It starts with a dream – a spark that inspires people to ask why and spurs them to figure out how. Such dreams stem from a passion, a desire to push change using the tools around them. Most MBA candidates are dreamers, passionate about creating and correcting. For them, business is a tool to challenge and change, a means to bring access and foster equality.
In the Class of 2019, women often embody this spirit. They are the catalysts who enrich discussions, build connections, and broaden opportunities. Many times, they are the organizers who run events and plan trips. More often than not, they serve as the mentors who impart their school’s deepest aspirations and cultural traditions. They are entrepreneurs and experts, financiers and free spirits, mothers and managers. Often, they measure themselves more by impact and influence than income and importance.
Each year, Poet&Quants honors 10 first-year women who personify the best of their class. Each represents something fundamental to the MBA experience. They are volunteers like Adi Rajapuram who brings comfort to the injured. They are strivers like Gillian Apps, an Olympic champion who is returning home to brave a career transition. They are inventors like Eva Hoffman, who plies her engineering wizardry to level the playing field for underserved populations. And they are public servants like Amy Dobbin, who works tirelessly behind the scenes to leave the world far better than she found it.
In short, these women represent the best of their classes. Soon enough, they will act as examples of how business can bring both profit and parity. Here are the stories of these 10 amazing women.
Kenya Hunt / Harvard Business School: Kenya Hunt describes herself using words like “passionate,” “driven,” and “persistent.” However, she was tagged with a different word during performance reviews: “quiet.”
A Chevron engineer who produced forecast models for billion dollar projects, Hunt took this feedback to heart when it came time to pick an MBA program. For her, Harvard Business School was the best place to step out of the shadows, engage with the best minds, and stretch her abilities. And all for good reason – her grade depended on it!
A case classroom isn’t a comfortable spot for quiet types. Instead, it is a place, as Hunt has learned, to step forward and voice one’s views. Through this act – and the preparation behind it – she witnessed her world open wider and her passions transform into plans. “The case method,” she says, “gives me the tools to make decisions in the face of conflicting data, ask the right questions, hone my business judgment, address developmental gaps, defend and challenge viewpoints, and become versed on how to persuade, negotiate, and influence others.”
Her advice to future MBA students? Don’t be hard on yourself during the application process. “I cannot stress the importance of positive self-talk,” she says. “Stop and notice when you are feeling negative emotions (like frustration, doubt and worthlessness). Keep a log if it will help. Once you are aware of your critical voice, you will be in a better position to stand up to it. Begin replacing those negative thoughts with positive affirmations. Talk to yourself the way you would talk to a friend that you believe in!”
Gillian Apps / Dartmouth College (Tuck): This February must be a surreal time for Gillian Apps. As the world is glued to the Winter Olympics, this “washed up Canadian hockey player” is probably a mix of pride, relief, and nostalgia. You see, Apps was once an Olympic athlete. In fact, she competed in three Olympics in hockey. And she came away with a gold medal every time.
Sports has always been a big part of Apps’ life. At just three years old, she was already waterskiing! However, hockey wasn’t just a means to blow off steam for Apps. Instead, it gave her insights into the issues she’d face in business. “Each Olympic Games was a very different and unique experience, with different challenges along the way,” she shares. “A lot of what I learned about myself as an athlete and a person comes from those experiences.”
Alas, hockey is a team sport. This love of team was one of Apps’ motivations to return to Dartmouth, where she’d studied psychology as an undergrad. While Hanover may be an Olympic pipeline with a wealth of skiing and skating venues, it was Tuck’s close-knit and supportive culture that made the deepest impression with Apps. “Challenges are more enjoyable when experienced with good friends,” she says. “To me that’s what success looks like: taking on the big things head-on with a great group of people by your side.”
Amy Dobbin / London Business School: Many candidates see business school as a path to power. Amy Dobbin has already been there and done that. Before joining the London Business School, this attorney served as a senior adviser to Australian Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull. However, Dobbin was far from an anonymous analyst churning out position papers or making ends meet. Instead, she made something that most MBA applicants dream about: an impact.
“I advised the Australian Prime Minister on technology, media and telecommunication policies, and shaping the messages and policies that won the Australian Federal election in 2016,” she writes. “These policies have improved connectivity for millions of people, including the $49 billion National Broadband Network, the largest infrastructure project in Australia’s history, which will connect 8 million homes and businesses by 2020.”
At LBS, she is building on her passion for technology, all while building the expertise and network needed to put her ideas to work. To do that, she’ll need to sell her vision – which is exactly she did to gain admittance. “Do not be afraid to sell yourself, particularly if you are from a non-traditional business background,” she urges future business school applicants. “Contextualise your achievements in your essays to help the admissions committee understand who you are and why you are unique.”