Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Car Insurance Woes

I've been a licensed driver since May 1999.
My new-ish car is equipped with Anti-Lock Brakes and Lo-Jack.
I have not submitted an any claims.
I have not been in a fender-bender.  ((knock on wood))
I took Driver's Ed when I was 16.
My commute to work (one way) is a whopping 11 miles.
I have had one ticket in my entire driving career to this point, and I took traffic school to avoid the point.

So why, oh why, does my car insurance go up every year?  Every.Single.Year.  This is bullshit. I feel like I'm being punished for being a good driver.  And now I've got to go shop around, do some homework and research, possibly deal with the DMV to request a copy of my driving record, and just burn calories in general to try and see if I can negotiate it down or review my policy with a fine tooth comb to adjust the deductible or lower my coverage, etc..  It has been admittedly several months since I did a quote, but so far my carrier is the least expensive.  *sigh*  I'm just so irritated about this.  This is one of those things that sucks about being an adult.

The MBA Project: A Crash Course

Get it? "Crash Course"? Because I crashed a course! Hahaha. Oh, I crack myself up.

So, I made the trek back down to Linda Vista last night to go observe the class at USD that I mentioned in my previous post. Man, even with light traffic that drive sucks. I have got to move further south this summer!

I don't know what the protocol is on sharing what I saw in a class where I'm not a matriculated student, so I'll try to keep this as high level as possible. There were a few dozen students and the majority were men. Near as I could tell, the other students were pretty much right there in my age range. There was no shortage of class participation when the professor asked for responses. He worked from slides, but they weren't terribly wordy and he wasn't just reading off of them. (I wish that happened more in the work world.) It looks to me like the onus is truly on the students to read from the text before class so that by the time they get there, they're familiar with the concepts. He definitely referenced specific material from the book, but like I said, he wasn't slapping it all up there on PowerPoint. I know that probably sounds like, "Well, yeah. Isn't that supposed to be how it works?" However, in my experience as an undergrad, I was able to get through many a course where reading beforehand was by no means a necessity because the professor just went through it in class.

The first half mostly went along in this fashion, and the real fun started after the 10 minute break. He set up a simulation in which the class was divided into 3 teams representing types of groups in a typical workplace, gave each group a set of instructions, separated them into different areas, and let them go at it. He said I was free to participate if I wished, but I opted to observe and float from group to group instead. It was actually much more fun that way because things got quite chaotic pretty quickly. The professor floated between groups as well and he would pull me aside and discuss both of our observations.

Overall impression? Fabulous. Just fab. It's pretty much what I imagined it to be and even a little better. Granted, the type of class I went to was heavily discussion and case/scenario based and that's my favorite style. The gal I met up with before class explained that in the first quarter, you take this class (Ethical Leadership & Org. Behavior) and an Accounting class, which are polar opposites. Soft skills vs. hard skills. Discussion versus lecture. Small class vs. stadium seating, etc. You get the picture. That's fine--gotta slog through the heavy quant stuff in order to get well-rounded and whatnot. What I always find amusing, however, is that so much of what I do in my job IS working with the quantitative stuff. The key, however, is that Excel does most of the calculation work for me, and the distinction between me and someone who is truly quant-based, like an engineer, is that I use numbers as a mere tool in my arsenal to make connections to process health and behavior.

I was quite happy with the whole experience and if what I saw last night is indicative of the academic culture of that MBA program, then I WANT IN.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

The MBA Project: Home Court Advantage

No doubt about it, being able to actually visit a school that you're thinking of applying to is a huge advantage.  That's a "no duh" kind of thing to say, but I was ready to go to any number of schools, sight unseen, in foreign countries that I haven't even been to yet.  I was prepared to assume that risk, but, man, a definite plus to staying here is that I can get on campus and see it all firsthand!

Today I went to an information session with the Rady School of Management at the University of California, San Diego (UCSD).  As a reminder, the other school on my list is the University of San Diego (USD).  And believe me when I tell you that for at least the first couple of years that I lived here, I got the two mixed up all the time.


USD, a private Catholic University in Linda Vista

is not the same as this:

University of California, San Diego, a Public University in LaJolla
Oh, and just to add another bit of confusion, there's also San Diego State University.  They, too, have an MBA program, but they did not place on my list.  First of all, I'm not crazy about the part of town it's in.  Second, I don't know anyone who went there and as far as I can tell, the program doesn't stack up to USD or UCSD.  The image that comes to mind when I think of SDSU is "party school".  Apparently, it was ranked as one of the top party schools in the country by a certain gentlemen's magazine.  I'll pass.

Anyway, I went to UCSD today for an info session, and I must say that I'm very glad I did because I feel more informed than ever in making my decision.  I went with a "Pfff, well, I might as well have a backup...whatever..." attitude.  Not expecting much, just sorta going through the motions. 

