Teamwork and a collaborative environment buoyed Outstanding Graduate Student

Rishabh Kakkar drawn to MBA program after pandemic supply chain issues sparked his interest

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Before coming to Arizona State University, Outstanding Graduate Student Rishabh Kakkar thought MBA programs bred intense competition among their students. What he found at the W. P. Carey School of Business surprised him. Outstanding Graduate Student Rishabh Kakkar was drawn to ASU's MBA program because of the culture, the class sizes and the program's standing. "ASU is a top-ranked school for supply chain management, and a lot of companies come on campus for recruitment," he said. "This helped me a lot in building professional connections, and the first internship offer that I got was also through on-campus recruitment." Download Full Image

“While healthy competition is necessary for personal and professional growth, I don’t like cutthroat competition and was unsure how I would cope in that environment,” he says. “My experience was completely different from what I had expected: W. P. Carey had an extremely collaborative, not competitive, environment.”

The New Delhi, India, native enjoyed collaborating with MBA students from diverse backgrounds. Most of his work was done in teams, and Kakkar says everyone in the program was invested in his success.

“Students who are interviewing for the same role work together instead of going against each other,” he says. “I am glad I chose to be at W. P. Carey, where I could be in an environment that fosters mutual success instead of individual success.” 

Kakkar shares more about his time at W. P. Carey and ASU.

Question: What was your “aha” moment when you realized you wanted to pursue an MBA?

Answer: My MBA journey started during the COVID-19 lockdowns. I followed the business world news to find the domain that intrigued me the most. I learned a lot about global supply chain operations. It was interesting to see how involved the supply chain was with everything — the toilet paper shortage, the Suez Canal blockage by a container ship, the distribution strategy for COVID-19 vaccines, and the change of focus from supply chain efficiency to resilience as companies started nearshoring instead of offshoring.

I am a numbers guy, and I loved how quant-intense the supply chain domain is. Most traditional manufacturing organizations spend almost three-fourths of their revenue on procurement. While supply chains have become more efficient, sustainability focus in supply chains is still a major concern. I saw a lot of opportunities and felt I had the right skill set to succeed in the industry. 

Q: Why did you choose ASU?

A: I chose ASU because of its close-knit and inclusive community. With a class size of just about 60 people, ASU offers a very personal MBA experience. This provides an opportunity to build connections with your classmates, which was extremely important to me as an international student moving away from home for the first time. The net investor culture, about leaving the program better off than you found it, greatly resonates with me. In addition, ASU is a top-ranked school for supply chain management, and a lot of companies come on campus for recruitment. This helped me a lot in building professional connections, and the first internship offer that I got was also through on-campus recruitment. I am so glad I came to ASU!

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at ASU?

A: Professor John Wisneski (clinical assistant professor of management and entrepreneurship) taught Sources of Competitive Advantage in the first quarter of the MBA program. Given my background as a mechanical engineer, this was my first time in a case-based course where there are no right or wrong answers if you can defend your position. Professor Wisneski’s passion for teaching completely changed my perspective and allowed me to explore beyond the boundaries I had created for my mind. The most important lesson Professor Wisneski taught me is to find a purpose in life and choose a role or career that best aligns with it. He asked us to introspect, find our core values and see if the decisions in our professional life align with those values. I was spellbound by his passion and am grateful to have met someone like him through this program.

Q: What’s the best advice you’d give to those still in school?

A: Look beyond the classroom and engage in the community. Everyone comes to the MBA program to learn, and theoretical knowledge is essential to succeed in the business world. However, what we remember about school is the people we met and the impact we created together. Working on initiatives that can leave a legacy and help future students succeed is extremely satisfying. It is a way to give back to the school and leave the program better off than you found it. This aligns with the net investor culture we celebrate every day at W. P. Carey.

Q: What was your favorite spot on campus for studying, meeting friends or just thinking about life? 

A: The oculus on the fourth floor of McCord Hall. I remember working on my assignments with my friends in the open space, engaging with my classmates over the weekly lunches and even spending some moments alone with a cup of coffee, admiring the sprawling ASU campus. 

Q: What are your plans after graduation?

A: My parents are coming for graduation, and I am very excited to travel across the U.S. over the two weeks they will be here. After that, I will move to Olympia, Washington, to start at Amazon as a pathways operations manager. I interned in the same location, so I am excited to see my colleagues again and take on more responsibility as a full-time employee. 

Q: If someone gave you $40 million to solve one problem on our planet, what would you tackle?

A: I would invest it in solving the issue of water scarcity in India. India has 18% of the world's population and is one of the most water-stressed countries in the world. A significant portion of the population depends on monsoons for water. Climate change is increasing the pressure on water resources, and effective management is required to ensure access to clean water. Even major cities only sometimes have a 24/7 water supply, and most urban households get water for only several hours a day.

Better groundwater management and rainwater harvesting mechanisms could help better water utilization and solve part of the problem. Further, setting up simple filtration devices in rural areas would help treat contaminated water and make it fit for consumption. While $40 million might not eliminate the problem, it would significantly improve the situation in the most water-stressed parts of the country. 

