Commons Room

You’re the Boss

Pitt business students have the opportunity to start their futures early as with big cups of real-world experience.
Illustrated by
Michael Highway

illustrated gif of person with swirling coffee pot as head, cup of coffee and saucer in one hand, the other hand typing on a laptop. Strings of lights appear above, and in background, silhouettes carrying cups of coffee flash.

On the Cathedral of Learning’s ground floor, the invigorating smell of freshly brewed coffee wafted through the air. A burst of students heading to and from classes rushed through the hallways. Many followed the aroma to the nearby Saxbys coffee bar. There, the counters were clean, the baked goods were tempting, and a young woman in a black T-shirt served up café au lait with a smile.

When the rush of service was over, Meghna Hingorani was still bustling behind the counter, checking inventory, drafting budgets and preparing work schedules. Hingorani, a senior finance major, was in the middle of her eight-hour shift. To thirsty customers, she might have appeared to be an average college student barista. But Hingorani is an SCEO — student café executive officer.

In the fall of 2021, Saxbys, a Philadelphia-based coffee company and Certified B Corporation, launched a partnership with Pitt’s College of Business Administration to bring an experiential learning platform to campus. It involves two completely student-run cafés (one in the Cathedral, the other in Hillman Library), each helmed by an SCEO who not only earns a competitive wage and a semester’s worth of credits but also gains valuable experience.

With support from Saxbys’ leadership, Hingorani and her Hillman location counterpart, Nishanth Abdullah, manage all parts of running the cafés, from creating financial reports and dealing with supplies to initiating community engagement and managing a large, all-student staff. Each SCEO serves for a semester.

“The partnership is a great way for students to gain real-life experience and put what they learn in classrooms into practice,” says Lawrence Feick, interim associate dean of the College of Business Administration.

The opportunity is competitive, too. Hingorani went through four rounds of interviews before she was selected for the 2022 spring semester. She was scheduled to graduate at the end of that term, but she was so excited by the prospect of spreading her wings in a real business setting that she rearranged her course schedule and delayed graduation by a semester for the chance.

She says it was worth it. In addition to the hands-on training, Saxbys’ corporate management provides career coaching, including resumé and LinkedIn profile development and job-placement services.

At the Hillman café, Abdullah was busy serving and learning on the job, too.

A major in finance supply chain management, he recalls a day when the café’s espresso machine broke. He was responsible for continuing the daily orders with only one machine — a problem that seemed daunting but which he and his employees overcame. These kinds of challenges, he says, provide lessons in patience and problem-solving, making them more than worthwhile.

Despite the occasional workday stresses, he feels lucky to be in the SCEO position, because the business training he’s getting — as well as practice with quick thinking and working under pressure — is giving him skills he’ll need to thrive after Pitt.

Hingorani is thinking about what’s next, too. Originally from Mumbai, India, she hopes to go to Bollywood and start her own production company — something that will take more than a little business know-how.

Before that dream becomes reality, she spent the spring semester building her leadership skills and boosting her management acumen — one fragrant pot of coffee at a time.


This story was posted on May 23, 2022. It is from Pitt Magazine’s Spring 2022 issue.