Making connections: three successful alumni-student pairs

The best way to gain experience? Learning from someone who has been there, done that. At RSM, internships enable current students to see into the future with the help of graduates. We meet three pairs who have seen success.

Story by Sarah Woodward

Crystal Lai and Kyla Vander Hart

As a recent graduate of the MBA programme at RSM herself, Kyla Vander Hart (MBA, 2018) says she had a good idea what to expect when she agreed to take on Crystal Lai (MBA, 2019) as an intern at FrieslandCampina, a multinational dairy co-operative. “An MBA intern brings tons of experience to the role – it’s not like having someone fresh out of school,” says Vander Hart. “Because we have been through the same learning process, and I know the MBA process inside out, I also know what she is capable of, where she could improve her skills and where the stress points are. She doesn’t have to hide anything from me.”

Lai had actually targeted the company herself, and approached Vander Hart and another graduate, Juan Carlos Romero (MBA, 2017). So, when an opportunity arose a few months later, Vander Hart didn’t hesitate. “We can always use an intelligent person on the team and when we needed an intern we went straight to Crystal,” she says. “She fits our skills needs and, as we are all three alumni, we know what works and what is beneficial to both sides.”

Lai was offered a six-month internship working as an analytics translator, creating a bridge between the business and data science teams through change management. “We are both collaborative people,” says Vander Hart, “but while I tend to be a big-picture thinker, Crystal takes a more operational, detached approach. She has challenged me to create a vision for our team and it has been a really positive experience. Having her on board has been a massive help for the team and very beneficial to me personally.”

Now, nearing the end of her internship and with a full-time job offer working in digital transformation at a tech company on the table, Lai is thrilled with the experience. “I have learned so much more than I expected, and Kyla has been not only a co-worker but also a mentor,” she says. “The entire team is really young, and we think together to solve problems. Kyla follows the philosophy of ‘servant leadership’, so her main goal is to serve her team. She trusted me and gave me the resources, direction, support and protection to do my job.

“My goal when I started the internship was to join FrieslandCampina full-time, but I am very excited about my new job with another great team. And I am sure I will stay in touch with Kyla and the team – I will always keep that relationship!”

Aditya Sharma and Roberto Flores Meregote

Aditya Sharma (MScBA Master in Management, 2018) put Unilever at the top of his hitlist after meeting Roberto Flores Meregote (Master in Management, 2017) at an RSM alumni event. “I was already applying to a number of companies for an internship but, after talking to Roberto about work Unilever are doing, I decided it was most definitely only them for me.

“I got back in touch with Roberto to find out how he came to be working there – it turns out he had been an intern himself. Although he works in information analytics and I am interested in supply chain, he was able to help me with contacts and explain how the internship system worked. It was great to have someone on the inside as I went through the application process.”

“I appreciate the fact that RSM encourage their students to approach for advice – it is easier for alumni to engage with students if they don’t feel they are being asked for a job referral from the very beginning,” adds Flores Meregote. “It can be something as simple as helping them with their CV or guiding them on how to prepare for their interview. It is not just ‘I want this role’ but more about asking for help in identifying the right role for them.”

Indeed, Sharma is grateful to Flores Meregote for his help along the way. “I was in touch with him throughout the application process,” he says. “And before my final interview, I had a long chat with him to prepare for the session.”

The two remain in regular contact, despite no longer directly working together, and Flores Meregote was delighted when Sharma was offered a full-time job at Unilever, working in a similar role to the one he held as an intern, but with additional managerial responsibilities.

“I found my job through an internship as well, so I am happy to give something back,” says Flores Meregote, who currently has eight mentees from RSM on his books. “I work in a very specific job environment which can become a bit of a bubble, so it is always refreshing to meet new people and get an external perspective.”

Budi Pratomo and Isa Yilmaz

Budi Pratomo (MBA, 2019) is very glad he listened to the advice impressed upon him early on in his MBA. “From the beginning of my course at RSM we were taught about the importance of connecting with alumni. So, when I was looking for an internship, my first step was to look up alumni with a similar profile to me.”

His research led him to Isa Yilmaz (Erasmus School of Economics: BSc Economics & Business Economics, 2015, MSc Economics & Business, 2016, Data Science & Business Analytics, 2018) who at the time was working in data analytics at EY. “When Budi got in touch, he was very enthusiastic and excited about what we were doing here and wanted to know more. We talked about what data analytics actually means and I encouraged Budi to take some extra courses on the side,” says Yilmaz. “I also knew we were looking for interns so I forwarded Budi’s CV to a partner and suggested he invite him in for a coffee. And I helped Budi prep for the meeting by suggesting some courses he could mention during the interview, as well as some background on the department.”

Pratomo found Yilmaz’s guidance invaluable. “I reached out to a lot of people – two of the contacts turned into internship offers, one of which was here at EY, which I immediately accepted. Finding Isa made it so much easier for me to make the contact, because it was not totally random and we shared common ground through our experiences at Erasmus.”

Yilmaz is quick to stress that Pratomo gained his position purely on merit. “Once I had talked to him, I thought he was a nice guy who knew what he was talking about, so I was happy to put him forward. I was also impressed that he had had made the journey from Indonesia to study for his MBA in Rotterdam. I helped him prep, and suggested some basic programming courses, but, in the end, it is always down to the individual.”

Yilmaz has moved on to work at Deloitte, where his work has a greater emphasis on strategy, though still with a flavour of analytics. Once an intern himself, he says that if he could be of help to other MBAs looking for a position, then he would be happy to do so again – “But I need that first call to see what type of person they are.”

As for Pratomo, he now has a full-time job at EY and is keen to ‘pass it forward’. “If I find myself in a capacity where I can help other MBAs find internships, then of course I will do so. After all, I benefited, so why wouldn’t I assist others in the same way? My message to other students is that there are plenty of people out there willing to help you – but first it is up to you to find them.”

More information

This article was first published in the summer 2019 edition of RSM Outlook – RSM’s alumni and corporate relations magazine. You can download RSM Outlook here.

Read all the ways in which RSM alumni can engage with students and education via

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. Study information and activities for future students, executives and alumni are also organised from the RSM office in Chengdu, China.

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