Dan Beksha, AB’09, who works in sales and trading, and Celina de la Garza, AB’11, who works in asset management, credit their budding success in the financial industry to UChicago Careers in Business (UCIB) and the Jeff Metcalf Internship Program. So last spring Beksha and de la Garza joined forces with three like-minded alumni in New York—Evan Cudworth, AB’09; Eric Jaffe, AB’10; and Sarah Lassar, AB’09—to give back.
Together they formed a steering committee and contributed $5,000, setting a goal to raise another $15,000 from other young New York alumni. If they succeed, Ken Kaufman, MBA’76, has offered to match their collective gift for a total of $40,000—enough to fund ten Metcalf Internships.
What was it like to go from being a College student to making your first real money in New York?
de la Garza: It’s so good to feel independent, though I definitely have less free time.
Beksha: Awesome. I look back sometimes and laugh a bit about how I tried to save ten dollars here and there. Things in college were so cheap. You could have a beer at Jimmy’s for two dollars. A drink in Manhattan costs 15.
Have you developed any new vices?
de la Garza: There are so many good restaurants in New York. I like to try one good restaurant a week.
Beksha: In New York we eat out 24/7. I think I manage to cook maybe once a month.
Because you work so many hours?
Beksha: It’s not that crazy—like 70 hours a week. Twelve hours is a normal workday. You get used to it.
de la Garza: I work 50 or 60 hours a week. It’s about equal to how many hours I put in as a student, just not as flexible.
Why did you decide to get together with other alumni to support Metcalfs?
de la Garza: The goals are two-fold. One is for us as alumni and former Metcalf Interns to give back, given that this program really did help us. We also want to reconnect with other alumni.
How did the Metcalf program and UCIB help you?
de la Garza: UCIB brought in speakers every two weeks from consulting, banking, all kinds of jobs. Every time it was a huge wake-up call to be reminded how competitive those fields are. But UCIB helped us acquire the skills to be able to compete.
Beksha: The Metcalf program is why I got my job. After my second year, I got a Metcalf at a small trading firm. That helped me get another Metcalf the following summer, which turned into a full-time job. I had no connections in the industry, so the Metcalf program opened the door.
UCIB helped me prepare for interviews. They started doing videotaped practice interviews when I was a third-year. Watching that tape was one of the most excruciating experiences, but I learned so many things I could tweak and correct.
Has it been hard to ask other alumni for gifts?
de la Garza: A bit. We’re reaching out to younger alumni, and even though we have an income, we’re just starting out. But we’ve gotten some good responses, and we’re hoping to see more.
Beksha: We’ve been asking for a gift of $100–$250, which is not huge. If you live in New York City, $100 is basically dinner and drinks on a night out.
Some fellow alumni have formed a Chicago chapter of the steering committee. Do you think this will spark a New York–Chicago rivalry?
de la Garza: Maybe in the future—who knows?
Beksha: Maybe we’ll play that up as a fundraising strategy. Right now, the fact it’s happening and we have two chapters—when a few months ago we had zero—is huge.
So you want to be an FBI agent?
In 1994 Byron Trott, AB’81, MBA’82, shared an idea with Dean John W. Boyer: he wanted to found an internship program honoring Jeff Metcalf. Metcalf, who was athletic director when Trott was in the College, helped him find his first job; Trott is now managing partner of BDT Capital Partners and a University trustee. “It’s an example of a good idea,” Boyer says, “and the dean at the time not screwing it up or not dropping the ball.”
Four years ago the College built on that success by establishing the Chicago Careers In … programs, which now include arts and media, business, education, entrepreneurship, health, law, public and social service, and science and technology. In addition to the help these programs give students—the Metcalf program alone has more than 500 internships annually—Boyer says they benefit alumni, the nation, and the liberal arts.
What would you say to alumni who think that career programs are undermining the liberal-arts rigor of the College?
They don’t have to believe me; they can believe William Rainey Harper, the founder of the University. From the very beginning, the University was very conscious that the liberal-arts education we were offering had to have concrete payoffs for society and the nation. If Harper were alive today, he’d be rooting for these programs.
No one could possibly accuse me of not supporting the Great Books and the life of the mind. But the way you protect the liberal arts is to enable people who have a liberal-arts education to succeed professionally.
For students from low- or middle-income families, it seems that career programs would be especially valuable.
They are. For a kid from modest family circumstances, whose father or mother is not a corporate executive or a lawyer or a university professor, they make a big difference. Most kids don’t come out of those connected professional circumstances. One of the things a great university should do is give social capital to precisely those kinds of students.
Career programs must also be helpful for students who want to enter a different profession from their parents.
We had a kid a few years ago who wanted to be an FBI agent. I said, “I don’t know. How do you do that?” It’s a happy ending: This boy is now an FBI agent. That’s why we have our UChicago Careers In Public Service.
Now when another student comes along who wants to be an FBI agent, you could say, “We happen to have an alum …”
I’ve already done that. “Here’s his telephone number, and as long as you don’t ask him confidential things about the FBI, he’ll talk to you, give you some tips.”
The University community shouldn’t be siloed into two groups: students and alums whose role is to just come back for reunion. The present we exist in was the future that other people created for us.—Jeanie Chung
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