Letters to the Editor

RPI life lessons for success at school and beyond

These are the days.

A very popular song, when I was a student at RPI, was “These Are the Days” by 10,000 Maniacs. It was a favorite of mine as well. As a senior, I was ready to leave Troy behind, spread my wings far and wide, and start a life that would create memories that would bring such warm feelings (because trust me—it was not RPI—especially having taken 24 credits in order to ensure an on-time graduation!).

Recently, I heard the song again and the strange thing was, it was those memories of RPI that came to mind as I hummed along …

When May is rushing over you with desire to be part of the miracles you see in every hour.

You’ll know it’s true that you are blessed and lucky.

It’s true that you are touched by something that will grow and bloom in you.

RPI provided me the skills for success. As you transition from student to alumnus/a, and the world awaits with opportunities and hardship alike, here are some “life lessons” that I wish someone would’ve told me.

Don’t be in a rush. Unless you are a professional runner, don’t be so focused on a goal or an achievement that you miss out on the journey. There are many roads to success, and RPI has given you the skills to be successful, so take some time to enjoy what you are doing. Remember: it’s the journey, not the destination.

It’s not about what you achieve, but how you achieve it. This is particularly important as you become older. Up to now, success has been largely defined by being right—getting answers on a test right, giving a professor the right answer in class, etc. But in the corporate work environment, being right does not matter much if it makes your coworkers look bad or makes them resent you. There is no “I” in team, so use your intelligence to make the team stronger. Your peers will want to work with you and for you, and management will see a leader and a strong team player.

It’s all about your network. Every job I have gotten since my first one has been through my network of former bosses, peers, and RPI alumni! Most industries are actually pretty small, so every interaction is an opportunity to build your network and be the person that people want on their project because they know you.

Don’t be afraid to try. Fear of failing held me back from so many different things in life. RPI students are not ones who are used to failure. But you know what? As with most things, the fear of failure is worse than reality. I was once so afraid of asking for a role that I wanted—I thought for sure I would just crumble if I heard the word “no” and not be able to recover. But once I mustered the courage to ask, and heard “No,” I did not crumble. In fact it was liberating, as I no longer spent time thinking and worrying about it. I moved on and learned how strong I really was.

Failure is good for so many reasons—especially when the alternative is to play it safe or limit yourself from seizing opportunities.

When I look back at my time as a student, I realize that RPI has given me these skills—that did grow and bloom in me. Participation in Union clubs and activities, and being a member in a sorority taught me the value of teamwork. Trying to juggle a full engineering load taught me valuable time management and multitasking skills. Impossible classwork taught me how to think analytically and critically.

I wish you all a very successful future.

Maria Adriana Ciunga ’91, ’93G is a vice president in the global technology department at JP Morgan Chase, having spent over 22 years in financial services working for Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, and ION Trading. She received her BS in industrial engineering and her MBA from Rensselaer. Maria currently serves on the Rensselaer Alumni Association Board of Trustees.You may reach her at