Shilpi Gowda

Shilpi Somaya Gowda is a 1992 graduate of UNC with degrees in economics and international studies, but she’s taken her learning in a novel direction. While many of her classmates have jobs with large corporations or investment banks, Gowda has written two critically acclaimed works of fiction.

Her first novel (entitled Secret Daughter) was published in 2010 and became a New York Times and #1 international bestseller, selling more than a million copies worldwide in over 30 languages and countries. Her second novel (entitled The Golden Son), was published in 2015 and is also a #1 international bestseller.

How did she become a novelist? She credits Carolina and her economics degree. The idea for her first book came to her as she spent a Morehead summer internship during college working as a volunteer in an orphanage in India. But her economics training?

“For me, studying economics provided a new way of seeing the world and understanding its problems. Classes like ‘Gender & Economics’ and ‘Development Economics’ helped me make sense of current issues and identify potential solutions. I am so grateful for that analytical and accurate portrayal of the world. Now, I write fiction for many of the same reasons: it helps me make sense of the world we live in, and to find alternate paths to problems I see,” she said.

Her first years after Carolina did not look all that different from those of other econ graduates. As she said, “I took a job with Morgan Stanley in the investment banking analyst program, then Stanford Business School, then spent 10 years in strategy and business development in the retail and consumer industry. I just wouldn’t want people to think that I went directly from college to writing — it was a 15 year, circuitous path!”

A path that started in Gardner Hall.

Gardner Hall left its impression with her, as it has with many economics graduates. “I loved and easily understood microeconomics, but macroeconomics was a challenge for me. I remember sitting in that Gardner Hall classroom for weeks and weeks without ever really understanding what was going on. Then finally, one day, something clicked in place and things made sense. That ‘aha’ moment made me realize that I will never allow myself to say that I’m not good at something, or I don’t ‘get’ something — it’s just a question of perseverance and continuing to think about a problem in new ways. There have been dozens and dozens of times since that day in Gardner Hall when I’ve been put into situations — in a classroom, in a professional setting — when it feels like I don’t understand and I’m in over my head. I’ve learned to stick with the challenge until I can learn my way out it.”

She has settled in California with her husband and her children, but Chapel Hill still calls to her.

“I would love to transplant the Morehead-Cain Foundation and its people to California. That was my home away from home on campus — where I could always drop in for a soda or an ice-cream, and meet up with students who might be very different from me in terms of what they were studying, but were always intellectually curious and striving to make a positive impact on the world. I had some of my greatest conversations and formed my best friendships with my fellow scholars. I would love to take that community with me wherever I go.”

Story by Natasha Gilliam of the UNC economics department

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