Sejal Shah ’01 at her wedding in 2013 with fellow Unicorns.
It’s only been a few weeks since Sejal Shah ’01 was on campus celebrating her 15-year reunion, but she already misses it. “There’s something really nice about being back in the school, seeing my old hall, taking a picture outside of it. And seeing the students there now. It’s nice to see their excitement and enthusiasm,” Shah says.
It wasn’t an easy journey for Shah, who now lives in San Francisco, to make it back for Alumni Weekend, but she knew she wanted to make it (yes, even in a hurricane). She wanted to reconnect with former classmates but also with her high school.“The 15-year mark felt significant, and served as a reminder of how much NCSSM has given me. It was also an opportunity to remind myself to give back,” she says.
Shah attended Duke University after graduating from NCSSM, then lived and worked in Washington, D.C., for four years before attending the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania for business school. Now, after working in the field of healthcare operations for a number of years, she has moved into education, serving as director of business operations and strategy at education startup Altschool. “It’s been a really interesting challenge and definitely something I didn’t know a lot about going in,” she says, at least when it came to the content. But, she has found a number of parallels — both healthcare and education are highly regulated fields, and both are areas in which significant change is needed, and is happening.
Shah’s career transition was a bold move, to be sure. In many ways, she credits her time at NCSSM. Working at Altschool, and making such a major transition from healthcare to education “has made me realize the value of a strong and well-rounded education, which for me, included NCSSM.” Shah discovered her niche at Science and Math — the intersection of science,business, and technology — and pursued that area at Duke, majoring in biology and economics.
“NCSSM has given me so much,” Shah says. “A strong foundation of academic skills, but in addition to that, the bigger things are even more important to me. As a high school student, [NCSSM] also gave me the non-academic side — the confidence to pursue my goals. It prepared me really well for college and my future. In many ways I don’t think I’d be where I am today without Science and Math. Going to business school, moving to the West Coast, or switching industries… when I think back to where that stemmed from, it is Science and Math.”
That’s why Shah gives to the school. “I think it’s really important to give back. Donating is one small way I can do that. Living far away in San Francisco, it’s a little more difficult to get involved, so giving is one way I can support the school.”
“I try to donate regularly,” Shah says, “but this year I decided to stretch my donation. I used our reunion as a way to challenge my classmates to say, ‘It’s been 15 years and look where we are today. I know it may feel tough to give a lot given other obligations, but any amount will make a difference. It’s easy to let years go by but NCSSM has given us so much — and the least we can do is give back in some way.’”
The Alumni Challenge turned out to be a big success — especially for Shah’s class, which topped the charts in participation. “The challenge was a really great way to encourage people, and certainly everyone has a little bit of a competitive side,” Shah says. She hopes to continue that tradition — and her class’s winning streak — in future years.
“I’m recognizing more and more now that I’m working in education that it was so important that I had that exposure and built such a strong foundation at NCSSM,” she says. “You can do hard things. That is what Science and Math taught me.”