2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Alyssa Murray, MIT (Sloan)

Alyssa Murray

MIT, Sloan School of Management

LA to Boston

Education reformer

Loves cats, wine, and cheese

Hometown: Los Angeles, California

Fun fact about yourself: I have excellent posture because I have a titanium rod attached to my spine from having scoliosis surgery when I was eight years old. It does not go off in airport security detectors.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Harvard College Class of 2008; Bachelor of Arts in History and Science, magna cum laude

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Assistant Principal at KIPP Texas Public Schools

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Bain and Company, Boston

Where will you be working after graduation? Bain and Company, Boston, Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Siebel Scholarship recipient in second year
  • Forte Foundation Scholarship recipient in first year
  • Co-Lead of Hack for Inclusion, an annual two-day hackathon that brings together over 200 students, practitioners, and community members to build solutions that address some of today’s biggest problems related to bias and inclusion
  • Co-Organizer of Sloan’s “We Believe You” series, events aimed at building support and awareness around sexual violence and providing future leaders with actionable bystander tools
  • President of Sloan Education Club
  • Vice President of Sloan’s chapter of Net Impact
  • Vice President of Management Consulting Club
  • Board Fellow at Breakthrough Boston: served as a non-voting board member and completed a project on cost structures for expanding services of educational non-profit
  • Teaching Assistant, Communications for Leaders
  • Orientation Pilot: worked with two incoming Sloan core teams during orientation week to build positive and productive team rapport
  • Guide at Admitted Students Weekend
  • Completed Global Entrepreneurship Lab course in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia by creating a demand forecasting system for a large fashion startup

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I am most proud of my work in promoting discussions of diversity, inclusion, and safety at Sloan. After graduating from undergrad, I joined Teach For America as a middle school math teacher of a low-income, high-need population. Teach For America was a strong community of action-oriented individuals who were passionate about fighting the systems of inequality perpetuated in our society. When I first arrived at Sloan and found Hack for Inclusion, I knew it was something I had to be a part of. Planning this hackathon has been the most inspiring experience I have had at Sloan. At last year’s hackathon, I watched as more than 100 participants from all backgrounds built actionable solutions to complicated issues of bias in just two days. As one of the Hack for Inclusion leads for this year’s upcoming event, I have worked with my leadership team to advance the impact of our hackathon. We are only in our third year of operation, and I know this year’s hackathon will be our best yet! We have already raised an additional $40,000 in sponsorship and collaborated with six corporate and non-profit organizations to design challenges that will have a direct impact on complex problems at their companies. This year, our participants will work on creating navigation services for the blind, increasing women in STEM, creating a more socio-economically diverse talent pipeline at top corporations, improving scheduling for wage workers, and more. As I am writing this, our registration numbers indicate that we are prepared to host at least 50% more participants than last year.

Hack for Inclusion, however, is only two days out of the year. As one of the organizers of Hack for Inclusion, I have also had the opportunity to collaborate with affinity organizations and passionate individuals across campus with the goal of continuing to get students talking about difficult, critical topics. In my first year, I collaborated on a campus-wide #SloanSpeaksOut campaign. I collected anonymous stories of bias from our classmates and displayed them in Sloan’s largest common space to spark conversations.

In my second year, I worked with my team at Hack for Inclusion to run a #AskMeHow campaign, aimed at spreading the positive power of diversity. Representatives from across the MBA program wore neon stickers over the course of the week with probing questions around diversity and inclusion, such as, “#askmehow to achieve financial returns above the industry median.” When asked, these students would answer the question (in this case, ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to have financial returns above the national industry median, according to the McKinsey report “Why Diversity Matters”), and provide the students with more stickers to continue to pass on the message. Sloanies tend to respond well to data, and I had many interesting conversations with my classmates about how they could advance diversity and inclusion in their own future organizations. By the end of the week, I was proud and inspired to walk through the halls at Sloan to find almost every student wearing a neon sticker, indicating that they had engaged with their classmates about the positive power of inclusion.

I was also one of a group of students who came together after the Brett Kavanaugh hearings to discuss a pragmatic response. We have hosted two events thus far under the name “We Believe You.” First, we held an open forum with over 200 student attendees to provide a supportive environment for students to speak on experiences of sexual violence. Second, we held an active bystander training to provide students with action steps for future scenarios of harassment or bias in their personal or professional lives.

