2018 Best MBAs: Ariana Almas, University of Michigan (Ross)

Ariana Almas

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

A purpose-driven change agent who isn’t afraid to challenge the status quo (or use buzzwords).”

Age: 29

Hometown: Born in Queens, NY and raised in Bayonne, NJ. Overall, greater NYC is home.

Fun fact about yourself: I wanted to be a comedian when I was younger. I even performed stand-up in my 3rd grade talent show! I also somehow snuck this fun fact into my “elevator pitch” during recruiting.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Dartmouth College. A “modified” Sociology degree with four different disciplines, and a Psychology minor. I basically designed my own major to study different social issues, the mechanisms that drive those issues, and ways to combat them through business, policy and design.

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? Year Up (a national workforce development nonprofit), Regional Sales Support Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2017? I technically had two internships: Ross Open Road (formerly MBAs Across America) and Microsoft HR Trax Program in Redmond, WA. These experiences were perfectly complementary, and gave me exposure to two very different aspects of the private sector: small businesses and a large corporation.

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be returning to Microsoft to complete their HR Trax Rotational Program. I’m also planning to start my own side hustle – stay tuned for more!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

VP of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion on the Michigan MBA Council (newly instituted role)

Co-President of Service Corps Alumni Association

Lead Organizer for MLK Day at Ross

Ross Open Road Fellow

Consortium for Graduate Study in Management Fellow

Sanger Leadership Center’s Ross Leaders Academy

Center for Positive Organizations +LAB Fellow

Admissions Student Ambassador

Awarded first place team in University of Michigan Poverty Solutions case competition

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? This past year, I had the opportunity to serve in a newly-instituted VP of Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion (DEI) role on our MBA student council. I love the early stages of any new journey because of the freedom to innovate and try new things! Previously, there had been two DEI co-chairs who were separate to the MBA Council and who ran a DEI Committee, which I was on my first year. But with this new role on the student council, I had a “seat at the table” to impact the entire student body, to shape my own role and to really hone in on how to further institutionalize diversity, equity and inclusion at Michigan Ross. In the past year, we went from two co-chairs and a 14-person committee to one VP of DEI, a 35-person committee split into five working groups, one Inclusion Chair in each of the five first-year sections and a newly instituted VP of International Student Engagement role. Our annual Diversity Week also went from being planned internally by two committee members to being co-created with over 17 Ross clubs involved. Overall, I am SO proud of the infrastructure we’ve built and all the amazing work the committee, Inclusion Chairs, and our phenomenal Director of Diversity and Inclusion Taryn Petryk have done to infuse the values of diversity, equity and inclusion throughout the entire Ross experience.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In the early years of my career, I worked at a small organization with a very toxic culture. Even though I believed in its mission, the work environment drained me mentally, emotionally, physically – you name it. Every decision that leadership made ran counter to my values and the values that I thought I had seen in this organization. As challenging as this was for me, I’m proud that I made it out of the experience with some valuable lessons. In being pushed to my limits, I got to know myself better and learned early in my career what my non-negotiables were with regard to my values and my mental and physical health. Though this may not seem like the typical definition of an “achievement,” it was a defining moment in my career, and the lessons I derived still inform my decisions and actions today.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I hate picking favorites so I have to shout out these professors: Aneel Karnani, Brad Killaly, Cheri Alexander, Chris White, Dana Muir, Dana Thompson (at the law school), Dennis Oswald, Gerald Meyers, Jane Dutton, Jeffrey Sanchez-Burks, Jim Price, Kim Cameron, Maren Oberman (at the School of Education), Michael Gordon, Ryan Ball, Shanna Daly (at the School of Engineering), Valerie Myers, all of my core professors, as well as Deborah Willis and Rebecca Villegas from the DEI Professional Development certificate program!

What was your favorite MBA Course “Social Intrapreneurship: Leading Social Innovation in Organizations” with Chris White. Similar to Professor Orhun, Professor White has been incredibly thoughtful and intentional about how to incorporate topics of diversity, identity and equity in the classroom. The biggest insight I gained is that you don’t have to be in a formal position of leadership or power to make a positive change.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Ross for three main factors: (1) I wanted to be at a school that was part of the the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, a fellowship program with the mission to enhance diversity and inclusion in global business education and leadership; (2) I wanted to be at a large university with other top-tier programs so I could bring an interdisciplinary lens to my learning; and (3) I wanted to be part of a culture that would enable me to fully thrive. Confirming the first two factors was easy, so when I visited Michigan Ross for the first time, I was looking to mostly gauge the culture.

