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Center for Professional Development
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Alumni Stories: Lalitha Gasparov '92

Trial and Error:  Finding a Perfect Fit  by Lisa Birzen '03

“I arrived on campus confused about what I wanted to do and, senior year, I left just as confused," Lalitha Otterness Gasparov ‘92 honestly admits.

“Dartmouth opens your mind to so many different opportunities that it is hard to narrow them down," she further explains.

Gasparov first heard of Dartmouth by chance and, growing up in Lakewood, Colorado, “really had never thought about going out-of-state for college until junior year of high school," she says.

During Gasparov’s junior year spring break, the neighbor whom she had been baby-sitting for, surprised Gasparov with an invitation to come out and visit her on the East Coast.

“Unbeknownst to me, she made plans to go around to all the ‘good schools’ in the North East, including Dartmouth," Gasparov recalls.

“It was spring break and mud season so you can imagine what the campus looked like at the time; but, walking around, I became enamored with the campus and met people who were generous with their time and wanted to show me around," she fondly recalls.

“I fell in love with every aspect of Dartmouth," she concluded.

“From that point, I really wanted to go to Dartmouth College," she says and when she was accepted Early Decision, she was “very excited about becoming a member of the community."

Gasparov, whose majors were Government with a concentration in Geography and German, owes a lot of her academic and career pursuits to two professors, George Demko of the Geography Department and Susanne Zantop of the German Department.

Gasparov describes Demko as a “‘real mentor’ despite meeting him late in the game." "He piqued my interest in the social sciences generally and geography specifically," she explains.

Zantop, who accompanied Gasparov on the German Foreign Study Program (FSP) to Berlin in the winter of 1990, “influenced me in the way I shaped my studies and looked at opportunities in the future."

“She was an incredible woman and it was devastating to hear that she passed on the way she did," Gasparov solemnly reflects.

During her senior year, Gasparov, like many others in the same situation, admitted to feeling “lost about what I wanted to do."

She was considering “foreign and corporate jobs and intended to work for a few years out of college" before possibly moving on to another area of interest.

Despite having vague notions of her prospective future, Gasparov landed her first job out of college in a surprising and unexpected manner.

She vividly recalls the day when she was “sitting in Center for Professional Development, wearing a sweat-suit, going over company profiles, preparing for the interviews for the day," she describes. "I had sent in an application to Liz Claiborne a few weeks ago but didn’t hear anything and so was about to cross them off my list."

As the case may be, “the recruiter for Liz Claiborne had a free slot that day and Kathryn Hutchinson of Center for Professional Development, suggested that we meet," she recalls.

Gasparov was concerned about her lack of appropriate interview attire and preparation, but met with the interviewer anyway and, as a result, secured her first post-collegiate employment.

Following graduation, Gasparov worked in the company’s management training program in New York and the company headquarters in New Jersey for a couple of years.

“I hated living in the New York metropolitan area," she admits. "I got it out of my system. I didn’t see myself destined to stay in fashion forever, either" she recalls thinking at the time.

This realization enabled her to search for a more satisfying line of work.

The solution brought her back to the Dartmouth campus and set her on the path to further personal and professional fulfillment.

On campus, she worked at the Office of First Year Students and later as the Acting Assistant Director of Young Alumni at the Alumni Relations Office for a total of almost one year.

“I really, really loved it but decided that if I wanted to work within student services, I needed to get an advanced degree" in the field, she concluded.

Gasparov’s next stop was the Harvard University Graduate School of Education, where she attained her Masters in Administration, Planning and Social Policy, graduating in 1996. Her studies had a heavy concentration in social science research methodology, remaining consistent with her academic pursuits while at Dartmouth.

After her graduation, she traveled to Sofia, Bulgaria, to visit friends she had made in the fall of 1990 during her Foreign Study Program in Budapest, Hungary through the Government, Economics and History departments, a program which has since been eliminated.

As a result of this trip, she met the man whom she would eventually marry. In a way, “Dartmouth helped me meet my husband!" she says, laughing.