Through my work over the past two years, I know I have played a large role in keeping diversity, inclusion, and safety conversations at the forefront of Sloan. I am proud to have been a part of events that move the needle on how future business leaders think about these critical issues.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Before Sloan, I spent three years as a math teacher (through Teach For America) and two years as an Assistant Principal at a KIPP (Knowledge is Power Program) Middle School in Houston, Texas. I worked with a majority low-income, underrepresented minority population of students. In this time, I worked to have a positive impact on my students through building our school’s first math team and district’s first middle school math competition, redesigning our school’s behavior management system to incorporate more student reflection and coaching, and utilizing student data tracking and analysis systems to drive top achievement and growth outcomes. I am most proud, however, that I was able to provide 213 students in my classrooms with a foundational, life-long confidence in mathematics.

When my fifth-grade students entered our school, only 50-65% of them had tested at or above grade level in the previous year. I met students who had never succeeded in mathematics previously, and who had convinced themselves that they simply could not do math. I worked diligently to ensure I was using every minute of the next school year to build confidence and knowledge in my students so that they could be successful. I worked with students in small groups during class, lunch, after school, and even on the phone at night to reteach concepts to mastery. I celebrated every little success my students had. By the end of the year, our class had risen to 85-90% at or above grade level. I had the opportunity to teach some of these students again in sixth grade when we reached 95% at or above grade level. I was able to deliver the news to students who had never passed a single standardized test in their lives, that not only did they pass, they excelled. Students who told me that they never could do math, did it.

When I was promoted to an Assistant Principal, I had the privilege of continuing to be involved in these students’ math lives through classroom observations and tutoring, and two years later, these same kids achieved 100% passing in Algebra I (a 9th-grade level course) in 8th grade. I love these students like family and I miss them every day that I am at Sloan, but I have been able to keep in touch with many of them and I am continually blown away by their grades, effort, and goals in high school. I had the opportunity to see some of my first students, who are now 11th graders, on a college tour in Boston recently. A group of them are going to be the first students at their high school to take mathematics courses beyond BC Calculus. I can’t wait to hear all that they continue to accomplish.

What was your favorite MBA Course? My favorite course so far was “Managing in Adversity” with Professor Court Chilton. Each class, we heard from a different senior leader in an organization about challenge(s) they overcame in their professional context. One female leader spoke about how she handled various personal and professional obligations throughout her career. She told us that she often struggles with balance, but she has made peace with it, as she stated, “I do not want, ‘it wasn’t all great, but she balanced it’ on my tombstone.” This particular leader is one of my role models, and her vulnerability was powerful. Her statement really resonated with me because I know that I will have many competing priorities in the future, between career passions, family, and friends. It was calming to know that even the greatest leaders are human and we are all just doing the best we can. I may not always balance personal life perfectly as I strive to make an impact professionally. Still, t is something I will continue to reflect on throughout my career.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Sloan because of the emphasis on analytics and student culture. In my pre-Sloan career, our middle school worked to ensure that every academic decision we made for students was supported by achievement data. I loved working with data, but most of my knowledge was self-taught and I knew I had a lot to learn. MIT’s reputation as an analytics powerhouse has proven to be very true! I just completed a project at a fashion startup in Kuala Lumpur, Malaysia, for a Global Entrepreneurship class, where we used a series of regression analyses on historical sales data to create a demand forecasting system for the brand. I never dreamed I would be able to do something like that – thank you, Sloan! From speaking with students during the application process, I also continuously heard about Sloan’s supportive, non-competitive student culture. Getting to know my amazing classmates has been one of the highlights of my Sloan experience.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? As cheesy as it sounds, my best advice is to be yourself. Coming from a non-traditional MBA background, I assumed that certain elements of my background were more important to highlight than others for the purposes of appearing business school-ready. I remember preparing to send in my Sloan application, and realizing that my essay didn’t highlight some of the most important aspects of my identity. I ended up writing a completely new essay for Sloan on a topic I had not written about for any other school, but something that I knew was uniquely and truly me. When I received my Sloan acceptance, it was confirmation that this school knew me, and knew that this is where I was meant to be.

Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I had known earlier how important it is to set boundaries on my time. There are so many exciting opportunities at Sloan, and I have a tendency to say “Yes” to all of them. This behavior has led to a variety of rich experiences with incredible people, and there have been times when I have been unnecessarily sleep deprived. I am learning how to say “No,” prioritize, and set aside sacred time to myself to recharge.