Having already been to USD and heard their spiel, I had a basis of comparison by today.  I must say, I was a bit more impressed with UCSD's presentation.  The sprightly little lady who gave it did a very thorough job of explaining what the Rady School of Management stands for and what sets it apart from other institutions.  She made the connection between the school and the San Diego's unique industry, and as a bonus she had two current students in the Flex MBA program come in at the end and answer questions.  I walked out of there with a very clear picture of the program's direction and what one could expect to get out of it.  I also found out why the school is suspiciously absent from rankings--it's too new.  That's all.  When another prospective student asked and the director answered, it was an, "Oh!  Of course!" moment for me, and I felt better.  Look, rankings aren't everything, but when you're evaluating where to go spend your money, it certainly helps you make decisions.

So, if I could sum up each school with one word, it would be this:

USD: Sustainability

UCSD: Innovation

I think that the two concepts are absolutely related, but still quite distinctly different.  Whereas USD makes sustainability the overlying theme and weaves it into much of their core material (and also offers it as an area of concentration, UCSD treats it more like a supplemental topic of interest.  So, while I am impressed by UCSD and have no doubt that over time it will gain more national recognition, I know that USD is the better program for me.  What also distinguishes USD from UCSD is that it has a more global scope, whereas UCSD is very much San Diego-centric.  And you know what?  I dig that.  San Diego is an amazing city and biotech and consumer electronics are the backbone of its industry--UCSD made a smart move in establishing itself as San Diego's premier business school for leaders who want to make a difference in this market.  It also makes sense because it is a state university, after all.  It's in their best interest to cultivate a student and alumni population that will contribute to the state welfare, where as USD is private, so why not jettison its grads across the world?

I found the presentation so invigorating that I afterward I came home and filed my taxes and filled out the FAFSA.  With that and the GMAT behind me, it's really time to draft the essays next.  Oh, and guess what I'm doing on Monday?  Observing a class at USD!  It's a first semester course called Ethical Leadership and Organizational Behavior--say that 10x fast.

Well, that's enough reflection for today.  I think I'll go lose myself in a few episodes of Europe Through the Back Door with my homeboy, Rick Steves.  Tina and I are about to whip ourselves into a frenzy once her vacation time is approved for our trip.  Weiter so!

Thursday, February 17, 2011


I'm excited about the prospect of going to USD, I really am. However, it still killed me to receive a call this morning from a member of the admissions team at ERASMUS Rotterdam. I was en route to work when I got the call. (As a funny aside, when I saw the very long number, I assumed it was a call from Germany, so I answered, "Well, helloooooo...!" and I really threw the poor lady off guard for a moment.) Several weeks ago I submitted my CV/Resume to them for a very basic evaluation and I received e-mail feedback within a day or two. Today they were calling to follow up and see if I had any additional questions. I chatted with her briefly and actually manged to gain some more advice and insight for my CV. So, even though I don't plan on applying there, my interaction has been useful.

Still, I want to make it absolutely clear that if someone offered me, say, €100,000 to go over to Europe and study, I would take it before they finished saying, "Here, take this hundred throusand Euro and go to the Netherla---hey, where you going so fast?!?" World domination is still very much at the top of my list. And for a brief moment after the call I thought to myself, "Hey, they don't start their intake until next January. There's still plenty of time to apply and get my affairs in order..." But then I reminded myself again that that isn't realistic and it's The Hard Way all over again. To get the lifestyle I want, I either need:

a.) a sugar daddy

b.) an employer who will underwrite my travel expenses, or

c.) to become independently wealthy

The goal is to attain a combination of "b" and "c", but I would welcome an "a" at any time.  (Any takers?  I like long walks on the beach and I'm a good cook.)

I suppose I shall just have to content myself with the ongoing planning around Eurotrip 2011. *le sigh*

Update 02/16/11: I also received an e-mail follow up this morning from Rotterdam, which I knew to expect.  But no sooner did I post this than did another e-mail arrive from St. Gallen.  Is the Universe mocking me? Why, God, why?

Saturday, February 12, 2011

The MBA Project: Thinking Globally, Acting Locally

Been awful quiet around here for the last few weeks, eh?  Where am I at and what am I up to?

How are things?

Well, first thing's first: the Battle With the GMAT, Round II.  The good news is that I brought that quantitative score up.  The bad news is that my verbal score took a swan dive off of a cliff.  The "meh" news is that my analytical writing score held nice and steady at a 5.5/6.0.  And, overall, my score was lower than my first attempt.  Yes, my verbal slid that far.  I have no real explanation other than that I did not bury my head in books or on practice tests for that month in between, and I was also quite judicious with the, "If I don't know the answer within a minute, ef it, I'm moving on" method.  It clearly worked for me when it came to the quant because I finished with at least 30 seconds to spare and without having to take a W.A.G. at the last 10 questions.  In verbal perhaps I was a bit too liberal with the aforementioned policy because I think I had 2 minutes left there.

