Success Doesn't Always Look Like a Suit and Briefcase

Sonia Bhagat was all set to make her mark in the business world, but it wasn't until she got there when she realized her true calling was in education.
Friday, August 21, 2015

When the daily grind as a human capital analyst for a major consulting firm was no longer cutting it for her, Sonia Bhagat (Connecticut '09) knew she needed a change.

Looking back on her former career today, Sonia recalls, “I knew that if I was going to work really hardespecially with the number of hours that I was putting in—I wanted it to be for a better cause. Something I really believed in.”

Sonia majored in business management at Southern Methodist University, so entering the business world just made sense to her at the time. As a first-generation college student from Dallas, Texas, Sonia grew up on the idea that “success looked like a nice power suit and a briefcase.”

With the strong desire to obtain this successand a lot of hard work in undergradSonia seemed to be on the right path as her college graduation approached. As a senior in 2007, Sonia was offered a consulting position, and was overjoyed about the opportunity. “I had been applying to a lot of consulting companies and this was the one that I wanted," she remembers, smiling with content. "I worked really, really hard to get there.”

Second Thoughts

After working a year in this dream job, however, Sonia’s perspective began to evolve. “I didn’t feel like I was making enough of a difference,” she says. 

While Sonia enjoyed working in the business world and valued the experience, she lacked the sense of satisfaction she had anticipated, adding, “It just never felt like the right fit."

She began to desire morea way to make an impact on communities like the one where she grew up in Texas. Sonia was bothered by the fact there were people out there working hard to make an impact, “but it was never me making that change.”

 

Why Success Doesn't Always Look Like a Suit and Briefcase
Sonia (left) credits a chance visit to her cousin Nisha Chandiramani's (Houston '08) classroom as the catalyst for her finding her calling.

 

An inspirational trip to an elementary classroom that year gave Sonia a new perspective on what success could look it. At the time, her cousin, Nisha Chandiramani, was serving as a 2008 Houston corps member at KIPP Dream Prep in Houston. When Sonia stopped in for a visit, she knew she could never look back.

“I saw the difference Nisha was making for students," Sonia remembers. "I saw the light bulbs go off when the students finally understood something that she had been working on for a really long time. I just saw how rewarding it was for her. And that’s when I applied to be in the corps.”

Transition to the Classroom

The next year, Sonia began teaching third grade at Achievement First at Elm City College Preparatory Elementary School as a 2009 Connecticut corps member. As a new teacher, though, she didn't reach her goals immediately. As was the case with many of her fellow corps members, her first days in the classroom were full of challenges—like getting enough sleep.

“I probably pulled more all-nighters at Institute than I ever did in college,” she says, laughing.

But this time, Sonia knew the long work hours were worth it. “I took it really seriously," she adds. "That’s when I knew I really wanted to do it.”

Sonia’s sense of accomplishment grew as her corps experience continued. Beyond the small victories she witnessed in her classroom, she began to value the collective impact that her colleagues and her were making in her school community. “Being in the corps made me realize the difference we can make as a group,” she says.

Life Today

Today, Sonia can’t stop talking about the collective impact committed individuals can have on communities: “I talk about it constantly. I’ll talk to the Uber drivers about how we need to change the educational system. I’ll talk to waiters and waitresses when I’m at a restaurant. I’m talking about it everywhere. Because I think once we’re able to spread the word, we’re really going to make a difference. More people are going to stop thinking that other people are going to make the difference and they’re going to actually take action.”

 

Why Success Doesn't Always Look Like a Suit and Briefcase
Today, Sonia is a recruitment manager for KIPP DC. "I’m making sure that students in many classrooms have a strong teacher that helps them get to the next level,” she says.

 

After five years in the classroom, including four years at her original placement school, Sonia transitioned into a position that combines her love for students with her desire to bring others into this work. She works as a recruitment manager for KIPP DC, a high performing public charter network that made headlines this year when one of its teachers, Jennifer Ramacciotti (Greater Philadelphia ’06), was named Washington, D.C.’s Teacher of the Year.

Reflecting on her new job, Sonia says, “I wanted to make sure if I got out of the classroom, I was making a difference for more students. Now in recruiting, I’m making sure that students in many classrooms have a strong teacher that helps them get to the next level.”

Settling into her recruitment position, there are some days she might bring back the old power suit or carry a briefcase, but Sonia knows that her vision of success has changed since her childhood. She's proud to serve the young students at KIPPremembering that it’s the same place that inspired her to apply to Teach For America seven years ago.

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