First Gen: Inspiring Stories Of MBAs Who Beat The Odds

Meron Tecle

University of Toronto, Rotman School of Management

Class: 2020

Hometown: Toronto, Ontario

Fun Fact About Yourself: At 21 had the opportunity to be an On-Ice hockey instructor at a kids camp with childhood hero and Hockey Hall of Famer Jarome Iginla.

Undergraduate School and Major: Laurentian University, Commerce, Sports Administration

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Electro-Meters Company LTD. Role: Business Development, Western, Canada 

What did your parents do for a living? My mother spent her first years in Canada learning English (while subsequently teaching me English) and getting formal education for the first time in her life. Following that, she worked for many years juggling two jobs as a Long-term Care Dietitian. My father works in the service industry as well; working with primarily seniors as a Wheel-trans Service Provider (taxi program that works in conjunction with the Toronto Transit Commission (TTC) for specialized accessibility need customers).

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

father?

Father: High-school (some, pulled early due to Eritrean War of Independence).

Mother: High-school (adult HS after arriving in Canada, she did not have the opportunity to attend school as a child).

Which of your family members is your biggest inspiration? I come from a rather large family. However, I think if you were to ask my siblings or my father, our answers would be the same; my biggest inspiration is my mother. She immigrated to Canada at 27 years old with 3 kids under 8, (4 of us total), with no formal education and her husband overseas (Father granted Canadian visa roughly 10 years later). Her level of resilience is something that I admire and look up to each and every day. The values she instilled in us at a young age is the very reason why each of us are on our way to being a next generation leader.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? I cannot pinpoint a specific moment. My parents would echo the opportunity my siblings and I have that they did not. That resonated with me at a young age and helped provide the perspective I needed to take my education, among other things, to the next level. I felt I was ready about a year-and-a-half ago. With the support of my fiancé, family and admissions staff at U of T, I made that a reality.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? I was very proud of who I was and where I came from as I entered my undergraduate studies. My biggest worry was that I wouldn’t be surrounded by people who could relate to me, or if I could bridge that gap. Understanding “the other side” for lack of a better term became second nature for me because assimilation and understanding were goals my parents instilled. Without a vested interest of where I came from or who I was, would “the other side” be able to relate to me?

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? My level of self-awareness was heightened exponentially during my time as an undergraduate away from home. It was challenging at times to learn and re-learn things about myself that I had thought to be so sure of. As it turned out, I was not cut out to be a sous chef after all.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher education experience that you wish they would understand better? My family is very supportive and tries their best to understand my experiences. We are going on this ride together so many times I feel my experience is, in a way, their experience.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? The allure of higher education, specifically in the business management realm, really attracted me to pursue my MBA. I’ve always wanted to be proactive in the areas of my life I could control. I knew if I worked hard enough, I would be able to get into the school of my choice and surround myself with like-minded people. I believe this will position me best for future success.

How did you choose your MBA program? I wanted to attend the highest caliber program in the country and also stay in my hometown of Toronto. Fortunately for me U of T is both. The network, the faculty, and the talent the program attracts really made this school any easy choice for me.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? It is a luxury to be able to go back to school and I did not want to be so streamlined in my coursework or focus field. Missing the opportunity to spend time and learn about my ancillary interests at this elevated level would’ve been a disservice. Social clubs, industry associations, and electives allow me to stay involved with my other interests and keep me balanced.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? I am able to finance my MBA because of the savings generated during my six years working following undergrad, plus student loans, scholarships and a healthy dose of homemade lunches.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? If you are a first generation student who feels a certain amount of pressure related to that accomplishment, then I would advise you to seek perspective and try to step out of your comfort zone and see things as learning opportunities, both inside and outside of the classroom. Try not to spend your time avoiding mistakes. You may feel a certain pressure to perform or behave a certain way, but that outlook may become more of burden than the opportunity that it really is.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? It is pretty clear to me that Rotman provides an array of opportunities and paths. However, among other goals that I have, I plan to focus my education and skills in the financial industry and energy sector.