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MIT Sloan Student Blog Archive

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07/10/2013

Thesis Writing

Master of Finance program at MIT Sloan is renowned for its emphasis on quantitative approach and rigorous coursework. However, the flexibility of this program is relatively unknown. As graduate students at MIT Sloan, MFin candidates have vast freedom to explore various areas of interest. While some of my fellow MFin students took general management courses such as marketing and management, others enrolled in engineering or even liberal arts courses as part of their requirement for general electives. Some students even pursued independent studies or wrote a thesis in keeping with their personal academic interests. 

As an avid advocate of Corporate Social Responsibility, besides studying finance, learning more about Socially Responsible Investing had been on my-to-do list when I came to MIT Sloan for MFin degree. Soon after joining the program, I realized that in order to integrate my understanding of various academic areas and to actively interact with academic and other working professionals with a shared interest, I would have to put in much extra work. While I knew writing a thesis could be a truly good option, I was afraid I could fail, as my other coursework would demand substantial amount of time, quite apart from the time I would have to invest on a job search. However, the resources at MIT Sloan, including top class faculty, dedicated staff, exceptional library resources, smart fellow students and experienced alumni around the campus were too tempting an opportunity to pass up. Hence, I started to work on an optional thesis titled "The Influence of Institutional Investors on Firm Value." 

To my surprise, I found the thesis writing experience enjoyable and highly rewarding. The most obvious benefit of writing a thesis is gaining a better understanding of a specific issue one is really interested in. But, besides solidifying understanding of certain concepts and developing analytical skills, there are some practical benefits of writing a thesis. I would like to share few of them. 
Even if you have a passion, if it is not communicated, your passion remains unexpressed and latent. But since thesis writing is a very dynamic process, it often involves personal interviews and interaction with various people. People also tend to be really nice to a student when they are approached for thesis research. By meeting people who share a common interest with you, you can naturally expand your personal network. 

For most students, job search is their primary concern. And as working on a thesis is expected to be time consuming, at first glance it does not seem to be a good option. On the contrary, it has been my experience that writing a thesis is really an excellent recruitment tool.

• Interview Skills: A large part of any interview is to ascertain whether you can explain your experience of solving a complex problem in a clear manner. Nobody knows more about your research than you do. By explaining your analysis intelligently, you can distinguish yourself from other qualified candidates.
• Finding a niche market: People respect MIT as one of the best research institutions in the world. Though you may think doing research at MIT merely indicates your interest in a certain field, people outside the school will look at you as if you are an expert in that particular field. If you wish to target a specific area for job search, consider writing a thesis on that area and putting the thesis title on your resume. You will attract stronger response from potential employers.
• Software Skills: When you post your resume on a job board, listing some statistical software such as STATA, SPASS, SAS, or MATLAB on it can have an extremely positive effect. While learning these programs is very time consuming, by using these software in your thesis, you can legitimately claim competence in them.

Many people say that they do not know what they really want to do in their lives. Perhaps, the most important benefit an individual can get out of the thesis writing experience at this stage in life is to test whether he/she is really passionate about an area. Had I not written my thesis, I would not have known what I would really like to do over the next five to ten years of my life. It helped me to find a specific area of academic interest and also establish a foundation to apply for a Ph. D program in management in the future.

Writing a thesis is challenging but it is doable, enjoyable, and rewarding. I am convinced that most MFins are capable of writing a thesis. If LGOs and an MSMS can do it, why can’t a bright MFin? MFin curriculum is not designed to write a thesis, but because it is more challenging, an MFin student’s thesis could be more valuable and rewarding. I hope more future MFin students would challenge themselves by taking this initiative.  

 

06/19/2013

Finished!

My fellow classmates and I have reached the end of the MFin program!  This has been an incredible year in so many different ways.  I have gotten to know a lot of amazing people not only in the MFin class, but throughout Sloan and MIT as a whole.  As for what’s coming up next, I accepted a position in Luxembourg at the European Investment Fund in the structured finance area and will be heading there at the end of this month.  I have already made plans to meet up with some friends from MIT when I arrive in Europe, which I am really looking forward to. 

