At Fuqua, apart from taking classes, acing case assignments, having team meetings, and networking with a diverse group of people, there are lots of opportunities you can pursue to help you grow. For people who are interested in gaining experiences from real-world challenges that occur outside the classroom, no worries—you can definitely have that opportunity!
I was interested in how consulting works and also non-profits, so I joined Duke Interdisciplinary Social Innovators (DISI), which is an organization that provides graduate students opportunities to work on pro bono consulting projects with non-profit social organizations in Durham. Throughout this 4-month period, I gained a lot from a real-world project, working with an actual client. I can say it was really one of the highlights of my experience in the program.
First of all, it was a good way for me to broaden my social network and have the opportunity to work with more people within and outside Fuqua. Since DISI attracts graduate students from across Duke, you can team up with students at Fuqua, or ones outside your program including those who might come from engineering, visual arts, or other disciplines. Within this interdisciplinary team setting, I experienced more perspectives and got to know more people.
Besides making connections within my student team, I also connected with my client. My project client was IronWorx Media, which is a collective focused on providing documentary-style promotional services to non-profits. Since it is a startup, we worked directly with its co-founder and CEO, Debbie Vu. The organization was pretty flat and communication was open. I could also talk directly to its interns when we worked on the intern handbook project and those people became part of my network as well.
Secondly, DISI provides a new hands-on learning opportunity to solve problems for an organization outside academic theory. Our project was to design an intern handbook and business development strategy. Knowing nothing about the company or the filmmaking industry was a challenge for me. However, the project was an opportunity for me to get out of my comfort zone and be pushed to learn new things as fast as I could. New learnings also came from some practical skill development, such as communication, market research, cold calling, interviewing people, presentation skills, and a few others. I felt a great improvement in these areas while working on this project.
In addition, I think this project really gave me a sense of what consulting services look like in the real world. One of my motivations to join this organization is that I never worked as an external consultant before, and I was curious about how it goes. One of the benefits of gaining this experience while in business school is that there was less opportunity cost for me. I was able to try this role and discover whether consulting is my real interest, rather than blindly apply for post-graduation consulting jobs while having no idea whether it fits me or not.
For future students considering joining DISI, know that it might be challenging. It’s a fast-paced learning process during the project experience. If you’re like me and English is not your native language, that might add to the struggle. And it is for sure an out-of-comfort-zone experience. It might be a little scary to work on a consulting team, having meetings with a real client that requires you to conduct yourself in a certain way. It might also be a challenge in time management where you have to seek a balance between work, study, and your social life since this is an extra commitment outside the regular class format.
However, even though you might go through some tough moments under high pressure and within a very tight schedule, it will all pay off. You’ll find that after the whole process, you ultimately get far more out of the experience than what you invested in it.