IDS major heads for consulting career after a whirlwind of experience at UCLA
“I am so proud to be a part of this generation... to be a part of a student body and among people who fight for what they really believe in," says graduating senior Avanthika Panchapakesan. (Photo: Peggy McInerny/ UCLA.)

IDS major heads for consulting career after a whirlwind of experience at UCLA

IDS senior Avanthika Panchapakesan gained skills at UCLA that enable her to tell the global challenges of our time through data. She graduates this June after completing a double major, several internships and three years at The Daily Bruin.

By Peggy McInerny, Director of Communications

UCLA International Institute, June 11, 2024 — Take one international development studies (IDS) major; add a second major, fold in a year of remote education, add multiple years of service in student associations and the student newspaper, pepper with three professional internships, marinate for four years and… you arrive at the life of graduating senior Avanthika Panchapakesan (ah•VAN’•tika pan•cha•pa•KAY’•san).

Like her Bruin peers graduating this year, Panchapakesan began her undergraduate studies in the middle of the pandemic and spent her first full year as a UCLA student at home in Sacramento, taking courses remotely and participating virtually in student clubs. “It felt like I never graduated from high school,” she said.

When she moved to campus in her sophomore year, she continued to take roughly half of her classes remotely. “That was a time when I was learning how to live by myself and take care of myself, so I think the [split course load] made it easier.”

Fears that friendships forged online with other freshman would not survive her arrival on campus proved unfounded, making the transition very rewarding. “I am still very, very close with those friends now, and I have been able to meet new people as well.”

The multicultural environment of her childhood and a high school experience as a youth ambassador to Ecuador (via a U.S. State Department program) made the IDS major a natural choice for Panchapakesan, who soon added a second major in statistics and data science. She also broadened her global linguistic skills at UCLA, adding two years of Arabic study to her existing proficiency in Spanish and Tamil. All in all, her academic achievement has been impressive, earning her honorable mention in the 2024 IDS Academic Awards.

A storyteller rooted in data analysis

The threads of storytelling, problem solving and data analysis run throughout Panchapakesan’s undergraduate years, both on and off campus. “I am very passionate about how we can use data to tell stories about many of our social, political and economic problems. The stats and data science department has been great about giving me opportunities to explore the intersection between STEM and [international development studies],” she reflected.

The Bruin senior spent three years as a writer/editor for The Daily Bruin, first in the opinions section and later, in the explanatory journalism section. “I like writing in general, it’s a creative outlet that lets me express myself freely,” she remarked.

She also spent three years as a member of Clean Consulting, a UCLA student association founded in 2018 that provides consulting services to companies and nonprofit organizations on environmentally sustainable business practices and social impact. By her senior year, she had become the consultancy’s external vice president. Her work there focused on recruiting clients and participating in a variety of consulting projects, including a sustainable supply chain model to enable a company to manufacture furniture with zero waste.

“This past cycle, we worked with Volvo — who I think was our biggest client yet — and developed a decarbonization model and offered them a strategy to reach zero waste by 2050. Sustainability is something that I'm personally very passionate about,” she said.

Volunteer work with two education nonprofits, the World Literary Foundation and Teach for America (through an Ignite Fellowship), was also a big part of her student experience. “Literacy advocacy is something that is very close to my heart,” said the senior, who honed skills in fundraising, social media, peer training and the design of interactive reading lessons as a volunteer.

Panchapakesan made a point of gaining varied work experience as a Bruin through three professional, paid internships that she secured through competitive applications. A summer internship with the Sacramento Municipal Utility District, which she continued remotely throughout her sophomore year, involved the development of research-based strategies to improve the cost, efficiency and sustainability of global supply chains for the utility.

Another summer internship, this time with the investment management firm PIMCO in New York City, gave the Bruin direct experience of work in a Wall Street financial firm, complete with workdays that typically ran from 7:00 a.m. to 6:00 p.m. — if not later. There, she honed her data analysis and market research skills, while benefitting from being able to sit in on portfolio managers’ calls with investors.

“It was great exposure to a new field,” she said. “I learned a load of skills, whether soft skills, like presentation and communication skills, or Excel data analysis using Bloomberg terminals, something that I don’t think you get to learn here at UCLA.”

The IDS student’s most extensive internship experience was as an economic analyst with the Central Intelligence Agency at its headquarters in Langley, Virginia, a job for which both her majors had prepared her. “I think having a financial background helped get me hired,” she said. For six months — three in fall 2022, and another three in summer 2023 — she prepared written analyses of foreign economic and financial data, as well as assessments of geopolitical issues.

Because her analytic contributions were integrated into reports shared with senior U.S. policy makers, Panchapakesan was able to experience the real-world impact of her work. Pretty heady stuff for a college senior!

Although she originally planned to work for the CIA after graduation, Panchapakesan decided that she could develop a broader range of skills at a consulting firm. “I wanted to go out and explore the world a bit more, as well as the opportunity to acquire skills that I might not develop in government.” She begins a job with the government and public services branch of Deloitte this fall, in Arlington, Virginia.

Reflecting on her IDS degree, she said, “What I really value about it was how it made me care about everything that’s going on in the world. I think right now, you can’t afford not to care about what’s going on around you, whether that’s happening in Ukraine, in Gaza or in Latin America. We see the impacts of all these global issues manifest themselves through different social and economic problems.

“I am so proud to be a part of this generation. When I see these student movements happening on campus, and the fact that they haven’t backed down, that is so inspiring to me … I am proud to be a part of this graduating class, to be a part of a student body and among people who fight for what they really believe in. That is something that inspires me not only now, but is going to continue inspiring the work that I do in the future.”