Scholar Spotlight: Gary Zhu

2011 Corvias Foundation Scholarship recipient Gary Zhu is a proud graduate of Northwestern University who chose to stay in the Chicago area after graduation. Gary shared has shared his experience entering the field of management consulting in the interview below.

Q: Can you start by telling us a little bit about what you’re doing right now, and how you got there?

A: I currently work as a management consultant for a global consulting firm and am based in Chicago. I completed my undergraduate studies at Northwestern University in Evanston, located 10 miles or so north of downtown Chicago, double-majoring in economics and applied mathematics in the social sciences and graduating in 2015. Before college, I attended high school in Natchitoches, Louisiana, and during this time, my mother worked at Corvias in Fort Polk. I was an employee scholar from my high school class of 2011 scholarship recipients, and I remain incredibly grateful and humbled to be a part of such a wonderful family.

Q: How did you first know you wanted to work in business?

A: In high school, I did not have the opportunity to explore much in the social sciences (e.g., economics, psychology, sociology) given my school’s curriculum and course offerings. These disciplines form much of the foundation of business as we know it. I had always been intrigued by how companies are run and how some enterprises are able to be profitable while others are not. I took the initiative and enrolled in economics courses at my local college and found the concepts intuitive and interesting. After declaring as an economics major in college, I was surrounded by classmates who had interests and career ambitions in the business world. I became friends with many of them, and in addition to the wonderful colleagues I have today, they play significant roles in keeping me passionate and motivated in what I do every day.

Q: What is management consulting? (For those of us without the business know-how)

A: The management consulting industry exists because companies face enormous challenges every day and need outside expertise to successfully navigate those challenges. Businesses will hire consulting firms to advise them on how to overcome difficulties in a number of areas – supply chain inefficiencies, lack of employee engagement, decline in customer volumes, and so on. When we begin projects for our clients, we quickly develop an understanding of how their businesses are run, investigate the drivers of their problems, and pinpoint ways of improvement. That’s what management consultants do in a nutshell – we solve problems for our clients.

Q: What drew you to management consulting specifically?

A: When anyone asks me this question, whether it’s my clients, non-consulting friends, or students interested in consulting, I always say it’s the people, and I mean that 100%. Consultants work hard – we put in well above the standard 40 hours in a given week because the challenges that our clients bring to us require that much time and effort to solve on our part. As daunting as that sounds, a consultant is never alone. We work in teams to solve problems, and these teams are all comprised of incredibly intelligent, creative, dedicated, and fun individuals. I am constantly amazed and motivated by my colleagues in what we are able to do collectively, and it is just rewarding to be part of that type of environment at work.

Q: What is the life of a consultant like?

A: If I could use three adjectives to describe my life as a consultant, I would use stimulating, rewarding, and fun. It is stimulating because while no project is easy, I am able to develop significant amounts of industry and company specific knowledge critical to my future growth and development. It is rewarding because I believe that I am impacting the way businesses are run with my work every day, and that has very tangible impacts on the world around me. And it is fun because I end up developing so many meaningful relationships with my colleagues and clients through our work together – and in between the long hours we put in, we do get to enjoy each other’s company outside the office, whether it’s team dinners at fancy restaurants, go-karting to blow off steam, or weekend trips to exotic destinations.

Q: What is your favorite part of your job?

A: The relationships I have been able to build. I genuinely believe that the people I have encountered in my career – colleagues, clients, students – are good people. While I have certainly not maintained connections with every individual I have met, I am very proud to have developed a network that believes in me and supports me. I feel like I can rely on them for advice, for comfort, and for simple companionship – and it is a wonderful feeling to know that I have a team behind me.

Q: Where do you ultimately hope your career will take you?

A: Having focused more recently on advising companies in the transportation and services space – and in aviation in particular – I can envision myself working for an airline directly in the future. The specific parameters are still relatively opaque at this point, but as I mature into a leader, I would be excited about taking on challenges associated with leading an airline in meeting its lofty goals.

Q: How have your military brat experiences prepared you to work in business?

A: I am different from most of my Corvias peers as I was an employee scholar. However, I have experienced relatable changes in my life compared to those growing up as a “military brat.” I, too, moved growing up – first, from China to the United States in Rhode Island; then from Rhode Island to Louisiana; and then from Louisiana to Chicagoland. It’s funny because I inherently do not like change, but my life experiences have forced me into situations in which change is necessary. That has broad applicability to my life as a consultant – I travel for work as I need to be wherever my clients are – so I have had to adapt to different company cultures, different cities, and different teams. I think the ability to comfortably handle change is important to being successful, and I am sure my fellow Corvias scholars have a huge advantage compared to most people in that area.