One of my favorite experiences of the year was going to Camp Sloan.  Towards the end of the semester, a huge group of students piled onto a yellow school bus, drove a few hours down the highway, and arrived in a gravel parking lot.  We grabbed our things, left the bus, and hiked about an hour through the woods until we arrived at a small group of cabins by a lake.  It’s nice to escape the rhythm of student life and spend some time in nature, sleep in cabins, and relax with great people. 

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Jackson and I at Camp Sloan

I will also miss being a part of the Sloan soccer team.  To celebrate the end of the year, we had a first year versus second year match followed by an outing to the Asgard, a local restaurant and pub. 

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The Sloan soccer team after our final match.

It's been an extraordinary year with challenging courses, wonderful friends, and more opportunities to take advantage of than time permits.  I’m going to miss this place!

 

06/17/2013

Reflections on the MFin Program

With graduation more than one week behind us, I would like to reflect on my past year in the MFin Program.  I would describe my experience as formational, inspirational, and hands-on.  One of the things that surprised me most over the year was how many opportunities there were to connect with other students.  The C-Functions (social gatherings about every two weeks) were a great opportunity to meet students outside the MFin program including students from the MBA, LGO, and MSMS programs.  I was also blown away by the number of business plan competitions and hackathons that took place over the course of the year.  If you have a business idea, there is an abundance of resources to bring it to fruition. 

One of the reasons I chose the MFin Program at MIT Sloan was to learn modern finance from some of the greatest minds in the field.  I was able to experience this through taking Fixed Income from Eric Rosenfeld & Saman Majd, Central Banking from Athanasios Orphanides, and Lifecycle Investing from Robert Merton, all of which were amazing courses.  Looking back, my experience at MIT Sloan greatly exceeded my high expectations for what the year would have in store.  I was incredibly impressed with the caliber of teaching and the extent to which my classmates worked together to overcome challenges.   I wish all the best to the MFin class of 2014!

(below are some photos from the end of the year celebrations)

 

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06/08/2013

Reflection Blog

Just came back from a pre-graduation trip with my mom, and Felicity’s (one of my best MFin friends) parents. We toured around San Fran, LA and Seattle in between the last day of exam and convocation. I really can’t believe our MFin life is coming to an end. I am going to move back to Canada right after convocation. It is with mixed feelings that I am writing this reflection blog: sad that I am going to separate from my friends, and proud about everything we have accomplished over the last 11 months.
 
Looking back, I am really grateful that I developed close relationships with my classmates, who are more of family to me than friends. I am attaching a couple of our family photos.
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Even though we are going to different places after graduation: NYC, Boston, Singapore, Canada or China, we promised that we would update each other on life regularly and meet up/travel together where possible. I already booked my tickets back to NYC on August 3rd to see them! Knowing them is the best thing that has happened to me.  
 
I have also learned a lot academically, and solidified my finance foundation over the past 11 months. Even though I had a finance related background prior to coming to MIT, MIT classes have given me a different (practical) perspective and an innovative view on finance.  I also took classes from HLS, HBS and HKS, which complemented the MFin experience.
 
I was lucky that I didn’t have to look for a job this year, so I had many opportunities to enjoy life in and around Boston. I was able to practice golf, fly a helicopter, ride a horse, and paint, in addition to travelling around the states. I recently picked up basketball from Lucas, one of the “family” members. I rather like this sport, and plan to continue it after going back to Waterloo!
 
A couple of Mfins, including myself, started MIT Sloan Book and Movie Club, which motivates students to read book, watch classic movies outside classroom settings. We organized book discussion on “Excellence without a Soul – how university forgot about education” and “Great expectations”, and we booked an entire theatre exclusively for MIT students to watch Iron Man 3 on the opening night. We are currently in the transition process, and looking for incoming leaders for the club. If you are interested in any leadership positions, please shoot me an email and I will tell you more about it (hellenhj@gmail.com, or bookandmovie@sloan.mit.edu) We would love to continue our MFin spirit and have MFin representations on the leadership team.
 
