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T-bird 'Pays It Forward' during Singapore Field Seminar

April 10, 2018

What is the "Thunderbird Mystique" all about? Is it a bird? Is it a plane? Since 1946, T-birds the world over have tried in vain to fully articulate what the "mystique" means. While words may fail them--their actions, mindsets and motives illustrate the mystique like nothing else.

Take Aaron White, for instance. Aaron in a student in Thunderbird's Online Master of Global Management. At the beginning of the spring 2018 semester, he took a trip to Singapore to conduct his applied learning field study.

Part of his Singapore field study involved visiting several companies including Microsoft. It so happened that on the very day he and his classmates visited, Microsoft was hosting an internal fundraising auction for International Women’s Day – dubbed Beers for Books. The objective of this auction was to raise funds to educate a group of disadvantaged girls in Laos, a small mountainous country in Southeast Asia, through a project known as Room to Read. Room to Read seeks to transform the lives of millions of children in low-income countries by focusing on literacy and gender equality in education.

The term lucky guy was coined for Aaron. He won 6 raffle tickets out of a cast of 10 lucky winners at this auction, including the grand prize of the latest Microsoft Surface laptop. Isn’t this the kind of T-bird you carry with you to Vegas?

This is when Aaron's embodiment of the Thunderbird mystique kicked in: He astounded the whole room when he decided, rather than keeping the grand prize for himself, he wanted to donate the laptop to one of the young girls from Laos.

No one could believe it. "Why would you give away a $2,500+ laptop?" the other guests wondered. What Aaron knew for sure is that a new laptop would not change his life, but when put in the hands of a young girl who thirsts for an opportunity for education, it would change hers. In the long run, he educated an entire community through a mere act of kindness.

Thunderbird Student Aaron White at Microsoft in Singapore

"The laptop went to a young lady by the name Kaison. She was born in a small southern town in Laos and, after her mother’s death, she and her siblings were separated," Aaron explains. "She ended up moving in with her aunt several kilometers away from home and became the sole caregiver for her ailing grandfather. During school breaks, she would go back home where she would work on the farm to help raise income for her younger three siblings. In 2007, she committed to Room to Read and somehow managed to balance school with all that was happening in her life. This girl is amazing!"

“If you want to enjoy the benefits of a better world, do something good for someone who is underprivileged or underserved," Aaron says, noting that the laptop recipient had done that very thing herself. "Kaison earned a government sponsorship that took her to University--and after graduation in 2015, she rededicated her time and efforts to mobilize Rooms to Read in order to ensure more girls like her get an opportunity to education.”

Kaison a few Years Ago and Today

“T-birds always find new ways to surprise me," says Lena Booth, Ph.D., Thunderbird Associate Professor of Finance & Academic Director for Online MGM Program, who accompanied Aaron's cohort on their trip to Singapore. "To be frank, I have never been able to pin what the Thunderbird Mystique is; it’s not only a curious mindset, the ability to communicate in different languages, but also that deep urge to make the world a better place through kindness, ethics and business. I was so proud of him!”

This is one of the thousands of the stories we hear about T-birds around the globe. We may never fully be able to describe it, but when you experience the mystique – you will know.

About Aaron White: Aaron is a seasoned project manager for the US State Department. His scope includes South Central Asian affairs – which he hopes to continue pursuing as he moves to Shanghai this fall.

About the author: Annie Wambita '18 is a Master of Global Management student at Thunderbird. From Kenya, Annie is passionate about brand/product management, entrepreneurship, data insights and community investments. When she's not traveling and connecting with people around the globe, you can find her by the park where she enjoys doing her creative writing.

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