Take Five with Raji Kalra ’97, BUS’04

Raji Kalra_Cropped
Raji Kalra ’97, BUS’04 helps nonprofits scale and operate efficiently. Most recently, she was the chief financial and administrative officer for the David Lynch Foundation. Kalra is a career coach at the Business School, helping both current students and recent graduates navigate career options, networking and life on campus. She has been a judge for venture competitions for a decade, reviewing business plans and guiding startups to getting funded. Kalra also sits on the boards of several nonprofits and chairs the Board of Directors of the Bronx River Alliance, which is set to open the greenest building in NYC.

What were you like when you arrived at Columbia?

Most people who know me might have difficulty believing this, but when I arrived at Columbia, I was extremely shy. I had grown up on Long Island for most of my childhood and attended very large public schools but then moved to Monroe, La., when I was 16 and attended a private high school with only 32 students in my graduating class. When I arrived at the College for Orientation, my roommate and suitemate had participated in COÖP and already had made friends, making me feel even more isolated. I did the next best thing — sat in the TV lounge at the end of the hall and met classmates as they came in. A few weeks later I was running for class VP and then later president!

What do you remember about your first-year living situation?

I lived in Carman 1103A. I enjoyed suite-style living with coed floors, sharing a bathroom with three other women and not having to walk down the hallway in a bathrobe. I became friends with many people on my floor but my best friend first year (whom my uncle told me to meet), Jyoti Khullar ’97, ironically lived in 1003A, directly below me. We spent many hours in each other’s rooms, where she helped me develop a neutral American English accent, since I came to school with some lingering Long Island pronunciations and a few Southern ones I had picked up in Monroe. I also remember many boys not knowing how to do their own laundry and fire alarms being pulled at 3 a.m. on random mornings.

What class do you most remember and why?

“Economics of the Environment.” Part of what drew me to Columbia was the flexibility in course requirements for majors and concentrations, and the ability to enroll in graduate school courses if you had fulfilled your undergraduate requirements. I was ever the overachiever so did a major in economics and a concentration in political science. I also took a few classes at SIPA. It was amazing to be able to learn alongside students who had worked in the field and could enhance the class with real-world experience and examples. Economics of the Environment was one such class — it had fewer than 15 people enrolled and was a great marriage of my focus in economics and my passion for sustainability and environmental conservation/protection.

Did you have a favorite spot on campus, and what did you like about it?

Giving tours and information sessions to prospective students, I became familiar with almost every building and frequented the Uris deli, but sitting on the Low Steps in the warmer months is still my fondest memory. It was a great place to meet up before or after class or bring lunch to sit and eat with friends. A couple of times during the winter, we went sledding after a massive snowstorm — giving new meaning to “snow day.”

What, if anything, about your College experience would you do over?

I’m not sure I would change anything. I really took advantage of everything the school had to offer, from vast course offerings and meeting with professors, to being involved in clubs on campus (Intercultural Resource Center, Undergraduate History Council, Asian/Pacific American Students, Columbia College Student Council, Zamana), choreographing dances for Tamasha and being an advisor during Orientation. If not for the College, I would not be the person I am today. Columbia allowed me to discover myself, gain confidence and gave me the space to explore, to try and learn new things. If anything, I would do some of it again.