As for my graduation plans, I probably mentioned it in one of my earlier blogs: I am going to work at Sunlife in Waterloo office. I was also offered a part-time teaching job at University of Waterloo, so I am probably going to become a part-time teacher starting next year! Before working at Sunlife, I am going to take 2 months off to travel around Asia and enjoy the summer and sunshine!
 
I will post convocation updates later, and our stories are about to start.

05/06/2013

Advice for Incoming MFin Students

It’s hard to believe but graduation is exactly one month away.  And before we leave, a few words of advice for those of you about to embark on this wonderful adventure known as MIT Sloan MFin.  Here are some pearls of wisdom from me and six of my classmates in answer to the question:  What advice would you give incoming MFin students?

--In retrospect, I wish I had learned Matlab before the summer. Follow the news (i.e. The Economist and WSJ).  Building up your resume is useful. Otherwise, I’d say go out and travel.  The MFin program is such a sprint to the finish once you arrive that you should be well rested.  Times goes by very fast at MIT Sloan. 

--Take the time to learn what opportunities there are (e.g. conferences) and go to as many of them as you can.  Keep a balanced work-life.  Reflect on what interests you personally.  Ask questions. Use the summer as a safe space to find out what your interests are and what you  don’t know but need to develop.   The faculty are there to guide you but not to hold your hand. Know that they are always dedicated to your success.

--It’s very easy to stay within the MIT Sloan Bubble and only take finance classes, but that is not advisable.  In my opinion, you should go out and make associations with the rest of MIT whether that be by making friends with non-Sloan students who live in your dorm, joining other associations such as MIT-wide clubs, or going to lectures. (e.g. my dorm had a curator from the Museum of Fine Arts come and give a fascinating talk).

--As a non-quantitative econ major with a Chinese minor, I want to stress that having a stronger quantitative background would have made life much easier at MIT.  Analytics of Finance is a very challenging, very rigorous course.  Take the suggested preparation seriously.

--Get involved in life on campus. MIT offers countless opportunities outside of finance classes. Join clubs, try a new sport, take a course on main-campus, go to guest speeches, check out the campus start-up scene, etc. Also, don’t feel shy to reach out to MIT alumni – use MIT’s strong alumni network for career advice. The time on campus will fly by quickly –use your time to the fullest.

--I would advise incoming MFin candidates to be creative with the resources they utilize, more so on the job front than for coursework. However you choose to organize your information, make sure you start early and keep a record of the skills you learn, people you meet, databases you have access to, and companies you hear about. Never underestimate the zen and the ultimate payoff of organizational efficiency.

--It really helps to know how to work with big datasets before you get here, say in MATLAB, R, Python, etc.  Problem sets, the research practicum, and the proseminar all required manipulating large datasets, and you will get a lot more out of the program if you have some exposure to this before you arrive. 

 

05/01/2013

More on Academic Terms, Action Learning

It's been exciting and nostalgic to follow the conversation in the MFin Class of 2014 facebook group thus far, so I'll try to address some questions that have come up recently. Just to get a very rough sense of what the academic calendar feels like:

TermscheduleMFins begin with two mandatory courses (no course bidding required) during the summer term, followed by a short breather. In September, the remaining programs (MBAs, MSMS, etc.) join us at MIT Sloan for the beginning of Fall Semester. MFins have a choice of full-term courses that span both H1 and H2, or half-term courses that take place in either the first or second half of the term. In between the half-term courses is a brief one week break called the Sloan Innovation Period (SIP, for short), during which we were eligible to enroll in Sloan-wide courses, lectures, seminars, workshops, and/or non-credit activities. Some of my classmates also used this time for recreational travel. This year, MFins were also required to participate in a three-day Ethics Seminar. The calendar year ends as both full-term and H2 half-term courses wrap up in December, followed by an extended winter holiday.


January began with the Independent Activities Period (IAP), during which some of us chose to participate in the Finance Research Practicum (more on this later); some took on non-MIT affiliated internships in their home countries, others extended their winter travels. Like the Fall and Spring SIP weeks, the school also offers a selection of low- or no-credit courses if you're up for the challenge.

