Alumni Spotlight: Safia Al-Kharsa, MSM '06
Weatherheadlines recently sat down with Safia Al-Kharsa, MSM '06 to talk about her unique background and life after Weatherhead.
Q: What is your current title and position?
I work at the Cleveland Clinic where I am the International Medical Education Coordinator. I work in the International Medical Education Office, which is part of the Global Patient Services at the Clinic.
Q: From where do you originally hail?
I have a little bit of an identity crisis (laughing). I was born in the United States, so I’m a US citizen, but I didn’t grow up here. I grew up in Saudi Arabia although I am not from there. My mom is American and my dad is Syrian, so culturally, those are the nationalities I relate to.
Q: How did you choose Weatherhead?
A lot of random circumstances brought me to Weatherhead. I was in DC, interning at an organization involved with radio programs that dealt with current foreign policy issues. The organization had a very business-oriented type of framework. It was very results-oriented so that is what made me transition from political science to business, because I felt that it was something that was very flexible, very useful and very practical. So that is what brought me to business school in general.
My brother came to Case as an undergrad so the family ties influenced part of my decision. Case is a good school and has a good reputation and the more I researched Weatherhead, the more interested I became. Plus, I felt it was so lucky that Weatherhead had just started their MSM program for liberal arts majors because that was exactly what I wanted. The MSM program provided me with what I really wanted, which was an introduction – something that would give me a basic business background.
Q: Where did you do your undergraduate work?
I went to Smith College where I majored in Political Science and minored in Neuroscience.
Q: You were a member of the inaugural MSM-Liberal Arts class. Do you feel Weatherhead prepared you for your current position?
Much more than I thought it would. For example, I remember concepts we learned in Professor Collopy’s class and in our strategy class with Professor Simon Peck because our office is currently going through a process of business development. The topics such as what business are we really in, analyzing competition, Porter’s Five Forces, etc. are all very useful. My experience there gave me the basic framework of how to look at things. I’m able to contribute so much more to my work because I have this framework from which to draw. Having those business classes gave my thought process more structure in terms of how businesses should look at different initiatives and how can they be as productive as possible.
Q: What is your most memorable Weatherhead experience?
I was only there one year but I cherish it. The one memory that comes to my mind was my birthday. I was not expecting anything but the MSMs put together a little surprise birthday thing for me at the entrance to Weatherhead. So that was very memorable. It shows how we were a small group of students coming into this program but we bonded and that was very nice.
Q: Do you have any tips for incoming MSM (liberal arts) students?
The advice I would give MSMs would be that informational interviews and personal relations are very useful. My liberal arts background is a little unique and early on in the job search I was investing a lot of time and applying for jobs in big organizations through their electronic resume systems. I got lost in that system. It wasn’t very responsive to me even though I saw myself as a person who had the passion for the job. But what really helped me was when Mindy Kinnard [Career Services] told me to establish personal contact. And the way I did that was through informational interviews. I did them with so many people and one person leads to another. It was through talking with people one-on-one that I was able to share my unique skills, as well as learn more about what type of job I wanted.
Q: What do you like to do in your spare time?
I like to read a lot. I’m trying to get more into that now that I’m working and not studying all the time. I also like foreign movies and going out with friends.
Q: What is your favorite restaurant in the Cleveland area?
There’s actually a lot in Cleveland. People shouldn’t underestimate the Cleveland area! Right now, I like Maggiano’s a lot, which is very close to Beachwood. It’s a great place and they have the best apple crisp dessert. I recommend it – it’s an amazing experience.
Q: You mentioned that you like to read. What is the last good book you have read or are currently reading?
I’m currently reading One Hundred Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. It’s kind of twisted. I’m still reading it. Everyone tells me it’s great but I’m still trying to find that out.
Q: What is a surprising fact about you that you would like to share with the Weatherhead community?
It’s very hot today. I don’t even know what the temperature is in Fahrenheit or even Celsius. But I guess one benefit of living in Saudi Arabia all my life is that the heat doesn’t bother me. Everyone’s complaining about the heat and I think its fine. I can tolerate high temperatures.