Nila Paramathas (MS ’22), a graduate student in the Zicklin School of Business’ business analytics program, and Maniza Pritila (MS ’23), a Zicklin graduate student in statistics, both won all-expenses-paid trips to participate in the St. Gallen Symposium in Switzerland this past May.
The two women were chosen based on their submissions to St. Gallen’s global essay competition, which asked contestants to write about using intergenerational cooperation to help solve global problems. The writers of the top 100 essays were invited to attend the symposium as “leaders of tomorrow,” who would exchange ideas on current hot-button topics, such as environmental sustainability and threats to democracy, with “leaders of today,” high-level executives in business, politics, and nongovernmental organizations (NGOs).
Nila, who will graduate this December, wrote about inclusive strategies for intergenerational learning and says she was inspired by her parents’ experiences as immigrant workers, as she and her family immigrated to the United States from Sri Lanka when she was nine.
“I saw how even though this country has plenty of resources for education, it’s not always easy for some people, like older folks and marginalized groups who don’t have access to technology, to expand their technical knowledge in the face of rapid change in technology,” she says. “Adults who aren’t tech-savvy should learn about technology from their children, and at the same time, children should learn from adults, just as my brother and I learned about our traditional customs and culture from our parents.”
A Zicklin professor, Tsedale Melaku (Narendra Paul Loomba Department of Management), PhD, was instrumental in Nila’s decision to enter the essay contest. “Dr. Melaku told me one of the papers I submitted for her class was worthy of publication,” Nila says, adding that she found Dr. Melaku to be very inspiring, as she always took time outside of class to meet with students to discuss different issues within societal structure and its dynamics.
Maniza, who will graduate in 2023, wrote an essay about how contemporary problems are difficult to solve because “our systems were designed according to the values our predecessors held, but our values have changed.” As an example, she cites a speech she saw by a U.S. Congressman declaring that return on investment (ROI) was purely monetary: “He’s not wrong — money is a way of measuring ROI, but it’s not the only way.”
As for the symposium itself, Nila says her favorite parts were “networking with amazing folks” and a presentation by government officials of Brazil and South Africa on the impact of data-driven policies, and the legal and technical difficulties they faced during their digital transformation.
“It really put the classes I’ve taken on ethics in business and data mining into perspective,” she offers. “In America, most of us are not aware of what is currently happening in developing nations in terms of data protection and data ethics.”
For her part, Maniza says attending the St. Gallen Symposium confirmed her belief that having chosen a concentration in data science was the right decision.
“Data science offers tools that are increasingly useful in solving problems in many different fields,” she explains. “Since I’m interested in problems that often sit at the intersection of different fields, I thought data science would be the right track for me. After the symposium, I became convinced of it.”