Spring Semester kicked off in early February, and the MFins were back on track with full credit loads again. Recall that MFins can take a maximum of 66 units per full term, of which no more than 54 units may be registered at MIT Sloan (any course labeled 15.xxx). Non-Sloan courses taken for credit can include classes on the MIT main campus, or cross-registration at Harvard oand any of the another collaborating local universities. Spring term is similarly interrupted by the Spring SIP, during which all the SIP selections are offered.

I highly recommend reading through some of the recent FAQs as you'll find more detailed descriptions of the schedule.


On that note, I've also received a few questions about my experience during the Finance Research Practicum. I'm hesitant to overshare--the IAP experience can vary so much from individual to individual, so I encourage you all to ask a variety of current students about how they spent their time in January. 

To reiterate my previous post, the Finance Research Practicum (FRP) is one of three "courses" that fulfills the Action Learning requirement; the others being the two flavors of proseminars offered during fall term. I use the term "course" loosely because the FRP is a unique creature that looks like an extended SIP week, counts as a full-term course for credit, yet feels and functions like an off-cycle internship. In comparison, the proseminars were arguably indistinguishable from ordinary fall-term courses: we bid for them at the same time as the rest of our full-term courses and attend scheduled class time with the professor on campus. Although the proseminar projects were company-sponsored, my team met and tackled the assignment on campus (with some guidance/input from the sponsor) alongside the rest of our coursework.

The FRP, on the other hand, felt less like a class assignment and more like a consulting project. FRP project assignments weren't gained through a bidding process, but through an optional survey of preferences and prior training handed to us in late fall. My team of four kicked off IAP by meeting with our hedge fund sponsor at their offices in downtown Boston to review the project description and toss around some ideas. Our sponsors kept in close communication with us throughout the project, and though we chose to work off-site, my team returned to our sponsors' office at the end of each week for a brief presentation and recap. My assignment was particularly open-ended and involved building a comprehensive crisis index from scratch. My team met nearly everyday to brainstorm, debate ideas, and analyze data, and having collective backgrounds in physics, economics, chemistry, and mathematics, we had something new to learn from each other (and, well, disagree on) every day. It wasn't easy, but it was also an opportunity to experience problem-solving in a real-world context: learning how to work effectively as a team to transform our sludge of knowledge and ideas into a cohesive, functional tool for our sponsors. 

Here are just a few glimpses of the presentation that accompanied our research paper:

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I'll end there, with a few more snapshots of MFin life:

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04/06/2013

Buffett Trek and more!

It has been a while since I last posted. I have been busy travelling, enjoying Boston and its surrounding areas(still can't believe there are only two months left here!), and reading cases!

It is this time of the year, when we have to make important decisions that could potentially change our lives towards different directions. I was in a similar situation last year, debating my options over and over again: should I come to Sloan, Oxford, or just accept the job offer and work in the industry? I chose Sloan because of its international reputation, world-class professors(Andrew Lo, Bob Merton, Stewart Myers, Eric Rosenfeld, to name just a few), the action learning programs (Proseminar, Finance Research Practicum, and many practical class projects), and most importantly, the opportunity to learn from the best of the very best! Here I am, and I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience over the past 9 months and made many BFFs. Coming to Sloan is probably the best decision I have ever made and I am really glad that I am here. 

One of the highlights of the program was the privilege to meet Warren Buffet during the spring break.  Every year a small group of Sloanies travel to Omaha to have a Q&A session with him, followed by lunch at one of his favorite restaurants (his treat!). He is very funny, witty and sharp even though he is already 82! I will dedicate this post to sharing some of the lessons I have learned from him. 

Lesson 1: Desirable qualities are optional. 

He asked us to think about 1 person to "buy" from the class and one person to "short". He asked us to think about the qualities that person has to merit the decision. He then commented that all these qualities we are buying and shorting are optional, meaning that we can acquire them should we desire, or/and we can get rid of them with a determined mind! My friends and I did this exercise, and we were not able to find any person to short from the class: everyone is so smart, sharp and capable! We listed some qualities that we would like to buy: positivity, intelligence, communication abilities, drive to succeed, etc. 