Due to the political instability in her husband’s native Bulgaria at the time, the couple chose to relocate to the United States and settle in Chicago, Illinois which boasts a large Bulgarian community.

Shortly thereafter, Gasparov became Director of Client Services for Jerold, Panas, Linzy and Partners and found herself recalling one of Nels Armstrong’s, Director of Alumni Relations, common sayings: Alumni Relations is the fun part of fundraising!

While working at Dartmouth, “I was able to buy into the idea of alumni giving," she says. As a result, in her new role, she could “help the consulting firm provide its non-profit clients with advice on how to bolster their fundraising and to determine what was a feasible goal for a capital campaign."

After one and a half years, however, Gasparov decided that she “wanted to use more of [her] education" and, consequently, came across a previously unknown career track.

“I had no idea what trial consulting was, but it required people with a background in the social sciences and so it fit the bill," she explains.

In 1998 she joined the team at TrialGraphix in Chicago and has remained with them to this day. She began as a Research Associate, was promoted to Operations Manager and is currently the Director of Operations at the firm.

TrialGraphix “supports litigators as they prepare for trials," she explains. The firm assists clients with jury selection and enables them to “better connect with jurors in the courtroom." 

The firm organizes jury focus groups, runs mock trials and analyzes the resulting data to predict how people will react and respond in the courtroom based on their backgrounds.

In addition, the firm aids clients in the use of advanced technology to more effectively present information in the courtroom.

TrialGraphix not only provides services to either plaintiffs or defendants, but to anyone in need of the expertise this firm has to offer. Its clients range from small and major law firms to insurance companies and covers cases from insurance liability and risk to all types of litigation, from criminal cases to patent infringements.

This relatively new company is “aggressively opening up" three new offices around the country and is currently the “#1 litigation consulting firm in the nation," Gasparov explains.

Other competitors in the field “do not have as much infrastructure and cannot provide the full range of services" as TrialGraphix, she says.

In her current position, Gasparov is “using everything that I collected along the way," combining her experience in client services at Liz Claiborne and her consulting work at Jerold, Panas, Linzy and Partners with her management education from Harvard University.

Currently, she manages “highly, highly intellectual people in a pseudo-academic setting, driven by an aggressive business model," she describes.

Her career progression focuses on social science: how people feel, think and act. Over time, “this ongoing interest has continued to manifest itself and this job is the culmination of all of my interests," she concludes.

For alumni seeking to find a career to match their own pursuits, Gasparov offers some wholehearted advice.

“Take advantage of alumni resources!" she emphasizes.

“So many alumni out there would love to mentor, especially when they take the time to put their name on the [Alumni Network] list," she explains.

Unfortunately, however, the Network is an "underutilized resource" perhaps because "undergraduates may feel like they’re imposing," she speculates.

But, she reassures, “There are alumni out there willing to reach out to undergrads and help them figure out what to do with their future."

Citing one example, Gasparov recalls a young female student who approached her for advice on the trial consulting field. As a result of this student’s abilities and interest, she was able to take advantage of an employment opportunity at TrialGraphix which became available shortly after her initial contact.

“Not to say that this happens every time, but take advantage of the resources at your disposal because you never know what will happen," Gasparov says encouragingly.

In addition, Gasparov warns of some caveats to avoid.

“It’s easy to get caught up senior year in corporate recruiting when everyone around you is trying to do the same thing," she says.

“Do not get too devastated when what you think you want to do is not what you eventually end up doing," she advises.

“Remain relentless, positive and open," she suggests. “A lot of what you see on paper is not what the opportunity ends up being," she cautions.

“You can work 120 hours a week and you end up having no quality of life. However, if you value quality of life and forsake a little bit of income, then it can be a good exchange," she says.

Perseverance and trial and error helped Gasparov narrow down her employment options until she arrived at a perfect match.  Following the same example, you too will be able to obtain the same rewarding results for yourself.

Last Updated: 10/9/13