Q&A with Christina Alexander
MFin '17 Valedictorian
Christina says it’s in her nature to help others. Why? “Because we all do better together.”
How does it feel to be the valedictorian of the Master of Finance class?
To be chosen for something like this is truly an honour. To be recognized as a person who had an impact on the experience of other students is something special to me. I was ecstatic and thrilled just to be nominated.
As valedictorian, I'm looking forward to taking the time to reflect more upon the program and hopefully provide a few inspiring and encouraging comments to my classmates.
Why do you think your classmates considered you for this honour?
I took an interest in getting to know my classmates, to discover who they are and where they’re coming from, and to connect them with people I knew in the finance community. We had a wealth of knowledge and experience in our class, and I did my best to encourage everyone to take advantage of it. I think it probably helped that I wasn’t afraid to ask questions, tap into that knowledge base, and learn from everyone else as much as I could.
I was fortunate to deepen my connection to the program and my classmates through activities like organizing career sessions, volunteering to represent the program at the annual MFin soccer tournament, and representing the views of the class to the administration. There are so many ways to contribute to the Rotman community, and I really enjoyed actively participating and giving back whenever I could find the time.
“To be recognized as a person who had an impact on the experience of other students is something special.”
You're a busy person. How did you find the time to take on these responsibilities?
Like most things in life, you get out of it what you put in. It's a 20-month program so I figured I might as well give it all I’ve got. It's not like it's going to last forever, so I wanted to get the most out of it.
So the time flew by.
There are shorter programs out there, but the nearly two-year duration of this program is one of its advantages. You need time to retain the information and apply it to your job. The longer duration is also necessary in terms of getting to know the people and building your network. Two years is a very short period of time in the scheme of things.
What's the experience of the class like during that nearly two year journey?
When you go through any sort of challenging experience, you naturally form bonds with those around you. When big projects or presentations were close to being due, it would not be uncommon to work all day and go straight to campus and perhaps stay until one or two in the morning in a small breakout room with your group mates.
That's in part why the program is tight-knit. You spend a ton of time with your fellow students while balancing other things in your life. It’s not easy, that’s for sure. Sharing those challenges with a group of 38 people, you are bound to form some close ties.
How have your classmates changed in that time?
It’s clear how the confidence has grown in certain people. Perhaps it was always there under the surface, but it grew as people got more comfortable with the subject matter and their classmates. Friendships developed and people came out of their shells. They participated more and were able to candidly share their thoughts, to communicate and network and develop their ability to influence others. I’m sure I did too.
You had a good job coming into the program. What prompted you to go back to school?
The reason I enrolled in the MFin was not to dramatically change my existing job but rather to accelerate my career. I wanted a graduate degree, and I’m at the stage in my professional development where there's a lot more focus on the soft skills and leadership, and being able to work with people. From the start, I was learning how to build my network, to market myself and communicate effectively. I viewed each group assignment as an opportunity to develop my leadership toolkit. Supplementing my existing finance knowledge was of course a key motivation as well.
How did your work experience change through the program?
The things I learned in the program were definitely applicable to my day-to-day. There were times where I opened a Bloomberg article and found it was talking about exactly what I had just learned in class. Each day I became stronger in knowing areas outside of my direct work experience. I became better at dealing with my clients and understanding their needs.
Having the resources of the various professors to pick their brains on certain things is invaluable. Through the Rotman community, I was also able to reach out to more people in the industry.
My confidence grew as time went on. At work, I noticed the more junior staff that joined our team took great interest in what I was learning. On Wednesdays, they would ask, “What’s on the agenda tonight?” That would lead to 100 questions about the content, which is terrific (though might have made me late for class a few times!) Because they're here to learn and I'm here to train and develop them. Being looked to as someone who's investing time in furthering your own education and staying sharp and developing your skills – that sets a good example.
“It’s amazing to discover what your bandwidth really is. You stretch yourself.”
Do you think you'll miss the program?
I'm currently adjusting to coming back to society. People ask, “How does it feel to be done?” After the rigours of the program, I feel like I'm on vacation. Seriously though, it’s amazing to discover what your bandwidth really is. You stretch yourself.
I enjoyed having a second family, and immersing myself in the academic and collegiate atmosphere. That said, I don't believe Rotman is going to be vanishing from my life. My professors are continuing to refer me to students who need connections in industry. I live very close to campus. I'm more than happy to stay involved in the Rotman community.
Any last insights you’d like to share?
I would love it to go on the record that I had fun. In fact, I had a blast. I loved my classmates. I loved the Rotman staff and my professors. The program has also introduced me to some extraordinary people in the finance community. There is a long list of people that make the MFin a success, and I appreciate each one of them.
I hope to stay in touch with these people as their careers progress. Over the course of the 20 months, I saw a lot of my classmates make moves to change their jobs, and find success in doing so. I’m happy for them. Because we all do better together.