2016 Best MBAs: Ellen Rice Staten, MIT Sloan

Ellen Rice Staten MIT

Ellen Rice Staten


MIT, Sloan School of Management

“There is power in differences, especially when they come together. Everyone in business school is incredibly talented and smart. But we all have different strengths. No one is great at everything. But, when we bring those strengths together in a collaborative environment, ideas can turn into some of the greatest inventions and generate the creation of some of the most innovative organizations.”

Age: 32

Hometown: Burke, VA


Hampton University, BA, Political Science, Cum Laude

Georgetown University, MPP

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Logistics Management Institute

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? Biogen, Cambridge, MA

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be working as the founder of Stratovia. Stratovia focuses on building inclusion at leading STEM organizations and in the entrepreneurial ecosystem. At Stratovia, I will guide organizations in embedding measurable diversity and inclusion strategies into their corporate goals and initiative.

I will also connect entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds, with a focus on women and minorities, with key resources, including funding, coaching and education to build high-impact startups that add social and economic benefit across all communities.

I will also be a consultant at the Logistics Management Institute focusing on business requirements related to the Affordable Care Act.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: My community and leadership roles focused on building a more inclusive and healthier MIT community.

I am co-president of the MIT Black Graduate Student Association (BGSA), which serves the entire Institute. Under the BGSA executive board leadership, BGSA was awarded the 2016 MIT Martin Luther King Jr. Leadership Award for helping to build a more inclusive and healthier academic environment at MIT.

BGSA took a number of steps to encourage inclusion at MIT. One groundbreaking event was one where we discussed strategies to cultivate inclusive spaces for black LGBTQ students. The event titled “Shades of Pride Coalition Building for LGBTQ Students of Color” was done in collaboration with MIT’s LBGTQ Services and the Graduate Student Council. The event was facilitated by Sheltreese D. McCoy, President and founder of Change the Field, a Queer People of Color social justice development firm.

BGSA also was recognized for developing pragmatic recommendations for MIT to build a more inclusive and healthier academic environment for all members of its community. As the BGSA co-president, I collaborated with the MIT Black Student Union, representing undegraduates, other student groups including those representing people from the Hispanic, Latino, women and LGBTQIA communities, and faculty to gather diverse insights and feedback. BGSA’s co-president and I then presented these recommendations to MIT’s Academic Council, which consists of the Institute’s senior leadership, including President Reif.

The recommendations are currently being implemented. The implementation is overseen by an MIT Academic Council Working Group convened by Vice President Kirk Kolenbrander consisting of four students, including me, faculty, and senior officers.

I am also a member of the MIT Sloan Black Business Student Association, where I volunteered to help during Admit weekend and diversity weekend. I am VP of the Sloan Christian Fellowship where I volunteer for and help manage the food donation program.

I also was a MIT Sloan pilot where I provided mentoring and coaching to new a core team during their orientation to MIT Sloan.

I am also Dean’s Fellowship Award Recipient.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My leadership roles at MIT have focused on building inclusion. One of my proudest achievements was as Co-President of the BGSA, being awarded the 2016 MIT Dr. Martin Luther King Leadership Award for driving social change in February. President Reif stated, that we, as “students have become the teachers” and “were thoughtful, creative, persistent, specific, collaborative, constructive, and serious…They set the tone for mutual respect — and they earned tremendous respect in return.”

This award reflects a lifetime of learning for me on the value of building a more inclusive world. I remember at age 8 learning that my mother, at the very same age in the 1960s, became the first African American to integrate the public school system in Hot Springs, Arkansas. She wasn’t alone. My uncle at age 6 joined her. I learned from her, my uncle, and grandfather (a Civil Rights Leader and minister) that it takes courage, conviction and most importantly the undisputed belief that the world is made better when people come together to share ideas and perspectives in order to invent and solve complex challenges. With this belief in mind, I experienced life as an underrepresented minority in most of my academic and professional settings while focused on building inclusive environment for everyone. The 2016 MLK Award showed me that I held tight to this childhood lesson.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2012, I played a key role in launching the new federal health insurance Marketplace under the Affordable Care Act. I led a multi-disciplinary team that developed business processes to help health plans be offered as qualified health plans under the Affordable Care Act (ACA). My team had to stand up a critical part of the ACA’s business requirements in a compressed time frame, during a government furlough. Just as the business function was about to go live, the Federal Government shut down. It was an intense time, but we were able to get the function up in less than 24 hours even during the furlough. I am very proud of leading this cross functional team in helping to launch a brand new federal health program. We met our deadlines and launched without a hiccup.

Who is your favorite professor? This so hard to answer. If you force me, I will mention two of the outstanding professors.

Professor Adrien Verdelhan: He was my finance professor. During our midterm and finals, he reminded us that our tests will not dictate our future. He told us that it was just feedback on our progress and that we will be successful regardless.

Professor Kara Blackburn: She taught communications during the 1st year core semester. Kara reminded me to use my voice and told me that there is power in being different.

Favorite MBA Courses? Organizational Processes taught by Evan Apfelbaum. The lessons learned in this class show up in every organization, from major organizational reworks to growing and sustaining a strong work culture.

Why did you choose this business school? MIT Sloan students are known to be humble, collaborative, entrepreneurial and highly analytical. I chose Sloan because that’s who I am. I also chose MIT Sloan because they are a community. I know this well. In March 2016, on one of my study tours, my mother was hit by a car while walking across the street. Sloan helped me get an early flight home and has supported me during one of the most difficult times of my life. The administrators, professors and students provided me with a support system which has enriched my academic and student life experience at Sloan.

