“A mission-driven and charismatic leader looking to change the world.”
Hometown: Yonkers, New York
Fun fact about yourself: I used to be a figure skater.
Undergraduate School and Degree: Columbia University, B.S. in Environmental and Chemical Engineering
Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked for Veolia, the world’s largest environmental services firm, as a part of their Resource Optimization group — a small management consulting business unit focused on developing and implementing transformation and optimization strategies for municipal (mainly water and wastewater utilities) as well as industrial clients.
Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? I am a dual degree student, also receiving an MS in Civil & Environmental Engineering. As a part of the program, we do six-month internships (summer + fall 2018). I was at Amgen, the biotech company, based in Thousand Oaks, California.
Where will you be working after graduation? Amgen
Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:
- Co-Director, 2019 MIT Water Innovation Prize
- VP Marketing, MIT Water Club & Executive Team for 2017 MIT Water Summit
- Executive Team, Black Business Students Association
- Elected Senator, Sloan Student Senate
Awards and Honors:
- Switzer Fellow for Environmental Leaders
- Dean’s Fellow
- Augustus O. Tai Fellowship
- Named ‘2018 Grist 50 Fixer’ by Grist Magazine
Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In my first year, I organized a handful of Black History Month events for the Sloan community. The first was a conversation with the Boston Globe’s Spotlight team and the focus was a race in Boston. The second was a Lean In Circle to discuss topics of race, gender, and intersectionality. They were really well-attended events. More than that, for many people, it sparked a dialogue about race in business (and business school) that hopefully is still persisting within Sloan today. In fact, just last week during this year’s Black History Month (a year later), one of my peers told me it was her favorite Sloan event ever and really challenged her to think critically about a number of these issues.
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As a consultant, I helped lead a long-term strategy and transformation project at the NYC Department of Environmental Protection. The project helped them save over $100 million. What was even cooler was that impact that I had on so many people in the organization. Many of the people that I interacted with regularly had been there for 25+ years and, though it was a challenge, I was able to teach them so much that hopefully helped them do their jobs better – things like how to do data analysis in Excel, what a visual board is, and how to use it to track performance, etc. It seems simple, but for these life-long public servants, I had the chance to break up the monotony, teach them something new, and have a lot of fun doing it. I loved that part of my job and am so proud of the impact that I left.
Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Kara Blackburn. She was my Communications Professor during my first MBA semester – and for a class that I surely thought I was going to hate, I learned a ton and thoroughly enjoyed going to class each week. It may be kind of cheesy to say, but Kara really helped me “find my voice” at Sloan. Both in and out of the classroom, she has been a constant source of support and a cheerleader for me in creating opportunities to be heard in this community. I’ve chatted with her in her office about everything from gender, race, Sloan, and life!
What was your favorite MBA Course? Corporate Finance. Coming to Sloan, I knew nothing about Finance. This class was so well-taught and really made me appreciate basic financial concepts that can play a huge role in how businesses are run.
Why did you choose this business school? As an engineer, if MIT is offering you a degree, you take it. Moreover, though, I chose Sloan because I loved the students and community which is truly the best part of this experience. The student’s here are at once brilliant and humble, analytical and creative, career-driven and thoughtful about their place in the world, and the list could go on. Sloanies are one-of-a-kind business school students – they care about being successful but even more about leaving a net positive imprint on others and the world. I love this so much about this community.
What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Sloan really believes that past performance is an indicator of future success. Focus on working right now on the amazing things that you’re interested in and being a leader in driving impact in the world. Be fully committed to those things and work to see them through. The stories you can tell about your past successes will far outweigh any fluffy pontificating and musings about what you hope to be. What are you today?
Think back two years ago. What is the one thing you wish you’d known before starting your MBA program? I wish I’d known that the MBA is more than just the community of 400 students that I go to school with every day. Instead, it is the vast community of every past alum and future student that will occupy these halls. I think that would have emboldened me to reach out to and meet more alumni that are doing really cool things.
MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? It has transformed the way that I see my place in the world. I think I came into business school with a very narrow view of my skills and how they could be applied as a leader. I am leaving business school now thinking that I could do anything and in any industry. I am a leader and leaders simply lead. I know that now.
Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Sarah O’Malley. She is one of the co-presidents of Sloan Women in Management (SWIM)—Sloan’s largest student-run organization—and is a total badass. Sarah is a perfect example of a Sloan student-driven, capable, brilliant, always positive, data-driven, willing to learn, willing to fail, and always willing to party.
Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I always wanted to be a do-gooder in the world. As an environmental engineer and consultant, save the planet and save its people was my mission. To that end, I figured one day I’d be running an NGO or working for the EPA or something to that extent. Business didn’t really seem to be in my cards. My dad influenced me to pursue business. He’s spent over 30 years in operations and he always spoke of the amount of impact that you can have working in industry – if they make one change to their operations, it could cascade through their supply and value chain. That made me wonder: If I use business as the frontier and environmental impact and sustainability as the mission, how much greater impact could I have in the world?
What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? In one optimization class, we learned about NP Hard Problems. We were all like, ‘I know a medication that can help fix that…”
“If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…working on a podcast or blog about how to save the world from climate change (honestly, I should probably still be doing this in business school too).”
What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? Fortunately, I didn’t pay for my MBA. I had a full ride so I’d say it was worth every penny!
What are the top two items on your bucket list?
- I would like to own a house in Jamaica (the homeland of my parents)
- Take my entire family on a Eurotrip
In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I hope they’ll remember me as someone who was a passionate leader (i.e, on topics such as sustainability, racial and gender equity) but more than that I hope I was a kind, thoughtful, fun, reliable, and caring classmate/friend and that they think of me as a caring person who will always pick up their phone call in the future.
Hobbies? While in business school, I got back into some of my favorite athletic activities. Namely, I joined a field hockey Boston team and got back into ice skating at the MIT rink (I used to be a figure skater). I also love to listen to podcasts, read, and watch documentaries particularly if they are about the black community and our history of excellence.
What made Janelle such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2019?
“I was lucky to have Janelle in my core Communications for Leaders class in her first semester at MIT Sloan and have been inspired by her ever since. Her spirit and drive were clear from Day One. Let me tell you just a few of the reasons why Janelle stands out among a class full of exceptional MBA students. To begin with, Janelle is an MIT Sloan Leaders for Global Operations (LGO) student, which means not only is she earning her MBA degree, she is also getting a Master’s Degree in Civil & Environmental Engineering at the same time. Completing two Master’s Degrees at the same time while maintaining a 5.0 GPA is an incredible accomplishment. In addition, Janelle has made the time to be a leader inside and outside of the classroom. Her leadership has centered around sustainability as well as diversity at MIT Sloan. A few examples can illustrate the depth and breadth of Janelle’s contributions.
Janelle was elected by her peers to be a Student Senator—a competitive and highly respected role at MIT Sloan. She worked with Sloan Women in Management and the Black Business Student Association to co-sponsor events on race and intersectionality—trailblazing work within an MBA Program. Janelle was awarded The Switzer Fellowship for environmental leaders and was named to the Grist 50 list. As I was creating a new course for MIT Sloan on equity and inclusion, I asked Janelle to meet with me to get her perspective on it—this is how much I trust and value this woman’s opinion. She brings her all to everything she does. She is making change and her star is on the rise. I can’t wait to see how brightly it shines.”
Kara Blackburn, Ph.D.
MIT Sloan School of Management