Paying It Forward For LGBT MBAs

Prospective students meet with representatives from MBA programs during the ROMBA annual conference in San Francisco.

Prospective students meet with representatives from MBA programs during the ROMBA annual conference in San Francisco.

Three years ago, Drew Cekada walked into the annual Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) conference in Boston on a whim. Cekada happened to be transitioning his career toward higher education consulting and wanted a degree to help him do it. Perhaps an MBA. Perhaps something else.

During the admissions expo at the conference, Cekada happened upon the Indiana University Kelley School of Business table and met an MBA student named Barry Hoyer. Hoyer told him Kelley wasn’t just a school that values diversity, but it is a school that wants its students to feel comfortable showcasing who they are. After some follow-up research, Cekada was sold.

Fast-forward three years to the same conference in San Francisco and you could find Cekada doing the same thing Hoyer was in Boston. Cekada stands behind the Kelley table offering guidance and support to prospective MBA students. He calls it paying it forward.

“We as current MBA students have the responsibility and privilege to face injustices and create an open space for the next generation of students,” Cekada says.


The conference took place from Oct. 2 to Oct. 4 and featured expert panels, keynote speakers, learning sessions, corporate presentations, networking events, case and pitch competitions and the admissions expo. About 120 students identifying as LGBTQA attended the conference.

“Our goal as an organization and through the annual conference is to create a business climate safe for young professionals to be their authentic selves,” says Matt Kidd, executive director of ROMBA. “If a CEO of a huge company were to come out, it would make headlines. If the future CEOs are open from the beginning, there doesn’t have to be a big, splashy media event later on.”

Kidd says schools self-reporting data to ROMBA shows an average of 3% of current MBA students identify openly as LGBT. And the representation of businesses and schools at the conference sends a message that these schools not only want students from the LGBT community, but also want them as out and comfortable LGBT students.

Businesses represented included General Motors, Target, The Boston Consulting Group and The Home Depot to name a (very) few. More than 30 top schools were present recruiting students.


The big announcement at the conference was the introduction of the new ROMBA LGBT Fellowship. The fellowship will work like a Forte or Consortium scholarship and the eight participating schools will give at least one student identifying as LGBTQA a minimum of $10,000 per year to pursue an MBA. The participating schools are currently the Columbia Business School, New York University’s Stern School of Business, Dartmouth’s Tuck School of Business, MIT’s Sloan School of Management, University of California-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business, University of Texas-Austin’s McCombs School of Business, Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management and Chicago’s Booth School of Business.

“When we started to talk with schools about the fellowship idea, the majority of schools saw a need for it,” says Kidd. “We are continuing to develop the list of schools. This will help build the next crop of LGBT leaders in our country.”

Daniel Roddick, director of financial aid at Haas says the collaboration is another way to promote diversity at the school. “Our goal is to ensure a welcoming environment for students of all backgrounds,” says Roddick.

The Senior Associate Director of MBA Admissions at the Columbia Business School, Michael Robinson says this is another step in helping all students reach their full leadership potential by creating a supportive and engaging environment. Tina Mabley, the assistant dean of the full-time MBA program at the University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business says this is another way to recruit the best talent to their program.

“By attracting top students from a variety of backgrounds, we are able to enhance the learning environment for all students,” says Mabley.


Ultimately, the conference, which is in its 13th year, continues to create a space for LGBT prospective and current MBA students to connect and learn about the community within MBA programs and the business community.

Current first-year MBA student at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Wacey Turner was hesitant to pursue a degree in the Midwestern community of Ann Arbor, Michigan. But after learning about the community of like-minded and driven people within Ross through ROMBA, Turner’s hesitations turned into excitement.

“There is a very strong presence in the first-year class at Ross,” Turner says. “There is a very active base of students and alumni willing to engage and help in any way.”

This is precisely the purpose of ROMBA and the conference.

“We have connections to about 43 club affiliates at different schools we want to connect prospective and current students with,” Kidd says. “We are a resource for students wanting to learn what it is like to be on campus as an LGBT student that goes beyond what an admissions person can say.”

Kidd says the ROMBA website will continue to develop and increase in resources for prospective LGBT students.



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