2017 Best MBAs: Colleen Thomas, UCLA (Anderson)

Colleen Thomas

UCLA, Anderson School of Management

Age: 28

Fun fact about yourself: I am a former competitive ice skater

Hometown: South Holland (Chicago), IL

Undergraduate School and Degree: Howard University – B.A. Public Relations

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Macys.com (New York, New York) Associate Planner – Boys Division

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? Accenture Strategy, Chicago IL

Where will you be working after graduation? Accenture Strategy, Chicago IL

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School Mentor for Riordan Fellows/Scholars, Anderson Student Associate VP of Diversity, Inclusion, and Community, Howard Alumni Association, Los Angeles, Challenge 4 Charity Director of Corporate Partnerships (2016), Black Business Students Association Director of Alumni Affairs (2016)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Spearheading the Embracing Diversity Conference for 150 prospective students that identify as Black, Hispanic, and/or LGBTQ, nine corporate partners, current students, and alumni. I am particularly proud of the work my team and I did in launching the new format for the Embracing Diversity Conference. The conference represented a moment of transparency and honesty about some of our shortcomings. As our dean so candidly noted, “we know we are not perfect, but we are working on it.” More broadly, we discussed the issues surrounding diversity in corporate culture; our dialogue was heart-felt, honest, and progressive. I am proud that we created a space for current and prospective students, alumni, staff, and our corporate partners to share in what diversity means to them and how we can all be catalysts for change. The conference undoubtedly exposed corporate partners to some of the most talented students (and students to our leading corporate partners), but it moved much deeper than that to discussions on being your “wholeself,” leading with confidence, and driving change.  

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Working on the Bag Hunger Campaign for Macys.com, this allowed me to bring something that was important to me personally into my professional life.

Who is your favorite professor? Hal Hershfield, he has demonstrated his care for the students of Anderson beyond our academic performance. He is active in anything we ask him to do, including the Embracing Diversity Conference. He takes the opportunity to get to know us beyond our careers and academics, and is always available for discussions beyond the classroom.

Favorite MBA Courses? Entrepreneurship Venture Initiation

Why did you choose this business school? I wanted an institution that offered flexible career paths. I knew I’d be exposed to career paths that I’d never heard of, so I wanted to ensure I was at a school that would allow me to change interests and still be successful. I also love that Anderson is in a major city. Living in Los Angeles offers amazing opportunities personally and professionally that go beyond that walls of Anderson, academic internships, my undergraduate alumni network, and a variety of entertainment. Finally, I am huge supporter of The Consortium. Not only is the mission statement a part of my value set as an individual, but the reality is, as a minority woman in business school, building a strong network has its own set of unique challenges. Being a part the consortium network has helped me establish a far reaching strong network and offered another layer of support.

What was the most surprising thing about business school?  The depth of the bonds I have built. I entered with the expectation of networking, which is very different than building relationships/friendships. Although it’s only been a year and half I have met some of the most amazing, brilliant, talented, and humble people that I am so proud to call my friends.

What was the hardest part of business school? Managing competing demands. There are three major components to business school, academic, social, and professional. All three are equally important and often commitments to these things conflict. Prioritizing commitments was hard, but you learn to manage and ask for help when you need. Teamwork is crucial to success in business school.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I was being recruited for the same job, just for different companies, and I was only 4 years into my career, another 30 of the same thing didn’t appeal to me.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…jealous of my friends Instagram posts as they traveled the world.”

Which executive or entrepreneur do you most admire? Russell Simmons, is centered on not only the success of his professional empire, but also his mental and emotional health (which is often forgotten). He owns a wide variety of businesses from financial to yoga studios. I admire his voice on policy and social injustice. He has taken his opportunity as a musician and grown into a true leader in more than one capacity.

What are your long-term professional goals? As my environment changes, my long term goals change. I would ideally like to launch and online travel agency that allows for low- and mid-income communities to travel abroad. Whatever I do in the long-term I want it to be meaningful and positively influence people not just our wallets.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My mommy, she is still completely lost on exactly what business school is and why its important for some people, but she has seen my genuine happiness and all of the opportunities I have been presented and has done nothing short of being my biggest cheerleader.

Favorite book: Between the World and Me – Ta-Nehisi Coates

Favorite movie: Love Jones

Favorite musical performer: Erykah Badu

Favorite television show: Insecure

Favorite vacation spot: Wherever the next plane takes me

Hobbies? – Reading, writing for a blog coauthor, mentoring, traveling, running (usually for my flight), salsa dancing, and DIY beauty projects  

What made Colleen such an invaluable addition to the class of 2017?

“As senior administrators in at Anderson, we are always looking for students who want to use their passion and what motivates them to help us improve as a school. That is exactly what we experienced with Colleen, who stated very early in her time at Anderson that she wanted to do something that was going to increase the number of diverse students who apply to, and attend, Anderson. She drew on her own experiences as to why she chose Anderson as an African American woman from the Midwest who has previously lived on the east coast. For her, it was the environment, support, and empowerment. In addition to leading the efforts for our Embracing Diversity Conference, Colleen has led a Black Lives Matter event for all Anderson students and has met with Dean Olian multiple times to discuss how we can continue to evolve into a diverse environment. Colleen is not the type of person who approached leadership from the perspective of ‘self’, but rather one of ‘others’. Her ability to motivate others is extraordinary, and is done in such a subtle, unobtrusive way, that people simply can’t help but follow her lead. Most notably, no matter how hectic things got, Colleen was completely focused on the end goal…and always with a smile on her face! We appreciate how Colleen has had an effect on all of us in a way that allows us all to see the strength in diversity.”

Gary Fraser
Assistant Dean, Full Time Student Affairs
UCLA Anderson

Rob Weiler
Associate Dean, Full Time MBA Program
UCLA Anderson

DON’T MISS: THE COMPLETE HONOR ROLL: BEST & BRIGHTEST MBAS OF 2017