MSIM student puts skills to work in Ethiopia

By Jim Davis Monday, May 6, 2024

Nikhil Shenoy traveled to Ethiopia last summer to participate in one of the new study abroad programs offered by the University of Washington Information School. As part of the inaugural group, Shenoy, who is pursuing a master’s degree in information management, and his fellow students were granted the freedom to shape a project utilizing skills they learned in the iSchool.

His group developed a plan to expand access to e-commerce for small-business owners in the East African nation. The business owners create wares valued by shoppers worldwide, but much of the infrastructure needed to reach the global market is unavailable to them.

“We were shopping at a relatively famous tourist destination; the lady there was very well traveled,” Shenoy said. “She had kids in Canada, she had a business in Ethiopia, and she was talking about the difficulties of supply-chain management, logistical issues, marketing issues, all of that. 

“She was quite well-established. If she's facing this many problems, she gave us a better picture of what others who don’t have that level of connection are facing in Ethiopia.”

While they were only able to start the project during the three-week program, Shenoy hopes future study abroad groups will pick up where they left off. 

Part of the reason that Shenoy could travel to Ethiopia was because he was a recipient of the merit-based Information School Scholarship Fund. The scholarship made the trip and his final year at the iSchool financially feasible.

Shenoy proved to be a valuable member of the study abroad group, which was a mix of undergraduate and post-graduate students, said Jaime Snyder, an iSchool associate professor who was one of the faculty members leading the program. She saw Shenoy grow during the trip.

“I definitely saw Nik go through that process of seeing things that seemed familiar, spending some time observing, talking to people, talking through different ideas and perceptions, and really learning to see things in a new way,” Snyder said.

Shenoy, who was born in Ohio but raised in India, originally planned to attend the iSchool in 2020, but a personal tragedy forced him to delay enrollment until fall 2022. His father, Suresh Shenoy, was diagnosed with terminal brain cancer and Nikhil needed to remain in India to assist his mother, Kiran Prabhu, and sister, Maya Shenoy.

“My uncle, who's a neurosurgeon, was the one who was overseeing everything and at that point, had told us, ‘Let the man go in peace. Let's have him go undergo palliative care and just go out on his own terms,’” Shenoy said.

Shenoy arrived at the iSchool with a great deal of experience. He had received a degree in electronics in 2018 from one of the top universities in India, the National Institute of Technology. He had worked at a startup in India creating a milking machine for farmers with fewer than 100 cows that could test cows for disease. He later worked at India’s Walmart corporate headquarters as a product analyst.

Shenoy chose the iSchool because it’s a well-regarded program close to many corporate headquarters in Seattle and the information management program offers a great deal of flexibility in course offerings. When he visited the campus, he met with a friend from his undergraduate days who described her experiences at the iSchool, solidifying his decision. 

After his study abroad program in Ethiopia, Shenoy spent the rest of last summer interning at a public-private partnership at the University of Notre Dame, assisting businesses in Indiana. He’s continued working for the public-private partnership on a contract basis, most recently working with Tire Rack, a company that services tires, to create a system that monitors batteries used to run the equipment in the company’s vans. He expects to work with the partnership after graduation in June.

One of the reasons he’s enjoyed the MSIM program is his interactions with the faculty, many of whom are career professionals teaching part-time or who transitioned from the private sector into teaching.

“There's a lot of common ground for them to relate with us and impart advice that we can easily integrate into either the future or our current situations,” Shenoy said. “They also have a lot of network connections because of that previous work experience, and that is something I really appreciate.”