going just fine.

Before it's here, it's on the Bloomberg Terminal.