2017 MBAs To Watch: Sylvia Okechukwu, Rice University (Jones)

Sylvia Okechukwu

Rice University, Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business

“Gelato connoisseur who is passionate about cities, real estate and social impact.”

Age: 29

Hometown: Farmington Hills, Michigan

Fun fact about yourself: I didn’t read my first Harry Potter book until I was 27 years old.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The University of Michigan Ann Arbor – B.A. Sociology; B.A. Minor Urban and Community Studies

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Logan Community Development Corporation, Philadelphia, PA

Business District Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2016?

Jones Lang LaSalle (JLL) – Houston TX

Summer Associate in the Tenant Rep Brokerage Group

Where will you be working after graduation? GGP, Chicago-based real estate investment trust

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Rice Business Diversity & Inclusion Conference – Student Chair
  • Student Admissions Ambassador
  • Rice Business Board Fellows Program – Fellow
  • Rice Black Business Student Association – President
  • Real Estate Club – Vice President of Events
  • Net Impact – Vice President of Sustainability
  • Commercial Real Estate Women (CREW) Houston Scholarship Recipient
  • Urban Land Institute – Young Leaders Group

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of being a planning lead for the Jones School’s inaugural Diversity & Inclusion conference this past January. The conference was an idea that I posed to staff last summer, and the school rallied to provide the support and resources to make it a reality. We had a great turnout and amazing speakers. I am excited that the school will continue to host this conference next year.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of raising $700,0000 in grant money to support revitalization initiatives in a historic business district in North Philadelphia. I was running a relatively young program that I had developed from scratch, and I had to do a lot of work documenting every achievement, collecting letters of support from local small businesses, and even inviting prospective funders to take tours of the district so that they could see where their funding would make an impact in the community. With the support of those funders, I lowered business turnover rates, established a thriving business association, and encouraged property owners in the district to invest more time and money in maintaining their properties.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Hands down, it is Dr. Douglas (Doug) Schuler. I took all of his classes (Business Government Relations and Social Enterprise). We worked hard but he is hilarious. He had everyone in stitches during at least one point in each class.

What was your favorite MBA Course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? My favorite course has to be Marketing Research taught by Constance Porter. We learned several methods for gathering and analyzing data from customers and marketplaces. I continue to actively use tools from the class and the course pack for projects in other courses as well as during my internship this past summer.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Rice because it has a smaller class size than other schools. I wanted to get to know my classmates and professors really well, and the people and culture at Rice have been an absolute delight. I have made many close friends and you literally know everyone in the entire class.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? I loved being challenged in different ways every single day. The teachers kept us on our toes, and I constantly had to learn how to problem solve, work with different personalities and overcome obstacles.

What was the most surprising thing about business school for you? How many people come in to business school not knowing exactly what they want to do when they graduate? I came in saying that I wanted to be a consultant and maybe wanting to do real estate, but the more real estate coursework I took, the more passionate I became about it. I saw many classmates experiencing similar changes in career focus as the program progressed.

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be authentic! Don’t write your application based on what you think the admissions committee wants to hear. The thing that makes the culture at Rice so unique is that we are all so different in many ways but still share common goals.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I came in thinking that Rice was all about energy. Yes, it is Houston based and lots of people have experience in the energy sector, but we have amazing concentrations in Health Care, Real Estate, Marketing and Entrepreneurship as well.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish that I could have gone on more of the study abroad trips. I did have the opportunity to go on exchange program to study at WHU in Germany for a couple of weeks and had a ball.

 Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I really admire Caitlin Crotty. She actually used to work on staff in the Career Center at the Jones School and then decided to get an MBA. She became one of our graduate student association reps, president of the Consulting Club, and landed an amazing consulting role at Deloitte. Seeing her go for her MBA has been really inspiring!

 I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized that in my current role I could plan projects but didn’t have the authority to implement them. I didn’t want my ideas to sit on a shelf in a binder collecting dust, I wanted to put my ideas into action, and an MBA would give me that opportunity.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…teaching English abroad or backpacking across the world.”

If you were a dean for a day, what one thing would you change about the MBA experience? The Jones School’s academic calendar is on a different schedule than the rest of the university (term system vs. semester system), so students don’t get to take as many classes in other programs as they might like because of scheduling conflicts. I’d have Jones offer more of what we call ILE’s (two day intensive learning experiences) with professors from other programs so that MBAs can gain insights into other topics such as architecture, engineering or health care without having to take a semester-long class.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate goal is to use real estate as an instrument for social change by establishing my own social impact real estate development and investment company. I believe that sustainable urban planning and mixed-use real estate development can be catalysts in transforming and growing diverse communities.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? A tie between my mom and my grandmother. They are both super supportive (especially when I had to take the GMAT multiple times) and are always willing to listen to my ideas.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? Sylvia was the funny one who always encouraged everyone to think about things from a different perspective.

Favorite book: Ishmael by Daniel Quinn. It is about a talking gorilla, but trust me, it is amazing.

Favorite movie or television show: My favorite movie is Pride and Prejudice (the Keira Knightly version). The cinematography is breathtaking.

Favorite musical performer: I’m a big Coldplay and Mumford and Sons fan.

Favorite vacation spot: Oahu, Hawaii

Hobbies? I really like to travel – in the past year, I flew 22 times! I also enjoy playing tennis, landscape photography and cooking.

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

“Sylvia Okechukwu – Purposeful. Focused. Impactful. She is an MBA candidate whose aim is to effect real change in inner city communities. Her ultimate professional goal is to use real estate as an instrument for social change, and she believes that sustainable urban planning and mixed use real estate development can be catalysts in transforming and growing diverse communities.

Sylvia’s chosen career path was informed by a childhood spent in post-industrial cities including Detroit, Michigan and Toledo, Ohio. Living in cities which experienced stagnant economic grown sparked her interest in urban planning, real estate and economic development. At University of Michigan-Ann Arbor, she graduated with a major in sociology and a minor in urban and community planning focusing on the intersection between social inequality and urban policy. Sylvia’s post-college work in firms and organizations dedicated to community development fueled her desire to obtain her MBA and led her to the Rice program.

As president of the Black Business Student Association, Sylvia was key to conceiving and planning our recent diversity and inclusion conference. She was insistent that, in addition to health care, energy and entrepreneurship industry panels, we include a session on real estate. But Sylvia didn’t want to focus on topics such as finance and valuation models or corporate real estate law. Her interest was to push the conversation to focus on topics related to urban policy – affordable housing, gentrification and disenfranchisement, intergenerational resilience. She single-handedly called on her network of city planners and design professionals to organize one of the most well-received and eye-opening sessions of the conference. In doing so, Sylvia managed to shine a spotlight on inclusion issues that are central to urban city growth and quality of life.

Sylvia is an alliance-builder and she executes. Her vision and deeply rooted sense of purpose regarding community combined with a rare combination of moxie and grace inspires respect. I’ve every confidence that Sylvia Okechukwu will serve as a catalyst to effect change on progressively larger platforms post-graduation.”

Lina Bell

Director, Diversity and Inclusion



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