After graduating from Lehigh University with an undergraduate degree in molecular biology, Harini Kataria ’06 was a couple of years into a research career at a major pharmaceutical company when she decided to, in her words, “completely pivot.”
“Through a series of personal experiences and introspective moments, I decided that really wasn’t the best long-term fit for me career-wise,” Kataria says.
She had developed a passion for design, and followed it to the bold decision to leave her job, change careers, and go back to school at the Cleveland Institute of Art.
“I thought that design was very technical and visual only, so I thought it was just for designing logos and graphics and publications and things like that,” Kataria says. “But through my education, I realized that you could apply design on a larger scale to organizations and systems. Design really, at its core, is just creative problem-solving. So when you take it down to that basic understanding, then it becomes a lot easier to widen that lens and apply it to many more things.
“That’s how I realized you could essentially design businesses, you could design experiences, you could design departments, you could design processes—all of that. It’s just systems within systems and that was kind of my niche. And the world made sense to me after that.”
After earning a Bachelor of Fine Arts degree in design, Kataria worked as an Engagement Strategist for a firm in Washington, D.C., for three years. The job allowed her to work with everyone from the C-Suite and legal department to designers and sales people.
“I got this incredible bird’s-eye view of how this organization was run. I was able to identify areas of improvement within and between departments, and how people collaborated,” Kataria says. “But at the same time, I wasn’t able to communicate it effectively in a way that I could implement these solutions every time. So that’s what helped me realize that I need to be able to talk about these things in a way that I can make a structured argument for the solutions that I’m proposing. Also, I’m just very curious about how businesses are run. I think down the road, I’d like to be in a position where I’m leading an organization.”
That realization led her back to Lehigh—this time to the College of Business, where she is enrolled in the Flex MBA program.
“I was pretty targeted in my search for a program,” says Kataria, who lives in Philadelphia with her husband and fellow Lehigh alumnus, Kapil Kataria ’04. “I knew I wanted it to be local, because I knew I wanted to be able—or at least have the option—to attend classes in person. I know that for business schools in particular, the person-to-person interaction is key in the educational process.”
In her first year, Kataria, who is working on business design strategy projects while working toward her MBA, has been able to take courses in the three different formats the Flex MBA program offers: on campus, online through the unique, synchronous ClassroomLIVE platform, and watching the video of a class later online.
“It’s been seamless,” she says. “I don’t feel any kind of difference in how I’ve been able to interact with the professors within all three formats and also with the way I’ve been able to interact with classmates as well.”
The Flex MBA more than lives up to its name, she says. “It’s so fluid that I can become a fulltime student if I want and dial down the work, or if the right opportunity comes along, I could jump back into a fulltime job and dial down the school work. That kind of flexibility is really, really valuable.”
Kataria also has realized that her undergraduate education at Lehigh has actually helped her make the transition to design.
“I think that what I learned here at Lehigh as an undergraduate really helped formulate the way that I think about and see the world,” she says. “In molecular biology, I learned how to see things down to an atomic, molecular level, and that’s really helpful in analyzing systems because it allows you to zoom in and zoom out. It also helped me understand the world in a very different way, which I think really added to the way that I was able to then look through that design lens. I think it added a level of practicality and realism.”