Q: What advice would you give to members of the Corvias family who are considering careers in business?

A: Two things – one, prepare yourself to the best of your ability and two, try not to stress. On the first point, if you have an interest in business, start thinking of ways you can set yourself up for success. That could mean taking relevant courses in school, researching industries and companies that appeal to you, working on polishing up your resumes, practicing interviews with your friends and mentors, and reaching out to people who can help you along the way. As long as you feel that you gave your best effort in trying to reach your goals, you have nothing to worry about. There are many roads to working in business so take comfort in the fact that there is no single path to success. On the second point – and this is something that I deal pretty terribly with – realize what you can control and what you cannot and force yourself to let go of the things that are beyond your reach. You’ll be much more relaxed and happier with such a mindset, and I think most people will benefit from that type of thinking in the long-run.

Q: Are there any other messages you’d like to share with the rest of the Corvias community?

A: I wish you success in all your respective pursuits. To anyone interested in exploring opportunities in business and would like to connect, please feel free to reach out on LinkedIn (www.linkedin.com/in/garyzhu92) or Corvias Connect.

Scholar Spotlight: Rocio Ramirez

In honor of her service and in recognition of Veteran’s day and Month of the Military Family, we shine a spotlight on 2008 recipient Rocio.  Rocio attended the University of Kansas and now serves in the United States Army.

How did/do your parents serve?  

My father served 22 years in the Army as an enlisted Soldier.  He began his career as a combat engineer then switched to a paralegal.

What made you decide to serve?   

My dad persuaded me to join JROTC in high school.  He had me convinced to accept an ROTC scholarship from The University of Kansas until I found out I received the Picerne/Corvias scholarship.  I loved the idea of giving back to my country but was scared of being deployed and back in 2008-2012 all of my friends who joined were immediately deployed. I finished school and began working as an event coordinator helping veterans.  The work was important and kept me busy but I wasn’t fulfilled and kept thinking about the service. My dad loved his job as a Soldier and he encouraged me to set a deadline for myself. He said he thought I would enjoy the Army and be a good leader.  When I hit a certain age I should either go talk to a recruiter or, if the desire to serve wasn’t strong, I would stay at my job. I set a goal to prioritize my life on my 25th birthday and I still wanted to be a Soldier when I reached that age. I enjoy how each day is different, that I get to work with and influence younger Soldiers, and that fitness is a daily priority

How did growing up with the military affect your decision to serve?  

Growing up with the military influenced my decision heavily.  When I was younger I believed everyone was in the military and moved around every three years.  I was in middle school when I discovered that there were people who lived their whole life in one house.  It blew my mind and my dad laughed when I told him about it. Seeing Soldiers walk around in uniform on post was comforting, living on post made me feel safe, and the benefits we experienced through Tricare and travel were all familiar.  I felt comfortable and well prepared with my decision to serve.

Is being in the military what you expected it to be based on what you saw growing up?

No, being in the military shocked me.  My dad was an enlisted paralegal which meant he worked in an office and hardly ever went to the field.  He convinced me to become an officer through Officer Candidacy School at Ft. Benning, GA. I became a Chemical Corps Officer and am now working in an Air Defense Artillery unit in Korea.  I was spoiled in that my dad was never gone more than 6 months and was not deployed for OIF/OEF. I lacked the common sense to predict that I would need to learn to use a weapon and experience time in the field for weeks at a time. I know now that being in the military can mean very different things depending on your job and I love the experiences I’ve had.

What are you currently doing overseas?

I’m working with an Air Defense Artillery unit of over 900 Soldiers.  Air Defense Artillery watches the skies to monitor for anything unusual.  I oversee and assist the units in training for different tasks in preparation for Chemical, Biological, Radiological, and Nuclear (CBRN) attacks.  I also advise the unit on what preventive measures should be considered for a pre-determined CBRN attack and decontamination procedures for people and equipment if attacks were to happen.  All of these tasks are training; there is no known risk here. Besides that, I monitor safety accidents and risk mitigation for Soldiers. I help plan some of the holiday events; I’m planning a Zombie Run for the unit, I planned a march for Women’s Equality Day in August, and am learning about ammo and missile storage safety on my spare time.

What is your daily routine like?

We start the day with physical training for an hour and a half.  Then I head to the office from 0930 until about 6 pm and work on various tasks we have to complete for the week. There are constant training activities and no day is the same. The majority of Soldiers in Korea are here for 9-12 months so continuity is difficult to maintain.  The constant rotation of Soldiers makes it challenging to keep units certified and there becomes a never-ending cycle of training. It’s exciting and fast-paced for sure.

What has been something that’s surprised you about serving overseas?

