Meet Chicago Booth’s MBA Class Of 2020

Sarah Russell

University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

A life-long learner who is curious, analytical, and unable to resist a good puzzle.”

Hometown: Laguna Beach, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: As an avid traveler, I have found that the three most helpful phrases to learn in any language are “Hello”, “Thank You”, and “Cheers!” – So far, I have managed to pick up these phrases in 11 languages (and counting!).

Undergraduate School and Major: Cal Poly San Luis Obispo, BS in Mechanical Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: HP Inc., R&D Mechanical Engineer

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: My greatest accomplishment, thus far, was my work on a global development team aimed at defending market share in Asia. This team was comprised of experts from five branches across three continents. I was brought on as a mechanical design consultant for a new consumer product, which needed to be released on a highly accelerated schedule. My team was successful in this endeavor and was awarded with the company’s “Leading the Way Award” for the product’s positive impact on market share. This program also lead me to file my very first patent for one of the systems I had designed.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? The best description of my fellow Class of 2020 students would be ambitious. I continue to be impressed and inspired by both the previous accomplishments and future goals of my classmates. I am very proud to be one of their number.

Aside from your classmates, 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? Of the many factors that made Chicago Booth my ideal business school, the one that was most important to me was Booth’s emphasis on an analytical approach to business. Coming from a highly technical background, I found this methodology to mesh well with how I approach my current industry challenges. Starting my MBA marks a big shift in my career, and Booth’s style of teaching allows me to draw upon and expand what I have already learned in the engineering industry.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? A group that I am especially interested in joining is the European Business Group. I plan to follow the International Business concentration, and I believe this club could provide great opportunities to network with global companies and other like-minded students. That being said, the Wine Club is a close second that will definitely require some further investigation.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Before I had even finished my engineering degree, I decided I would return to school to get my MBA once I had gained enough industry experience. During my five years as an R&D Mechanical Engineer, I was able to work on multiple international teams with people from many diverse backgrounds and disciplines, ranging from industrial design to manufacturing to marketing. I had the opportunity to work on both mass-produced consumer hardware and highly specialized industrial machinery, which gave me great insight into the varying modes of operation within the tech industry. I am now ready to take the next step in my career and use what I have learned as an engineer to help me succeed as a manager and a leader.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Getting an MBA is indeed a big financial decision, and it is very important to determine the return on investment from a monetary perspective. No doubt, I will surely miss my bi-weekly paycheck as I return to the life of a starving student for the next two years. However, the most important part of my decision-making process was realizing that getting an MBA would be the gateway to new career opportunities where I could make a positive impact. By the time I decided to apply, I was ready for a change and I was excited to start learning again.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Northwestern Kellogg and MIT Sloan

How did you determine your fit at various schools? At the beginning of my research process, I relied heavily on online resources to help me determine which schools would provide the best fit for me, both academically and culturally. In fact, I remember reading through many articles just like this one to learn about the types of students that different schools attracted.  Once I had narrowed my list down to my top several schools, I started the actual application process, which turned out to be a great indicator of fit, in and of itself. In my experience, a school’s application reveals a lot about the prevailing mindset of the program. For example, it was clear to me that the main goal of Booth’s application was to gain understanding of how the applicant thinks and how he or she tackles open-ended problems. This approach appealed to me immensely and helped reinforce my decision that Booth was a good match for me.

Once I reached the interview phase of my applications, I started to visit campuses and attend networking sessions, which allowed me to meet both current students and alumni.  This was the most important part of my decision making process, as it provided accurate impressions of both student life and where different MBA degrees could take me after graduation.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? In my experience, we are not defined by a single moment, but by a multitude of smaller choices that shape our lives along the way. For me, the most impactful of these choices have occurred in situations where I had to step out of my comfort zone for the sake of learning something new. One of my favorite examples of this is when I traveled to Ireland on two days notice to act as a consultant for a new product team. When I arrived into Dublin at 8 PM, a couple of my new team members offered to meet me at a pub near my hotel. I was exhausted from the 16-hour journey and was fighting off a bad cold, so I wanted nothing more than to head straight to bed. However, I decided to go anyway. This turned out to be a vitally important decision, as this meeting provided great insight into both the scope of the project and the working environment that I was to enter the following morning. It also gave me a chance to bond with my new coworkers before the start of the project, effectively setting the stage for successful collaboration. This moment taught me that the willingness to sacrifice a bit of your own comfort for the sake of the team is often vastly rewarded.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? My current goal after graduation is to earn a program management position in a global tech company, where I would be responsible for managing international teams and helping to expand into foreign markets.  However, I am aware that a lot can change over the course of two years, so I am looking forward to seeing how business school will help me expand my horizons and discover new opportunities.

Where do you see yourself in five years? I must admit – this has never been my favorite interview question. Five years is a long time, during which priorities can shift immensely. One thing I can say with confidence is that I hope to be somewhere where I am making a positive difference and combining the knowledge gained from my time in the engineering industry with what I have learned at Booth.

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