Lesson 2: Have a hero and learn from him/her. 

Warren Buffett said "if you tell me who your hero is, I will tell you how far you can go in life!". It was hard for me to pinpoint a hero, because there are so many absolutely outstanding people that I want to learn from. Perhaps it is time to think about who my hero will be! 

Lesson 3: Don't look back! 

When asked what is the one thing that he should have done but didn't, Warren Buffett answered "Honestly I don't have any regrets - I don't look back in life". He then went on talking about being rejected by HBS, which was viewed as an opportunity that allowed him to meet his mentor Benjamin Graham at Columbia Business School. "Bad things will turn out good so there is no point looking back!" He added that we also shouldn't look at the unknowns: "Extract from what you know! Everything is in the knowns!"

When asked what is the one good habit to add to our daily routine, he said "Reserve the best hours to sell to yourself (as opposed to selling products to someone else)". He commented that few people stand out nowadays, and most people just follow in the motion. So if we (new grads) want to succeed at work, we should develop initiatives, be passionate about the work we do, and try to give our superiors some ideas they haven't thought of. 

It was a very pleasant trip to meet Warren Buffett, his furniture store, and his jewelry store! All of us had a great time in Omaha! 

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03/31/2013

What's a C-Function?

It’s hard to believe there are less than two months to go before completing the program!  Spring Break has provided the opportunity to catch up on much needed sleep and also think about meaningful experiences during my time here at Sloan.

One of the things I’ve really appreciated this year is C-Functions (the C stands for culture).  These informal events held every few weeks let students take a break from studying and relax with fellow classmates while enjoying food, music, and live entertainment from another culture.  This can include anything from fashion shows to choreographed dancing, skits, or costume contests.  Some of the countries represented have been Korea, Mexico, Brazil, China, and Israel.  You always know when the next C-Function is just around the corner because you’ll see students in class and all around Sloan wearing T-shirts to promote the next event, which you can buy at a table set up in the Sloan cafeteria.  These events are quite popular and always have a great turnout of students with the majority being from Sloan.  C-Functions also provide a great environment to mingle with fellow students from other programs such as MBA, LGO, MSMS, and SF.

I decided not to list all the classes I’m taking this semester because they’re the same as my twin brother (see his post below), with the exception of one class, International Corporate Finance.  This course focuses on identifying, measuring, and managing exchange rate risk faced by corporations, while also covering forex trading strategies and hedging.  It’s taught by Professor Mello, whose extensive industry experience adds a great deal of perspective to this subject.  H2 courses start tomorrow (see more about this in Eric's post below as well). 

 

03/30/2013

SIP Week + Spring Break

Hello everyone!

It's been a while since I last had the chance to post. This can primarily be attributable to several reasons: 

1) My Spring semester course load is significantly lighter than Fall (I took 6 classes in Fall, plus Finance Research Practicum, which left me with a lot of room in Spring to pursue only classes i'm passionate about). Since this does not actually explain why I haven't been posting, it is worthwhile to mention that I have been spending all that additional free time travelling, catching up with old friends and exploring the wonderful city of Boston.

2) I have been receiving a lot of  emails lately from people have been accepted into the program or are in the midst of applying to make one of the admission deadlines. Hence, I have been placing a priority on answering as many of these emails as possible first.

3) Spring semester is pretty action-packed when it comes to student life: theres loads of things to do be it with fellow Sloanies, with MIT-based clubs, as well as all sorts of other ad-hoc activities that seem to pop up non-stop in the weekly newsletters everyone gets.