I was surprised at the public transportation systems.  They’re easy to use and there are apps that tell you arrival and departure times of trains. It’s even possible to buy your train tickets on apps to avoid lines!  I’m also surprised by how many cafe’s do not offer regular brewed coffee since mochas, cappuccinos, and espresso-based drinks are preferred. Plus, fresh produce is expensive at $1 for one apple, orange, banana or one kiwi on a regular day.  After Hurricane Michael, a head of lettuce was $7. We receive COLA (Cost of Living Adjustment) which definitely helps.

What is something that you miss from home right now?

I miss so many things from the states.  I miss seeing an alphabet I understand because I haven’t learned Hangul.  The language barrier has been the hardest part for living in Korea. Also, I miss human touch.  My family always gave hugs when we woke up or went to bed and we have always been affectionate. That was my greatest adjustment when joining the military as it’s not Soldier-like to touch others.  I’ve learned not to be as affectionate but there’s an aspect of physical contact that I feel is necessary for humans and makes me homesick. Koreans are not accustomed as Americans are to touch and do not high five, handshake as often, or stand too close.  Many Korean women acknowledge others by nodding their head instead of shaking hands.

Is there anything you’d want to share about the experience with the Corvias family?

I’m incredibly grateful to have a support group that I know will always be there.  The scholarship recipients have a common bond in being goal-getters and giving back to their communities.  The constant emails and social media posts make me feel like I’m a part of your experiences. Sometimes we may go months without saying hi but the foundation has given me a network of peers that have proved their dedication to each other by making retreats and communication frequency a priority.  Without a doubt I know I can crash on someone’s couch or meet them for lunch if I’m visiting their city. I love seeing how we’re all accomplishing our goals and pushing forward to make the most of every experience. I’m thankful to have a group of cheerleaders in my life to bounce ideas from or ask questions. Thank you for all the support and I’ll see you soon!

 

 

Scholar Spotlight: Serena Walker

In running the Marine Corps Marathon in October, 2008 recipient Katie fundraised for Team Red White & Blue.  To thank them for their donation, Katie asked friends and family to dedicate miles of the race to servicemembers who were important to them.  Current or past, several years or service or just months, all requests were honored.  Katie had the privilege of running for two members of our Corvias family, who are currently serving our country from overseas.  In recognition of Veteran’s Day and the Month of the Military Family, we will shine spotlights on both of them.  The first is on 2009 recipient, Serena who attended Baylor University and now serves in the United States Air Force.

How did/do your parents serve?

My father served in the U.S. Army, enlisting in 1976, then becoming a Chaplain in 1995.  He retired earlier this year after more than 30 years of service to his country and dozens of moves and assignments across the globe.

What made you decide to serve?

When I was looking at colleges as a high school senior, I received a letter in the mail about Air Force ROTC.  It was the first time I ever seriously considered it, because I never, ever thought I would make it in the military. However, they were offering programs I was interested in and my dad convinced me to at least give it a chance.  I joined ROTC, made some close friends, and before I knew it four years had passed and I was commissioning into the Air Force.

How did growing up with the military affect your decision to serve?

Growing up as a military brat, we moved every 2-3 years.  I always knew I wanted a lifestyle that afforded me the opportunity to travel and move around frequently, so the military definitely made sense.  That being said, watching my dad’s experience in the military, I knew that it would be a round-the-clock job.  In a way, there is no such thing as being off-duty, because we are on call 24/7.

Is being in the military what you expected it to be based on what you saw growing up?

I think I expected people to be kind of gruff and mean.  Instead I have met some incredibly warm and friendly people.

What are you currently doing overseas?

I am stationed at Eielson Air Force Base in Alaska as a Force Support Officer, but I am currently deployed to an undisclosed location.

What is your daily routine like?

I wake up, work out at the gym at the 0530, grab some breakfast, and then head to work.  I work until about 1800, then hang out with friends in the evenings. I am lucky to have met a group of awesome people here.  It is a very small base, so there is definitely a small-town vibe where everyone knows everyone. Together, we play cards and board games, go to the USO concerts, grab food at the Dining Facility, and make great memories.  Even though it gets hard being far from home, we make the most of the time that we have with each other.

What has been something that’s surprised you about serving overseas?

After two overseas assignments and now this deployment, I have been surprised by the level of camaraderie you find at overseas locations.  Because we are all so far away from family, it’s invaluable to have a local support network. People tend to bond closely and practically become family to each other.  At the end of the day, it’s the relationships you form with other people that make or break an assignment.

What is something that you miss from home right now?

I miss the food!

Is there anything you’d want to share about the experience with the Corvias family?

I am extremely grateful that the Corvias family has kept me in their thoughts. It means the world to deployed members when they know they have support from friends and family back home.