Ellen Grady

Copy writer, W. P. Carey School of Business

ASU graduate aims to demystify AI through children's book

April 24, 2023

Editor's note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

How do we understand the story of artificial intelligence? Student Kacy Hatfield Kacy Hatfield Download Full Image

Kacy Hatfield is a student in the Herberger Institute for Design and the Arts who aims to make the story of AI accessible to all – and is doing so by writing a children’s book. Kacy is graduating this May with a degree in digital culture, and is an undergraduate researcher for the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics.

After graduation, she will pursue a master's degree and has been invited to participate in the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs

She shared more about her college journey below. 

Question: Tell us a bit about your experience at ASU and how you came to study digital culture.

Answer: I actually came to ASU as a biochemistry major; I love chemistry and math, but the career path wasn't exactly what I wanted. I then explored career and creative job opportunities where I found digital culture and in just three days I was hooked and made the switch. And there is still so much of what I love in studying AI, and I get to integrate my love for chemistry and math into that. 

I actually hadn't even heard of machine learning until spring 2021, and after my professor introduced it to us, I asked her for book recommendations. From then on, I was obsessed with AI.

Q: What inspired you to pursue undergraduate research? 

A: Well, I actually did my honors thesis shortly after I learned about AI and machine learning. I decided that I wanted to pursue it, even though I really didn’t know much about the subject, and I pitched it to several professors I wanted to work with, who all were very supportive. I defended my thesis almost exactly a year after I had first learned about machine learning, and I just had such an amazing time working on my thesis that I wanted to continue doing research. 

I then found the Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics, which had an undergraduate research opportunity on responsible AI. I met with Research Program Manager Erica O’Neil over Zoom, and I thought it would be the perfect continuation of my work. It’s amazing to keep doing research on this, not just to learn but to ultimately come away with more questions. 

Q: You're working on a really fascinating project, in which you’re developing a children’s book on AI. Can you share more on this project? 

A: The premise is an illustrated children’s book that tells the story of an algorithm named Pip — like the command in Python Programming Language — and Pip has to classify seashells on the beach. How Pip classifies them starts out in very simple terms, and as waves wash up on the shore, more advanced terminology is revealed. There’s also a character named Epoch — another term in Python — as well as a character that represents the human in the loop. All of them are placed very strategically to represent what would take place if a machine learning algorithm were to be integrated in this area. 

Image of a book cover for Your Pal, PipThe goal is to help people feel less scared about machine learning. I often see AI described as a black box; something that that people can't see into, and can't understand. But I think the test of a good machine learning algorithm – and a good programmer — is to translate that black box into something that is easily understood.

Part of the reason I love machine learning is because even if I dedicate my entire life to studying AI, I will never have a fully comprehensive grasp of it, because it's just always expanding and advancing so fast. I think that's key in why people feel uncertainty about machine learning, especially when the Hollywood narrative of AI is the humanoid robot that is going to take over. The thing is, these technologies are amoral, not immoral. 

My goal as a researcher is to start mitigating skepticism around the subject of machine learning through this book. And this starts with younger people, but the book is also meant to be used by people of all ages. 

Q: How has your time in the responsible AI research group related back to your work? 

A: I love being in this research group. It's actually my second semester; last semester I did a project on the risks and mitigations of AI-powered autonomous spacecraft, which is another one of my interests. It’s so awesome to be part of a group of people that have such different backgrounds and different approaches to AI. There are so many interdisciplinary perspectives and topics brought up in discussion. 

I think that in terms of responsible AI – and a lot of people may disagree with me on this – it is integral for a programmer to also be able to see the ethical implications of whatever they're employing into the world. There’s often the argument that we should wait five years before evaluating those possible impacts; when I am working on programming, I'm immediately thinking about how it may affect the real world and be used. 

Machine learning is like a mirror - it's going to reflect whatever we give it, and humans are not perfect. This is why I think the conversations on ethics have to go hand in hand with the research itself, and it's really interesting to see how it comes about on all different fronts.

Q: What comes next for you in your career and future?

A: That’s the age-old question, isn’t it? I always have a list of problems that I can research! This may be a nerdy confession, but I love doing research even in my free time. I hope to direct that energy into the pursuit of a master's degree and possibly even a PhD. I have also been invited to join the Machine Intelligence Group at Draper Labs in summer 2023 as an undergraduate engineer, which is a very exciting opportunity. 

The amazing thing about this field is it's always changing, and in some regard, I will always feel like a student. And because the study of AI is so new, I feel like taking the ethical and programming approach at the same time would be a lot easier to integrate than something that's already established. I hope to keep these skills as best practices in the future. 

There is a lot of skepticism around AI and machine learning, and often I hear people say that it’s too complicated or complex. Everybody has the capability to understand AI, and it's not as scary as it seems. Even though it's been tremendously skewed for entertainment, which makes it easier to vilify, there are so many benefits to using machine learning, and we can employ it in the right ways to augment our human experience and not hinder it.

Karina Fitzgerald

Communications program coordinator , Lincoln Center for Applied Ethics