What did you enjoy most about business school? My classmates. They are some of the smartest and most fascinating people I’ve met. They have exposed me to so many different perspectives that have enriched my understanding of people, culture and society.

What is the biggest lesson you gained from business school? There is power in differences, especially when they come together. Everyone in business school is incredibly talented and smart. But we all have different strengths. No one is great at everything. But, when we bring those strengths together in a collaborative environment, ideas can turn into some of the greatest inventions and generate the creation of some of the most innovative organizations.

I learned this lesson during my first semester while being on a core team. Our team had people from across the world with a wide set of skills and interests, from clean energy to private equity. We learned quickly how to work together and cooperate to complete assignments. We also tutored and coached each other throughout the semester. We brought our differences together to be a highly productive, collaborative and fun team. Harnessing the power of differences led to our team success.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? How busy you are. I always wore many hats, but business school takes the cake. There is always something to do in business school and you cannot do it all. Recognize this and be strategic.

What was the hardest part of business school? Saying no. You cannot do a great job at everything all the time.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? Let them see you. Before MIT Sloan, I did every professional interview with my hair in a bun. Why? Because I have naturally curly hair that stands out. My hair, like me, is unconventional. It catches attention first, and can play on unconscious biases, such as youth, color, race, and gender. With my curly hair out, I look much younger, my race is difficult to determine, and this may cause some to associate my looks with my competency. The MIT Sloan admission interview was the first professional interview I have conducted with my natural curls. I let them see “me.” A very professional, competent, capable woman, who happens to be petite with curly hair.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I wanted to be a social entrepreneur.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…a management consultant and a PhD with a focus on sociology.”

What are your long-term professional goals? I am working towards create a more equitable and inclusive ecosystem in entrepreneurship. I founded Stratovia with my mother, an attorney, entrepreneur and former corporate executive, with this goal in mine. One of my long-term professional goals is to create funding opportunities for startups and small businesses that stimulate economic development founded by entrepreneurs from underrepresented backgrounds, such as women, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans. These highly-skilled entrepreneurs are left out when it comes to funding. For example, 1% of VC funding goes to women and less than 1% goes to people of color. Yet these individual’s startups have a major economic impact. Women-owned businesses provide $3 trillion to the economy, creating 23 million jobs, 16% percent of U.S. jobs. And minority-owned businesses create $400 billion in annual revenue and employ 2.2 million people. To fill this funding gap, I will develop a leading pre-accelerator to provide early-stage funding for high-potential startups founded by women, minorities and individuals and teams from underrepresented backgrounds.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My mom. She exemplified what success looks like, as a single mother and as attorney and community leader. As a mother, she was my cheerleader. She encouraged me to develop my own path. And she never missed a beat in my life. Just an example, I started dancing at 5 and competitive dancing at 9. I was co-captain of my high-school varsity competitive dance team and danced on my college (Hampton University) performing dance company. I also danced with a professional Christian dance troupe and at my church. So, I danced a lot. My mom attended every one of my dance recitals, competitions, and performances. Despite her work schedule, I saw her in the audience.

Mom also demonstrated what principled leadership was all about as a professional and community leader. Growing up, she took me to local town hall discussions and involved me in community service. I was a Girl Scout and mom was by my side volunteering regularly with the Girl Scout troop to develop programs to serve residents at nursing homes. She also volunteered at Northern Virginia’s women’s business center where she taught entrepreneurship and would take me along to some of her classes. I’ll never forget take your daughter to work day. When she worked as General Counsel and secretary of the Board for AdvaMed (formerly HIMA), she would sit me in her chair and told me I deserve and am good enough to have a seat at the table.

Fun fact about yourself: I used to be a print model for educational textbooks. My famous picture, is me with a milk mustache. I took this picture at age 4 when I lived in Illinois and the very same picture showed up 12 years later in my high school health text book in Virginia.

Favorite book: Having our Say: The Delany Sisters’ First 100 Years

Favorite movie: Dirty Dancing

Favorite musical performer: I love music so it’s hard for me to pick. Beyoncé or Bruno Mars if I need to dance, Jill Scott if I want to groove and Prince for the entire show.

Favorite television show: A Different World

Favorite vacation spot: Key West, Florida

Hobbies? Visiting small historical downtowns and sites across the United States. I love history, and often history of underrepresented minorities is not on the marquee. A few weeks ago, I went to a New England town and asked about the Black history sight. Que shocked look on concierge’s face, as she responds, “We had Black history week last month.” Awkward silence. Turns out all of the towns revered buildings were built with or financed by slave labor.

African American, woman, Jewish, other groups of history is American history and everywhere. Just not always prominently featured. Sometimes it is buried, literally right in plain sight.

Dancing. I love going to all sorts of dance shows from Alvin Ailey to the Boston Ballet. I grew up doing jazz, tap, jazz and lyrical at competitive dance competitions. It was like the show Dance Moms, in real life.

What made Ellen such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“In contrast to the charged and divisive blowups over race on other campuses last Fall, at MIT Ellen Rice Staten led a group of  graduate students in a highly constructive dialogue with MIT President Reif and his leadership team about the issues facing African American students on campus.  This collaborative form of activism is something Ellen plans to bring to her work post-Sloan as the founder of Stratovia, an organization that strives to leverage stories and data to create real, practical, workable and measurable opportunities that will open access underrepresented minorities in the STEM academic and working environments.  Ellen earned her Bachelors in Political Science and MPP from Georgetown University.  Before business school she worked as a consultant for Deloitte and LMI specializing in national healthcare reform and implementation.” — Maura Herson , Director, MBA & MSMS Programs Office, MIT, Sloan School of Management


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