Meet the Michigan Ross MBA Class of 2019

Hannah Smalley 

University of Michigan, Stephen M. Ross School of Business 

Describe yourself in 15 words or less: Proud feminist committed to women’s health, unending travel and great avocados.

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have traveled to 42 countries, 18 of them as a solo backpacker.

Undergraduate School and Major: Tulane University: International Development, Sociology

Employers and Job Titles Since Graduation: Global Health Corps Fellow/Policy Assistant at Single Stop USA, Communications Coordinator at Ubuntu Africa, Senior Associate, Girls, Women & Population at the United Nations Foundation

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Transitioning from a small NGO in South Africa to the United Nations Foundation (UNF) came with a host of new and exciting opportunities. However, I felt I had lost the connection with the population I was passionate about serving, a common challenge in my line of work. During my time at UNF, I identified closing that gap as an important goal. I found my opportunity during a conversation with my supervisor about our International Women’s Day luncheon, a beautiful, standing event marked on the calendars of all influential DC women. However, I felt the luncheon did not elicit the significant impact that UNF had the power to create. I found this to be a missed opportunity. When I learned that I would be planning next year’s luncheon, I set forth to make a meaningful and sustainable change. I decided to change our day of talk into a day of service. I hoped to get our staff out of their offices and into the community. For one day, I wanted my coworkers to work alongside the disadvantaged girls and women living in their backyard. After pitching to and getting buy in from our CEO, my pet project quickly developed from a foundation-wide endeavor to one that was being pushed to partners, funders and friends. Project managing the funding, placements, logistics, communications and PR for over 300 people was both more challenging and more rewarding than I could have imagined. Due to the immense success of “Activate for Equality 2017,” I have been assured that the UNF luncheon has been officially replaced, and I am so proud that the day of service will continue to live on past my departure from the Foundation.

Looking back on your experience, what one piece of advice would you give to future business school applicants? At the onset of the application process, I was given a piece of advice that helped me stay sane and get through the business school admissions process: schools take into account the entire application. It’s easy to disregard this seemingly generic piece of advice. However, I grasped onto it for dear life. Business school applications are overwhelming, time-consuming and exhausting, and I have yet to meet anyone who was 100% confident in their application. I was certainly no exception. However, the right school will recognize your strengths that shine through and allow them to overshadow weaker aspects of your application.

What was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? I’ll never forget leaving the Women in Leadership Conference to call my mom and tell her that I was done looking; I had found the MBA program I was searching for at Ross. Coming from a public health background, I have primarily worked alongside incredible women, a privilege that I realize I have taken for granted when I hear about the blatant sexism my friends face in male-dominated work environments. When I started looking ahead towards business school, I couldn’t seem to silence the tiny voice in the back of my mind telling me I was getting in over my head, and that jumping into a business environment at age 27 for the first time was crazy. However, after two days of listening to current female students and alumni at Ross, that voice was gone. Every speaker was not only more impressive than the last, but I wanted to be friends with each of them. It was easy to see they were all friends who fully supported each other regardless of what years they studied at Michigan. In addition, hearing about the lengths the school was going to ensure gender equity across campus left me incredibly excited. In addition, learning about the MBW (Manbassadors), a group of men dedicated to gender equality at Ross, left me speechless. This type of environment was more than I was hoping for when searching for my MBA program and made Michigan Ross an easy choice.

What would success look like to you after your first year of business school? As a non-traditional business student, a successful year would mean that I have participated thoughtfully and excelled academically in the first business classes I have ever taken. However, my metrics for success reach far beyond the classroom. I hope to spend the year singing in the business school rock band, help plan the Women In Leadership Conference (the weekend that made me fall in love with Ross), have an impact in the ongoing revitalization of Detroit and spend football Saturdays painted blue in the Big House with new friends.

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