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My W&L: Alejandro Paniagua ’17

“The one thing that will set you apart and help define you is how you cope with the challenges you face, learn from them and move on.”

Coming to Washington and Lee, I knew I wanted to major in both business administration and environmental studies, but what I did not know was what I wanted to do with these degrees. As my first year at W&L advanced, I became aware of a group called Washington and Lee Student Consulting (WLSC). At that time, I knew very little about consulting and what that meant. I just knew you had to deal with clients and different projects, which was something that appealed to me. Especially considering I get bored easily if I only focus on just one thing. I decided to give it a shot and luckily was accepted into WLSC my sophomore year. I had a great experience working for Blue Lab Brewery trying to develop a marketing plan focusing on social media as my first project. It was a very rewarding experience that taught me a lot of what consulting is about: collaboration.

Fall term of my junior year, I studied abroad in Denmark and took a very interesting class called Creative Business. This class partnered with the Copenhagen Institute of Neurocreativity, whose goal was to improve our creativity level. In order to measure our level of creativity, we worked with the Volvo Group in Denmark as external consultants in a new creative design solutions project for the Chinese market. This experience proved to be a very rewarding and challenging one, since we faced high expectations, strict deadlines and a lot of pressure from Volvo. There was definitely a steep learning curve, but every struggle was worth it. I could not wait to work on another consulting project again to apply my new creative skills and to learn even more.

Coming back from Denmark, I became a project leader for WLSC and my client was the Rockbridge Area Relief Association. This was a challenging project that needed lots of hard work and dedication. Luckily my team members were great, and we managed to create a final deliverable that addressed our client’s needs while overcoming all of our challenges. I also learned a lot about building a relationship with the client and truly listening to their implicit and explicit concerns. Looking back at these three consulting experiences and what I have learned, I found a common thread: I always struggled.

One way or another I always struggled, but in the end I always managed. Each case was hard and pushed me to become a better professional, student and individual. And while I struggled, I noticed that everyone else was struggling as well! I realized that it is not our struggles that define us, but the way we approach and deal with them that will truly make a difference in our lives. Whatever you choose to do as a professional or in life, you will struggle like everyone else. The one thing that will set you apart and help define you is how you cope with the challenges you face, learn from them and move on. It is easier said than done, because feeling overwhelmed can be paralyzing, but coming from someone that knows this feeling way too well, my advice for anyone that is reading this is to always work on yourself and don’t let your struggles overtake you. Deal with whatever you can, at whatever pace you can. You will pull through as long as you always keep moving forward and persevere.

Hometown: San José, Costa Rica

Majors: Business Administration and Environmental Studies

Extracurricular Involvement:

  • Member of Sigma Nu Fraternity, Washington and Lee Student Consulting, SAIL, PAACE, SEAL, SABU, Choir, Gentleman’s League, FYOC, and Model UN.
  • Leadership Positions: TriBeta Treasurer, Voting Member of International Education Committee, and ESOL Translation Chair

Off-Campus Experiences:

  • Summer 2014: Research on Biological Control Mechanisms in Queensland Australia through the Johnson Opportunity Grant.
  • Fall 2014: Study Abroad in Denmark
  • August 2014-December 2014: External Consultant for Volvo Group in Denmark
  • Summer 2015: Johnson Endeavor International Grant and Marketing Intern at Florida Ice & Farm Co. in Costa Rica

Advice for prospective or first-year students? College is a place where you will discover and learn about who you are. Get out of your comfort zone and always be willing to try something new. Challenge your own views to understand why you think the way you do and be respectful and open about other views. As you get to know yourself, don’t let any labels or expectations define you. Be true to what you like and the goals you want to achieve. After all, college is the place where you can make mistakes and learn from them. Enjoy this crazy ride because you’ll only be an undergraduate once!

What do you wish you’d known before you came to campus? Never try to impress others. The sad reality is that most people come and go, but the few people that have a positive, lasting impact in your life are the few that truly care about you because of who you are. So instead of trying to impress others, I would have focused on impressing myself. Always trying to become a better person and overcome personal challenges. By being a more genuine person, I could have achieved a more meaningful relationship with the people I truly care about.