Meet USC Marshall’s MBA Class Of 2020

Gaby Omenn

University of Southern California, Marshall School of Business

My best days are spent learning, laughing, solving puzzles, and making memories with loved ones.”

Hometown: Miami, FL

Fun Fact About Yourself: I make award-winning guacamole.

Undergraduate School and Major: Princeton University, Religion; Boston University, Master’s in Education

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Google, Program Manager

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: By and large, the most pivotal experience in my career so far was my classroom during my time at Teach For America. My second year, I taught 20 bright 5th and 6th graders in my sheltered English immersion classroom. These students hailed from all parts of the globe and had varying levels of educational attainment up to that my point. It was my job to make sure they reached (and exceeded) the learning goals we set at the start of the year. By the end of the year, we had done just that and the reflections I gained from that time I still apply today:

  • Setting a goal together early is incredibly important. You’ll refer back to that north star at many points during a project, productivity push, etc.
  • Building trust is incredibly important to achieving goals. Language barriers and cultural differences should not get in the way of that.
  • Laughter is universal.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? Invested. All of my classmates that I’ve met so far are invested in the program, their careers and building relationships with each other. It’s extremely heartening to see that we’re all here for the right reasons.

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? USC’s alumni network was a massive draw for me. As I explain later, I knew I wanted to be in Los Angeles after graduation for a number of reasons, and I thought of no better way to ingratiate myself in the LA community than by joining USC’s ranks. Trojans–and in particular, Marshall Trojans– take care of each other and maintain strong relationships well beyond their two years in the classroom.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? I’m really invested in closing the opportunity gap for minorities and other underrepresented groups. As such, I’m excited to play a big role in GWiB (Graduate Women in Business) and the Latino Business Association.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? So far in my career, I’ve had the privilege of working at two very prominent organizations within their industries – Google and Teach For America. Knowing the impact large companies have in positively impacting their surrounding community and seeing first-hand what some of the highest needs are in underserved communities here in the U.S., I feel incredibly passionate about eventually leading the corporate philanthropy wing of a company. To do so, I need to bolster my strategic and quantitative skillset and build my network with key individuals in that space. Business school is a natural place to start.

How did you decide if an MBA was worth the investment? Once I zeroed in on the career path I wanted to chart, I looked at the leaders in philanthropy and reviewed their credentials. They all had MBAs. I then did some searches on roles I’d love to snag after graduating. They all strongly preferred or required an MBA degree. This sealed the deal for me.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Stanford GSB, Berkeley Haas, UW Foster, UCLA Anderson

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I knew I wanted to stay on the west coast (and ideally, move back to LA) both from a career and cultural perspective for me and my family. Throughout the recruitment and admissions process, I paid close attention to the career opportunities offered and communication styles at each of the schools. Going to business school eleven years out was a big risk for me, and I wanted to make sure the investment I was making was met with equal investment from the business school itself. I settled on USC because I was impressed by how high touch its admission team was, its commitment to elevate women’s voices in the program, and the strong alumni network I’d soon be joining.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? My senior year of college, dead set on joining Teach For America, I completed the lengthy application and interview process, and was rejected. I was devastated. I knew I would be a great teacher, but I realized I just wasn’t a competitive applicant. Still, I cared deeply about TFA’s mission, so I applied to join their Human Assets team as an assistant. Over the next two years, I was faced with my rejection daily, working with peers who had taught before joining the organization’s staff. I worked hard to not let that shake my confidence. During this time, I read Mindset by Carol Dweck, a book that has shaped how I present myself professionally and armed me with the tools to transform my mindset.

I reapplied to TFA and joined the inaugural Boston cohort. Here, I led my ESL students, who were years behind their peers, to achieve significant academic gains. I saw parallels between their histories and mine and I strove each day to show how early failures can inform future success rather than predict future failure. I’ve applied that lesson to every role I’ve assumed since. My growth mindset is a core reason why I’ve excelled at TFA and Google, taking on additional responsibility with each promotion.

That early rejection has been more empowering than some of the successes I’ve earned since — it serves as a reminder to learn from missteps, let go, and move on. I’m thankful that lesson came so early in my career.

What do you plan to do after you graduate? I’ve got a few paths I’m toying with: I’m looking for a program officer position at a leading foundation; a manager position in strategic philanthropy at a large LA-based company; or a consultant role at an entertainment or nonprofit consulting firm.

Where do you see yourself in five years? In five years, I am in a senior role at a community foundation or a corporation’s social responsibility wing whose goal is to make educational opportunity more attainable for underrepresented groups — particularly women and immigrant families — so that they can more readily step into positions of influence and reach their fullest potential.

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