First Gen: Inspiring Stories Of MBAs Who Beat The Odds

Jared Garnica

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

Class: 2019

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have repelled off a 40-story building

Undergraduate School and Major: Brigham Young University, Major: International Relations

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

Prior to business school: Lighthouse Academies, Middle School Math Teacher

MBA Internship: Abbott Nutrition, Brand Management Intern

What did your parents do for a living? My parents still work. My father has been a blue-collar window washer his entire life. My father had spent over a decade with a window cleaning company when he was fired. Since that’s what he knew what to do, he decided to start his own window cleaning company – R.B. Mex, which translates to rich blessings for Mexicans. My mother’s job has been dedicating her life to raising nine children.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father?

My parents’ education was in Mexico. My mother graduated from the equivalent of high school (preparatoria), while my father completed the equivalent of elementary school.

Which of your family members is your biggest inspiration? Why? This is the hardest question to answer because each of my parents possess many admirable qualities. If I had to choose one, I would say my father has been the biggest inspiration in my life. My father has a heart of gold. He is a man of integrity and has shown me what it means to have a stamina for challenges.  After my father was let go from the company he had worked for washing windows, our family lived in extremely difficult financial times. I remember nights when my father would go to bed without eating, claiming he wasn’t hungry. He has sacrificed so much to provide for our family. He has worked hard in window cleaning and even when offered opportunities to engage in shady business dealings, he has always remained a man of honesty and integrity. I admire my father because he lives what he speaks.

My father is my inspiration because when I grow up I want to be like him. To this date, he stills plays soccer. I can’t imagine being over 60 years old and running after the soccer ball.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? Upon completing a two-year service mission for my church, one of my ecclesiastical leaders asked me about my future plans. He recommended I give BYU a one-year trial period to see if I would enjoy it. In my mind, I had two paths. I could help with my family business or go to college, which entailed not helping with the family business. I decided to pursue a bachelor’s to set an example to my younger siblings. I also hoped that upon graduating that I would be able to financially help my parents; those were the motivating factors that propelled me to go to college.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? Prior to starting at Brigham Young University, paying for tuition and living expenses was my biggest worry. I had been accepted to BYU, but didn’t know how I was going to pay for tuition or living expenses. I moved to Utah a few weeks before classes started. I would sleep on the floor in my sister and brother-in-law’s small apartment while I figured out my own arrangements.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? The most challenging aspect of getting my undergraduate degree was navigating college life. There was so much that was new to me, but I didn’t have my parents to ask for advice. I had so many questions that I didn’t want to ask fearing I would be identified as someone who was there because of affirmative action instead of merit. I often recall an English writing course where some of my classmates would say that they were going to have their “mom who is a lawyer” or parent or relative who is a doctor proofread their work. I didn’t have anyone in my immediate circle in prestigious careers who I could reach out for help and support. I found it hard to relate to some of my peers since I felt there were so many differences – class, socioeconomic status, race, etc. It was difficult to see so many differences, yet try to assimilate for fear of standing out even more.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher education experience that you wish they would understand better? I wish my family better understood the sacrifices that were required of me to succeed. I had to make so many financial, emotional, and other sacrifices. Coming from a close knit family, it was emotionally difficult to be so far away from everyone. Luckily one of my sisters had just moved to Utah. Financially there were sacrifices. Let’s just say ramen and eggs became my staple foods. Intellectually, I felt prepared but college rigor was much greater than high school and I felt I had a lot of catching up to do to be in the starting line. I don’t think that they understood how lonely this process can feel. Despite being surrounded by classmates and roommates my struggles were my own.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? When my son was born, a fire within me lit to pursue more. To many of my relatives, graduating with my bachelor’s from a great university and having a professional career was a noteworthy feat. I had achieved so much already in the eyes of my family and friends. I had been lulled with my income when I was single and then even more with a double income with my wife working. However, when my son was born, I felt a sense to aspire for more. I had given graduate school some thought prior to his birth. But I had been complacent, busy, and comfortable. Planning for the future, I realized I need to earn more to live comfortably with my family, since my wife wanted to stay home with our son. I looked into different graduate programs and decided to take the GMAT to see if an MBA was in sight. My wife and I were making New Year’s resolutions when I decided to sign up to take the GMAT the following month. I would come home from work to study. After doing well on the GMAT I figured an MBA was on the horizon.

How did you choose your MBA program? Some of the factors that I considered when making a decision for my MBA program were ranked as follows: (1) location, (2) cost, (3) cohorts & group focus, and (4) post-MBA opportunities. I wanted to stay in the Midwest. Indiana University is close enough to home to visit when I want, but far enough away that I can focus on studying and not be distracted by so much that goes on at home. I looked for a program that wasn’t on the high end for costs. I also focused on finding programs that placed incoming students in groups and cohorts. As a career switcher, I felt I was starting behind so I wanted to have a structured support system to rely on for help. Additionally, I also looked at job opportunities and companies that the schools networked with.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? Financials were by far my biggest worry. I actually had to postpone starting graduate school for a year after being accepted to the Kelley School of Business. I paid my deposit to secure my spot and hoped that they wouldn’t rescind their offer in the year to come. After my son was born, my wife and I had many bills and had accumulated credit card debt that we needed to pay off before beginning grad school. We needed to start off in a strong financial position (mostly not having credit card debt) since we had no one to count on for financial help.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? The Kelley School of Business Fellowship covered just over one-fourth of the costs of tuition and living and the rest was financed through loans. I almost decided not to attend business school since it required taking out a substantial amount in loans.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? I could probably write a few pages on advice for first-generation college students. In short my advice is captured by the following: (a) network, (b) start the journey early of applying, studying, and saving money, and (c) save money! There are so many expenses along the way that seem unexpected. Lastly, share your story. The journey of each first-generation college student is unique and enriches the schools we attend and the communities we participate in.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? I aspire to be in brand management. I hope to have some great brand and marketing experience so that I can run a business; either in management or my own long term.