In any case, just to keep the ball rolling, and to also shed light on my most recent endeavors I present to you a series of photos from my trip to Rio de Janeiro, Iguazu Falls and Buenos Aires over SIP Week + Spring Break (so for those not in the know: SIP Week and Spring Break are adjacent weeks in Spring semester, and it is possible to not sign up for any SIP Week activities -- effectively netting you 2 glorious weeks to do whatever you want, which in my case meant more travelling!):

Photo credits mostly go to Mark Lim, because I am a hopeless photographer

Sugar Loaf mountain seen from Flamengo Beach, Rio de Janeiro

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The Cristo Redentor, Rio de Janeiro

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View across Ipanema Beach, Rio de Janerio

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Iguazu Falls, seen from the Brazillian side

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The Devil's Throat Falls which is part of Iguazu Falls, seen from the Argentinian side IMG_7525

Plaza de Mayo, Buenos Aires

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Plaza de Mayo from the opposite end, Buenos Aires

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Argentinian Gaucho cowboys/girls in some sort of race, Buenos Aires

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Argentinian Gaucho Cowboys playing what looks like horse-rugby, Buenos Aires

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Spring Semester in the Eye of the Tornado

H1 and H2 classes = more flexibility and variety

If you haven’t been around Sloan too much, you may be confused by the phrases “H1” and “H2.”  Don’t worry, it’s simple: H1 refers to a period in the first half of the semester, and H2 refers to a period in the second half of the semester.  That’s right.  An H1 class only lasts the first half of the semester and an H2 class…you guessed it - lasts only the second half of the semester.  The thing that I really enjoy about H1 and H2 classes is it allows you to include more variety in your schedule.  I like these types of classes so much, I’m taking 4!  The MFin program here at Sloan allows for maximum flexibility in course selection.  For specific examples of this, see the other blog posts, and I will assure you from personal experience that this is true.  Since I come from more of a quantitative background, I am happy to be able to take a good number of courses to improve my background in other areas as well. 

My Classes

Since coursework is such a big component of the MFin program, I thought I would share my experience with you about the ones I’m currently taking.

1. Retirement Finance, Lifecycle Investing and Asset Management

This class is taught by the great Nobel Laureate Robert Merton.  The course discusses how the tools of financial engineering can be applied to develop a better solution to the current retirement problem.  This class is absolutely fascinating, and has given me a completely new perspective on the shortcomings of the current retirement system, solutions for a new system, and how each stakeholder would gain from this new system.  

2. Entrepreneurial Finance (H1)

This course was jointly taught by MIT Professor Antoinette Schoar, and Carl Stjernfeldt, a General Partner at Castile Ventures.   Professor Antoinette Schoar was named one of the top 10 academics influencing the institutional investment industry by aiCIO, Asset International's magazine for chief investment officers.  The class deals with valuing start-up firms, negotiating term-sheets, and management issues in the VC business.  I found that the cases and discussions in this class drew on a wide breadth of different business and management issues, and I really gained a lot out of the course. 

3. Practice of Finance: Perspectives on Investment Management (H2)

I can’t comment at length about this course since H2 doesn’t start for 2 days.  Well, here’s what I’m expecting.  The course is taught by Professor Jeffrey Shames, and a different guest speaker from industry is brought in each week to share their insights about the investment management space.

4. Power and Negotiation

Taught by Professor Denise Lloyd, this class is very hands on.  We negotiate every single class, and deal with topics ranging from distributive negotiations to multiparty negotiations.  This is by far among the most useful classes I’ve ever taken, and the experience of preparing for and engaging in a negotiation each week will certainly serve me well along many walks of life. 

5. The Euro Area Crisis (H1)

This class is taught by Professor Athanasios Orphanides who served as the Governor of the Central Bank of Cyprus and was also a member of the Governing Council of the European Central Bank.  His perspectives on the crisis come from direct experience working on the Euro Area framework.  The final project in the course is to develop a solution to the Euro Area crisis (not an easy task!)

6. Central Banks, Monetary Policy and Global Financial Markets (H2)

Also taught by Professor Orphanides, this is the second course in a two part series on macro issues.  Having also served as a Senior Advisor to the Federal Reserve Board of Governors, he teaches from his own personal experience.  I’m looking forward to starting this course on Monday!

 

I am so excited by the things I am learning this semester, and am looking forward to starting H2 on Monday.