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Graduating with a Little Help from Your Friends

BU helps GSM student in India via Skype


It could have meant the end of his BU education.

Just a few months short of graduation, Abhijit Mhetre had traveled home to India with classmates for a nine-day trip to Mumbai and New Delhi when he got some bad news. Immigration officials told him he would not be allowed to return to the United States because of complications with his visa. At the time, Mhetre feared having to resign from the Graduate School of Management’s Executive MBA program (EMBA).

“Staying in India wasn’t my choice,” says Mhetre (GSM’12). “It was forced upon me, and it could have been disastrous if I had not been able to complete the program.”

He knew that to successfully finish the program’s requirements, he’d have to be able to actively participate in classes and group projects, so he started brainstorming. He came up with an unorthodox idea: what if he could participate in classes from India via the free videoconferencing program Skype? Using Skype would mean that Mhetre could view classes and even ask questions.

“I interviewed Abhijit when he first applied to our program, and it was clear how excited he was about the program,” says EMBA director Janice Dolnick, who was one of the first people Mhetre went to with his idea. “It was a very big deal to him, so we were committed to helping him graduate. He’s a great ambassador for the program.”

But the idea would work only with the help and coordination of Mhetre’s classmates and GSM professors and staff.

“The Executive MBA program is small and we work as a team, so we know all of the students on a personal level,” says Peter Russo, an SMG executive-in-residence and director of entrepreneurship programs for the Institute for Technology Entrepreneurship & Commercialization (ITEC). “We all understand what needed to happen, and how to get through it to allow Abhijit to graduate. But this was the first time anything like this has happened.”

Mhetre had enrolled in the intensive 18-month EMBA program, designed for mid-to-senior-level managers, after working for almost six years in Connecticut as a program test manager with global health insurance and health services company Cigna. The program coincidentally included a nine-day residential session in India this past March designed to give students an opportunity to apply firsthand what they’d learned in an international setting.

In the middle of the trip Mhetre received a note from the U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) advising him that there was a problem with his visa and that he wouldn’t be able to return to the United States at the end of the trip.

“When I came to India, I had to go for an immigration process known as a stamping,” Mhetre says. “I had lived for over six years in the United States, and I had an extension on my visa as a result of the green card process, which is a pretty normal. But then I ran into administrative problems—it basically meant my visa was under review, and they were unable to tell me when I might be able to return to the United States.”

Boston University BU MBA student graduates via skype virtual classroom

A laptop allowed Mhetre to participate from India in class and group discussions.

Once GSM agreed to allow him to complete his classes from India via Skype, two of Mhetre’s friends, Sergei Daniel (GSM’12) and Pramodh Koshy (GSM’12), arranged to have a laptop loaded with Skype placed at the front of his classes. The camera allowed Mhetre to see the professor, and if Mhetre wanted to ask a question, his friends would raise their hands and put him on speaker. Team discussions worked the same way. The biggest challenge was the 10-hour time difference between his home in Pune City, India, and Boston—which meant that Mhetre frequently had to rise at 2:30 a.m. to attend class and again at 5 a.m. for team meetings.

One of the surprise benefits of having to stay behind in India was that Mhetre was able to serve as a resident expert for his group’s capstone project. The group came up with the idea for HealthEView, a company that would educate the Indian public about hypertension and diabetes, both growing concerns in the country. Being in India, Mhetre was able to meet with executives and pharmacists, poll people, and provide critical cultural context that proved invaluable for the group’s research.

When it came time for GSM’s convocation in May, Mhetre donned the cap and gown his friends at BU had sent him. His classmates positioned a computer on campus and his family set up a big projection screen so they could watch as Kenneth Freeman, Allen Questrom Professor and Dean of the School of Management, made a special announcement at the ceremony and presented Mhetre with his degree remotely.

Mhetre says he couldn’t have graduated without the support of his teachers and classmates. He created a YouTube video to thank them.

“I was able to finish my MBA despite all these challenges, and it happened because of the willingness of BU faculty and staff to try something that had never been done before,” Mhetre says. “They kept me motivated to complete the program.”

He now says that while he loves the United States, he plans to remain in India for the time being to establish new business ventures, while using his BU degree to help the people of India. He currently works for Webilent Technologies, Inc., a U.S. technology company.

“This program gave me the chance to learn the Indian business climate, and to see that there is a booming economy with enormous potential,” Mhetre says. “I’m seriously thinking about starting my venture in India while using my personal network in the United States.”

Amy Laskowski

Amy Laskowski can be reached at amlaskow@bu.edu.

One Comment on Graduating with a Little Help from Your Friends

  • Anne Marie Rezendes on 09.05.2012 at 10:04 am

    Congratulations and good for you. It truly is amazing what can happen when it is wanted enough. Also, this is quite a statement for BU!!! if only most would figure out how to make things happen.

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