Meet Rice’s MBA Class of 2017

Natalie Smith

Natalie N. Smith 

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

Hometown: Pearland, TX

Undergraduate School and Major:

  • University of Michigan – MS in Mechanical Engineering
  • Prairie View A&M University – BS in Mechanical Engineering

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation: 

2009-2010 BP Subsea Operations Engineer – Nakika Facility

2010-2012 BP Subsea Project Engineer – MDPH2 Project

2012-2014 BP GSH Subsea Delivery Engineer – MDPH2 Project

2014-2015 BP GSH Subsea Connection System Delivery Lead – Juniper Project

Recalling your own experience, what advice do you have for applicants who are preparing for either the GMAT or the GRE? My first bit of advice would be to start well ahead of the time you plan to begin applying for business school. Unfortunately, I did not follow this piece of advice and I was taking the exam up until the final date of submission, making my level of anxiety extremely higher than necessary. Had I taken the exam three to four years prior, the level of stress to achieve a certain score would have been totally less since time would not have been a factor.

As for an approach to studying for the GMAT, definitely utilize a plan to learn a particular approach to each question type. Many of the professional programs such as Kaplan, Manhattan GMAT, etc. can help with teaching various approaches. In addition, utilizing many phone apps and online programs such as Grockit and Magoosh to supplement the learnings from the professional programs can be very helpful. The key, however, to succeeding in the GMAT is when you begin to focus on learning the exam from the maker’s perspective. The trends for the right answer become more visible.

Lastly, just do your very best. The final score that comes out of your very best attempt is worthy of your acceptance and joy. I can say I did not score in the 99th percentile. However, I do know that I gave my very best shot. I also know my score will not dictate how I will perform in graduate school. If the score is not what you planned, do not beat yourself up about it. You can still achieve all of your dreams despite your score and trust me the right school for you will not reduce your ability to the GMAT score.

Based on your own selection process, what advice do you have for applicants who are trying to draw up a list of target schools to which to apply? I would advise applicants to be truthful with themselves and base the list of target schools around how the school aligns with their end goals and personality to ensure the best fit.  So, understand your target location, learning environment, and the level of access you require with recruiting, professors, and alumni to achieve the level of development to start your post-MBA career off in the right direction.

Since I have an engineering background, I must say I did not only do my Google research. But I also visited the schools to get an up close and personal experience. Upon visiting all of my favorite potential schools, I did list them and ranked them accordingly. I trust and definitely feel the decision I made is the best for me, my family, and the business school. I also include the business school since my presence, my active participation, and passion for learning and leading within my class will benefit the school for the long term. Finding the school that provides a win-win situation for all parties is key since business is all about relationships.

What advice do you have for applicants who are actually applying to a school, writing essays, doing admission interviews, and getting recommenders to write letters on your behalf? 

Apply to B-School (in general)

Do:  Reflect on past achievements, strengths, and weaknesses.

Do:  Reach out to past alumni or current students to gain insight into their application experience.

Don’t:  Wait until the last minute. 

Writing Your Essay(s)

Do:  Plan to write several revisions for one essay. Have friends (great if they are past alumni) and family review your essays and give feedback.

Do:  Answer the question and stay within the boundaries given.

Don’t:  Assume that the story and dream job you give in your essay is what will be expected of you to focus on and land in your post-MBA career.

Admission Interview

Do:  Dress professionally and show up at least 15 minutes early.

Do:  Come with a great attitude and be ready to expand on your responses from your essays.

Don’t: Only speak of yourself. Also ask questions of the school, experience in class, leadership opportunities, and opportunities to give back to the school.

What led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA? Business is everywhere, and everyone is part of it. Our choice of purchase represents inner desires and emotions which we either want to hide or show. It is a way to subtly signal where we fit in and what is on our mind.  I reflect back to my undergraduate years at PVAMU, where I started my first business to repair and maintain student’s vehicles, clearly understanding that my dream career would be in entrepreneurship.

Achieving a Rice MBA will provide me priceless experiences and exposure to peers with diverse educational and cultural backgrounds that will enlighten me educationally and actively. I know my professors will take personal interest in me and will actively support me to meet my short- and long-term goals. Career Management staff will know me by name and assist me in building my professional network, internship experience, and attaining my dream career role.  My immediate family, my husband and two year-old son, will also have the ability to feel integrated into my business school journey since Rice welcomes them to many social events and organizations. All four factors at the Jones School make up a potential family that I would not get attending another university.

“You don’t know what you don’t know” is one of my favorite phrases. However, with the right attitude and the right goals, any work, educational, travel or other experience supported and initiated by the Jones School will help me improve as an entrepreneur and executive. I trust that business school at the Jones School can provide me the space to come up with the brilliant idea, the resources to execute it, and the support network that I will need during the entrepreneurial grind.

What would you ultimately like to achieve before you graduate? I have focused my priorities in the following order:  Leadership, networking, and academics. Ranking academics last does not mean it will suffice to do poorly, but the level of focus to achieve a 4.0 with academic awards compared to developing a deep professional relationship with an academic sponsor or alum who is doing the role I hope to do post-MBA will be approached differently.

I envision myself to be a leader who is not intimidated to hire individuals who are smarter than myself to fuel a more creative workplace; persistent in pushing forward through the varying obstacles; vulnerable enough to establish a relationship and connection with employees and customers to foster a successful company and life; courageous in promoting a brand that is beneficial for society, and proclaim optimism to change the perspective of “this is the way the world is” to “I see an opportunity from this crisis.”  So, to develop these particular skills I would like to experience as many sites and programs I have never before.

Fortunately, I had the privilege to attend the Chinese European International Business School (CEIBS) Pre-MBA Bootcamp in Shanghai to gain an understanding of the class experience as well as gain insight into the Chinese and European economies and how they each have an impact on the world.  This program, I believe gave me the confidence and the jumpstart in the right direction to be an active leader within the Rice Full-time program.  To continue developing my executive skills, I would like to run for a class leadership position as well as a leadership role within the Finance club.  Moreover, I would like to devote time and effort to progressing my startup idea to develop an apparel manufacturing company located here in Houston, TX, so I am excited to apply to participate in the Owl Spark accelerator program.

Networking is a skill that takes patience and strategic planning to implement successfully. This process extends longer than a drink, invitation of a business card, and laughs at a bar. I had previously received some advice from the Forte Foundation that encouraged me to learn to become consistent in the productive advice to networking: Create a connection, give the new relationship a future, maintain the relationship, and connect that individual to others within your network. Creating the connection is just the beginning and the extension of the business card. Now, the effort comes into play where you give the relationship a future by following up from the conversation and discussing a specific shared interest. Then, you maintain the relationship with a periodic thank you note or sharing of articles and events that are of interest to that individual. Finally, you connect the person to others within your network who may be of benefit to the person’s goals or interests.  From this consistent behavior, one can develop a reputation as dependable, connected, and influential.

Finally, academics is the foundation of achieving my first priorities and completing them successfully. Doing my homework and understanding the fundamentals of business will give me the strength to speak confidently with other notable businessmen and women, exposing me to historical successes and failures that I can utilize for inspiration when I develop my startup. The academics also do not only entail book work, but also apprenticeship.  I have learned to do as the Baby boomers did, by not being a clock-puncher, taking the initiative, and pointing out problems, and working to develop solutions for them. I am happy to learn for a lesser wage or free where I know I will learn since I know I will reap the benefits later. As a Rice MBA, I plan to take the academic content in, digest it, and produce results.


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