Oh, and did I mention that the night before I re-took the exam, I stayed awake ruminating until well after midnight?  And this time I had an 8am test slot, so there you go.

I'll tell you what I was ruminating about, though.  It wasn't about the test.  It was about my newly budding decision to...stay put.

That's right, staying here.  In the U.S.  In San Diego.

So I had that freakout that I wrote about, right?  Over the weekend, I experienced a series of "come to Jesus" meetings with myself, researched, prayed, and allowed the idea to take plant and bloom.  The more I accepted the idea of staying in San Diego to continue working and going to school part time, the better I felt.  That cold, clammy grip of, "Will I be good enough to get into St. Gallen/ERASMUS Rotterdam/Vlerick Leuven, etc.?  Will I be lucky enough to find money to go?  Will I be able to sell my car, figure out what to do with Miss Amelia, rid myself of most of my possessions, get my visa in order, etc." faded away and I realized that as badly as you may want something, sometimes you have to remember what the point of the entire exercise is and how to get it without practically killing yourself in the process. I am (in)famous for taking the hard way out.  My moving to California in the first place wasn't easy or convenient, and while I don't regret doing it one single bit, I don't want to put myself in that position again.  I had no job and only knew one person in the entire city.  The first couple of years were pretty rough on me, I'm not going to lie.  It took a long time for me to find a fulfilling job, I had to build my friend base from scratch, and flying back East to visit family was (and sometimes still is) a big financial burden.  I was often quite lonely and felt adrift, and a few times I seriously considered moving back to Pennsylvania.

While I do still very much cherish the dream of spending time living and working in Europe, it is in my best interest right now to stay put, earn my stripes, and find another way to get there.  My boss is a prime example.  Her passion was International Business and she went to USD and worked through her MBA.  After she was done, she eventually took a position where she was sent to Paris, France to head up supply chain for a major American company.  She didn't know French or have connections there that I know of.  She was working for the company and was simply the best person for the job, so she and her husband went and lived there for two years.  I haven't asked, but I'm sure the company paid for moving expenses and assisted with finding housing and paid for her language lessons.  Same type of result, but much better circumstances than trying to do it on her own.

By staying here, I get to keep my great job, my car, my cat, my friends, my dancing...my life.  My European dream life was threatening to eclipse my real one, but when I came out of that haze, I realized that the life I have is very much worth sticking around and continuing.

So what exactly is the plan now?

When I looked into the University of San Diego's business school, I learned that it is actually well recognized for its focus on sustainability, which is a topic near and dear to my heart.  They offer a few specialization tracks on top of that, one of which is International Business.  Their evening MBA program, as it turns out, can be done in the same amount of time as the full time program, depending on the pace you go, of course.  With the International Business track, there are multiple opportunities to study abroad, even for the evening students.  There are practicums and short term trips ranging anywhere from one to three weeks in several places around the world.

I attended an information session on campus last Monday and the more I learned about it, the more convinced I am that this is a good way for me to go.  After all, my boss is an alumni who's quite active in the community, and one of my co-workers is just wrapping up her MBA in their evening program this year and she's had nothing but great things to say about it.  So this is where I want to go.  My company does offer tuition reimbursement for up to a certain amount.  It won't come close to covering everything, but every little bit counts when we're talking about going into more educational debt!  I'm also going to go for as many scholarships as I can find.  Given that minority women are underrepresented in business schools and that I am a triple threat (Black, Latina, and a woman), there has to be some way to make that happen, right?

I've been in touch with the admissions director at USD who gave the information session and she's going to arrange for me to be able to attend a class soon.  I refuse to re-take the GMAT again, as my first score was well within the 80% range for the school.  I may have to explicitly address the imbalance between my quant & verbal scores, but I think I can pull it off.  The admissions process for the evening program is on a rolling basis, although they recommend having it in by April 1 to be considered for loans and scholarships.  So I'm going to take the next several weeks to get that in order, and then there's nothing but to wait and plan.  I do have a backup, which is the University of California, San Diego.  But it's a distant second.

So...no Europe?

Oh, yes, there will be a Europe trip!  Are you kidding?! I haven't gone completely bonkers.  I've been planning to go back this year since 2009.  My parents decided that they are going in late September by hook or by crook, so my pal Tina and I are on our own.  Because of timing, our options are either late June into July or in December.  We'd prefer to do the summer vacation.  We may start in Rome and work our way up to Cologne or Frankfurt, or go in reverse.  That's still up in the air, but it's definitely going to happen this year come hell or high water!

And there you have it.  That's the update, and surely there will still be more adventures to come as I journey to advanced degree status.  Until then, I'm just enjoying my life in the here and now.  Cheers!