One interaction in particular sealed the deal for me. During a prospective student weekend, I was paired with a first-year MBA as my host. I remember getting to her apartment at the end of a long day and starting to set up the couch in her living room so I could get some sleep. She got home, saw me in her living room, and asked me what I was doing. I told her I was going to sleep. With a bewildered look on her face, she turned to me and said, “No, I mean what are you doing in the living room? I’ve set up my room for you and I’m going to sleep on the couch.” Then, I was bewildered! I remember falling asleep that night wondering, “What is this magical place where someone I barely know lets me sleep in her room while she sleeps on the couch?” From that moment forward, I caught the Ross bug. In fact, during the same weekend the following year, I gave my room to a prospective student and slept on the couch, and she’s now in her first year at Ross. (p.s. Shout out to Anjelica Jones, my beautiful host who remains a mentor to this day!)

What is your best piece advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Don’t try to be something you’re not. In general, I believe strongly in taking a strengths-based approach. I recognize it can be hard not to compare yourself to others throughout the application process, but I firmly believe that everyone brings something unique to the table, and Ross truly values that. Reflect on what your strengths are and what makes you unique. Be proud of that and lead with that! I promise it will be more rewarding and more sustainable in the long run.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That we have a reputation as a party school. While Rossers do like to have fun, I’ve seen just as much energy poured into personal growth, learning and forging deep meaningful relationships.

What was your biggest regret in business school? I wish I had taken more advantage of CAPS, UM’s Counseling and Psychological Services. Business school, and graduate school in general, can be really stressful. I think I’ve done a decent job of prioritizing my physical well-being, but haven’t focused as much on my emotional well-being. To be honest, I’ve never been great at that. But I know that having access to these services is a true privilege, and I wish I had utilized them more.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Flo Noel. Many Rossers know Flo as one of the lead singers of our schools’ rock band, Risky Business. I know Flo as one of the wisest, kindest and most down-to-earth people I’ve ever met. She stays true to her ideals, she doesn’t conform to anyone’s expectations and she isn’t afraid to bring up the tough topics. She challenges you while at the same time showing you compassion and grace. I admire Flo greatly, and am so thankful for her friendship and mentorship over the past two years.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My students at Year Up. Year Up’s mission is to close the opportunity divide by providing young adults from historically marginalized communities with training, mentorship and access to career opportunities in corporate America. One of my roles at Year Up was to provide support to students while they served in six-month corporate internships. Our students had all the talent in the world and thrived in their internships! At the same time, once “in the door,” they faced a whole slew of new challenges involving inclusion and equity, which were outside of my or Year Up’s realm of influence at the time. I recognized that I had the opportunity and privilege to attend business school, which could then provide me with an entry point of influence in corporate America. And so I decided to pursue that opportunity, with the goal of transitioning to the for-profit sector and being an advocate and champion for diversity, equity and inclusion in corporate spaces.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…pursuing a master’s degree in education, social work, public administration, policy or design.”

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Starting and running my own business, and supplementing my family with another income so my parents can retire and enjoy their lives!

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? They don’t have to remember “me” per se, but I hope they’ll remember feeling impacted in a positive way after one of our interactions, even if I could just make them laugh on a stressful day.

What would your theme song be? “Run the World (Girls)” by Beyoncé

Favorite vacation spot: For now, my bed! I hope to travel and vacation later in life so I’ll have a more exciting answer to this in the future.

Hobbies? Not many people know this, but I love storytelling. I’ve actually performed at a few different story slams, including The Moth, which is my go-to escape from school. I really enjoy helping people craft and hone stories of their own too. Other than that, I can be a bit of a restless soul, so I like going on random spontaneous adventures. Nothing major, it could literally be just a spontaneous bike ride in the middle of studying. Finally, I enjoy doing 30-day challenges! I just completed Whole30 (a healthy food and lifestyle challenge) and am about to embark on a 30 day-yoga challenge. I am NOT a yoga person, so it’ll be interesting!

What made Ariana such an invaluable addition to the class of 2018?

“An overarching way to describe Ariana would be that of a change agent. Ariana is a force of nature when it comes to things she cares deeply about, including challenging the status quo and ensuring that we are equitable and inclusive inside and outside of the classroom. Throughout her two years at Michigan Ross, Ariana has demonstrated her commitment and dedication to ensuring that Ross moves the needle in the areas of diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI), and her approach has motivated anyone who comes into her path to join her. As VP for DEI under the MBA Council, she developed an infrastructure that includes a 36-member committee and a new Inclusion Rep position for each section. Under her guidance, the committee took on several initiatives that are currently being implemented throughout the school with the support of staff, faculty and students.  I would also say that Ariana’s ability to be tenacious has moved our DEI work forward. She inherently knows how to leverage relationships, communicate effectively and present compelling reasons as to why DEI work should be integrated into all parts of Ross.  Building partnerships across staff, faculty and students is a strength of Ariana’s that has fundamentally grounded the work she has done. Ariana has absolutely left a legacy at Ross, and the impact she has made will carry on for years to come.”

Taryn Petryk
Director of Diversity and Inclusion
Stephen M. Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan
 

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF THE BEST & BRIGHTEST: CLASS OF 2018