Student Success Story: Rachel Laffitte

Rachel Laffitte

Major(s): Political Science and Business Management with a concentration in International Business

Year: Junior

What interests you about your majors?

I have always been interested in the intersection of law and business, specifically their intersection with labor rights. I enrolled as a political science major and then added business to gain the corporate perspective on labor issues. A lot of people think government and business are very separate, but I am interested in where they overlap. Through a lot of civic work in high school like Mock Trial and Model UN, I first encountered the political and legal sides of the debate. However, after participating in an alternative spring break in Harlan County, Kentucky, I wanted to learn more about the role business plays in labor standards. Therefore, I decided to also major in Business Management. I believe that it is important to treat labor rights as an interdisciplinary issue.

Can you tell us a little about your summer internship with GE?

I worked in Texas with GE Oil & Gas as a Financial Management intern this summer. There, I was tasked with four different projects that covered a variety of issues. I helped develop cost models for Repair Services, clarified headcount numbers for Drilling Services, and mapped indirect costs to better budget for future quarters. However, my most comprehensive project dealt with analyzing changes in contribution margin. After compiling sales data on spare parts, I found anomalies in certain orders. After investigating these specific orders, I found unauthorized sales order modifications were the cause of eroding margins. My manager then entrusted me to lead a due diligence effort and work with IT to limit sales order access. Through our efforts, we were able to create internal controls and decrease access by 50%.

How did you obtain it?

I am affiliated with PRLACC, the Puerto Rican / Latin American Cultural Center. Through the organization, I received and email during my sophomore year about the GE Diversity Mentoring Program. I thought that having a mentor in a multinational corporation would provide me more insight in various career paths in the private sector. After applying to the program, I was matched with an employee at the New York office. From that relationship, my resume was passed along to a recruiter in Chicago. He emailed me and suggested I apply to the financial management internship through HuskyCareerLink. I then went through the formal interview process, and ultimately received an offer in GE Oil & Gas.

What was your favorite part?

My favorite part was the atmosphere. I loved living in Texas and meeting other finance interns from around the country. I also enjoyed being in a large corporate setting for the first time. I was able to step out of my comfort zone. At GE, interns are treated as a full employees. The company definitely expected us to contribute as team members. I was present in many strategic meetings and even presented to the CFO of my division.

What was the most challenging aspect of it?

Learning all of the computer systems and the accounts was definitely challenging. I had taken accounting, but I had never taken a finance class, so the information was completely new. Every company organizes data differently, so it was challenging to learn what each account meant. GE is a very large company, and I was sent data to synthesize from a variety of systems. Fortunately, there was a great community of interns and recent graduates. We helped each other understand all of the accounts and acronyms. I also benefited from speaking with my manager. At first, I was too intimidated to ask questions. However, overcoming the fear of admitting that you don’t know something goes a long way.

What marketable skills did you acquire from having this experience?

I developed analytical skills from the work itself, but I also improved my communication skills. We had performance evaluations throughout the summer and my manager always told me, “It is about creating a story around the information.” Data is complex and meaningless. In finance it is about synthesizing the data in order to piece together an accurate story. This was a difficult skill to learn. Over the summer, however, I worked to determine which information was crucial and how to convey it in a succinct manner.

Can you give us some background on what the Moot Court at UConn does?

Katie Blouin is the President of Moot Court. I met Katie my freshman year, and she had competed in high school Moot Court competitions. A moot court case is essentially a mock Supreme Court case. As appellate cases, students are required to review how the law was applied in the trial court and debate the law’s constitutionality. Previously, Duke and Princeton were the only schools who hosted Moot Court competitions on the high school level. UConn did not participate. Katie wanted to change this, so we established UConn Moot Court with a few other students. We will have our second high school conference this spring, and we currently we have about 20 members.

Can you describe your role as Project Manager for Leadership in Action?

Leadership in Action is affiliated with the Honors Program at UConn. We have a three-pronged mission. We are a small group of honors students who aim to meet leaders, develop leaders, and become leaders in the surrounding community. We “meet leaders” by hosting UConn Alumni who are global leaders in their field for lectures, dinners, and other speaking events. Last semester we hosted Victor Schachter, Marianne Dubuque, and Jim Calhoun. We “develop leaders” by creating first-year programming for the honors community. We plan the Honors Involvement Fair every fall. We have also created “Mentorship by Major” nights and hosted a variety of workshops related to leadership development. Finally, we aim to “become leaders” by working with the local community through community service initiatives. We have previously worked with the Cornerstone Foundation, the Veteran’s Programming Office, and Teach For America.

Since we have a round table style to our club, we each take on events and manage them from start to finish. For instance, when I was a freshman, I was really overwhelmed by the involvement fair. I felt that there were too many clubs and organizations in one place. This gave me the idea to create a smaller honors involvement fair. We found that other students felt similarly, and we are currently planning our 3rd Annual Honors Involvement Fair.

Are you involved in anything else on or off-campus?

I’m involved in Community Outreach which I love. Right now, I am a conversation partner for Cross Cultural Connections (CCC). CCC is designed to create a cultural dialogue with international students on campus. I am currently partnered with a PhD student from China.

Additionally, I also work on campus in the Office of Undergraduate Admissions. There, I am a Husky Ambassador Program (HAP) Coordinator. As a HAP Coordinator, I help recruit prospective high school students to enroll at UConn. We plan all of the Husky-for-a-Day events and help with Open House planning. It’s a great job, because I feel like I can share my Husky pride with students currently going through the college application process. I love UConn, and I am incredibly happy I chose to come here!

What have you found to be most rewarding from your internship and leadership experience?

After experiences, I always remember the people.  By meeting people from all different walks of life, both from my internship and at UConn, I’ve broadened my perspective of the world. I’ve learned to always approach a situation with an open mind and an ear ready to listen. I’ve also had mentors organically develop as I meet new people, which has been really rewarding. They have helped me find a unique career path that I am passionate about. I wouldn’t have accomplished nearly as much without my friends, family, or colleagues.

Where do you see yourself 5 years from now?

Right now, I want to work with multinational companies in either collective bargaining, compliance, or human resources. In fact, GE’s continued partnership with its unionized work force is what originally drew me to the company. Companies like GE operate in many countries, which have vastly different labor standards. Ideally, I would want to help negotiate and implement best-practice labor standards around the world.

What has been your favorite part about being a UConn student?

I think the spirit. That was something I was looking for in a school. I also like that at UConn, I can pursue any interest I might have. I like that I have been able to major in things that are very different and have been able to forge a unique academic path. This includes clubs. If you have a unique passion, you can pursue it here.

Based on your experiences, what advice would you give to your fellow students?

I always tell prospective freshman to get involved as early as possible. Specifically, I tell students to get involved in something they know nothing about. When you try something new, you will not only open up your area of expertise; you will gain a new perspective. You may not stay with the activities you start with your freshman year, but it will lead you to different doors and all you have to do is take one step in and you will figure your way around.

By Brittney Austin
Brittney Austin Communications Assistant