From Corporate to Classroom

Chetna Khaparde and husband UdayIn the place I come from — my home country of India — the general mindset of people revolves around following a so-called straight path in life: one finishes school, pursues higher education, finds a decent job, gets married, and that is it. Although not a very modern outlook, it is quite profoundly ingrained and has been going on for generations in our culture. Exceptions are always there, but such change proponents are always outnumbered by the generic mindset.

I was no exception to the system to some extent. After completing my bachelor’s degree in electronics engineering, I started working in the information technology sector as a systems engineer. As hilarious as it may sound to start a career in a completely different field from what I majored in, it was quite normal for the majority of us to land in the IT sector with our first jobs. I was fortunate enough to have gotten some great opportunities in my career, and by the time I completed almost nine years working as an ERP consultant, I was in one of the most respected IT firms, in a lead consultant role.

My steady career growth was affected a bit when I got married to my husband, Uday, last year. Uday had been living in the U.S. for the past ten years. I decided to leave the job in my home country and find another one over here after moving. Finding another job at my experience level did not seem like a challenge. Things were under control until the pandemic hit. For a while, it felt like everything had come to a standstill; businesses collapsed, layoffs surged, and offices closed down. It started becoming clear that things were not normal anymore, and I could not hope to receive my dependent work permit any time soon. I had to find a way to make good use of the time at hand, which is when I decided to pursue my higher education.

Unforeseen circumstances and instantaneous decisions came with their fair share of challenges. A decision to pursue a master’s degree in the U.S. meant preparing for the entrance exams, arranging the recommendations required in the admission process, having the university in my home country send my transcripts to the universities I was applying for, and getting my international credentials verified. Each step was a taxing stepping-stone in itself. I was not even sure if I would be able to get through, but I was thrilled when I received acceptance letters from seven of the eight universities I applied for. Persistence and hard work paid off.

I am now in my fourth semester in the Master of Supply Chain Management program. Each day brings new tasks, challenges, and, most importantly, learnings along with those. It has been an immensely enriching experience so far. I am enrolled as a Penn State World Campus student, which has provided me the much-needed flexibility while also ensuring a quality education. I used to try to be in the learning mode while being employed, using various means such as certifications, training programs, self-learning tools, etc. Still, it is indubitable that nothing beats the level of focus and value achieved by studying a carefully designed curriculum. The topics covered are as per industry standards and provoke us to think along the lines of making further improvements to the current business processes in the industry. This is the key to promoting further development and innovation and contributing toward a better and sustainable world.

I am grateful to have faced those challenges initially that led me back to the classroom from the corporate world. This has allowed me to make the most of my free time and opened new doors for further career growth. Penn State provides excellent career services and has one of the country’s most prominent alumni networks, with more than 700,000 alumni committed to Penn State’s mission of teaching, research, and service. It is immensely satisfying to be a part of a trusted system and committed to the greater good.

My message to all the working professionals out there who have been deliberating about pursuing their higher education: I have been there, and I have procrastinated, but trust me, it is a very enriching and fulfilling experience to learn firsthand from your teachers again. We realize the value of the classroom even more because, otherwise, we are forced to teach ourselves at our workplaces. If anything, it will only complement your career growth.