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? Business school has reminded me that people, above all else, are most important in careers and in life. I am grateful for the quantitative skillsets I have gained at Sloan, yet I think the classes I will remember most after graduation are the ones about leadership and organizational management. It is critical to design organizations that make employees feel safe and valued because employees are the secret sauce of any company. I am taking a fascinating class right now with Zeynap Ton, author of The Good Jobs Strategy. During each class, we discuss the systems that managers can put in place to meet employees’ basic and higher needs, which drives value and productivity for the entire organization. As I think about stepping into post-Sloan career opportunities, I know that my first action at any new company will be to analyze the employee experience. The strategies I am learning align well with one of my professional interests: changing the teaching profession to improve sustainability and support systems and decrease turnover.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have a friend who is working almost full-time on his successful startup in Brazil. He devotes his time to a project he cares about, one that he knows will have an impact in his country. I admire his motivation and clear direction. He also flies back and forth from Boston to Brazil all the time, and he still finds ways to stay thoroughly connected to the Sloan community. He has a smile on his face whenever I see him and he always devotes time to his classmates. I have never told him that I admire him, and writing this is prompting me to do so.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My grandfather influenced my decision to pursue my MBA. He always talked to me about how having a business skillset would help me in any industry. Whenever we talked on the phone, he would ask me when I was applying to graduate school. He grew a huge business out of almost nothing, and he has always been a role model of mine. He always knew how much I could achieve, and although he passed away before my Sloan acceptance, I know he would be proud.

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…an education policy advocate on Capitol Hill. A political career has always fascinated and tempted me. Probably because I am a huge fan of political TV shows.”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? The value of an MBA degree in future careers is definitely worth the cost, if not more. The career benefit doesn’t even account for the great friendships and experiences we can only have in a place like this. I have gained lifelong friends, met with Israeli leadership in Jerusalem, and toured rural Vietnam with veterans from both sides of the war. We are CRAZY lucky to be here.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

1) Go to Scotland with my mom and brother. Our ancestors are from Scotland and my immediate family has never left the country, and I want to take them on a meaningful and historic expedition.

2) Have a family of my own. When the time is right (which may not be for a long time!), I know that being a mother will be the best experience of my life.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want my peers to remember me as a passionate, open, kind person who is always available for an emotional, supportive conversation or a good laugh.

Hobbies? I keep a list of restaurants I want to try on my phone at all times. Nothing gives me as much joy as delicious, melt in your mouth food, and trying a new place with great friends and great (even okay) wine. I also spend some free time trying and failing to create Instagram content for my overweight cat who has been on a vet-prescribed weight loss trial for about a year without much movement.

What made Alyssa such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?

Alyssa Murray is not your typical MBA student. Sure, she is incredibly smart, accomplished, and driven. But the first thing I knew about Alyssa Murray was that she was a teacher and a vice principal before she enrolled at MIT Sloan. This is a rare profile in MBA programs and often indicate a very special student. This is true of Alyssa. She forged her own unique path to MIT Sloan (Teach for America, KIPP Houston Public Schools) and was not afraid that her background in education did not fit the mold of a typical MBA student. This might not sound like such a big deal but elite MBA programs have a fair amount of homogeneity in the work experiences of their candidates so to see someone apply, get accepted, and thrive with a non-traditional background is an accomplishment in and of itself. Her full-time position after graduation at Bain & Company shows you just how adept she is at excelling in a variety of contexts.

Fortunately, Alyssa was placed in my section for the core Communications for Leaders class in her first year at MIT Sloan. Her warmth coupled with her academic excellence drew people toward her. She was a model student: prepared, punctual, curious, and humble. She was also a model Teaching Assistant, a role she held for me in her second year at MIT Sloan. She received the highest ratings in this role—evidence that her peers value her as much as the faculty do. Alyssa’s contribution to the greater Sloan community is evident in two of her specific roles: CoLead of Hack for Inclusion and Co-Organizer of the “We Believe You” series. She is a driver for change—critical, important change—that aims to teach leaders how to make more inclusive organizations and to stand up for others. I can’t think of anything more important in this day and age.

Kara Blackburn, Ph.D.

MIT Sloan School of Management



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