2019 Best & Brightest MBAs: Kashay Sanders, University of Michigan (Ross)

Kashay Sanders

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

“Positive realist, infusing every ecosystem I touch with a sense of joy, possibility, and empowerment.”

Hometown: Bronx, New York

Fun fact about yourself: I am not at all athletic, but I love to hula-hoop. I won a hula-hooping contest at a church retreat when I was 13. To this day, I feel compelled to take a spin if I see one in a toy store.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Dartmouth College, B.A. I majored in Women’s & Gender Studies and minored in Anthropology and Japanese.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Community Solutions (Nonprofit focused on ending homelessness and neighborhood resilience) as the Learning & Facilitation Adviser

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Microsoft (Seattle), where I interned in HR. I also had a mini-internship doing a program called Ross Open Road, through which I traveled the country with a team doing project-based work to support entrepreneurs in addressing business challenges

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be working for Microsoft, in their HR Rotational Program known as HR Trax!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: 

  • MBA Council (student government) President: Created the vision for student government’s role in student life, while supporting the work of 6 Vice Presidents, and launching new programs to catalyze student leaders.
  • Detroit Impact Conference Vice President: Coordinated a conference on the interplay between revitalization and gentrification in Detroit.
  • Human Capital Club Director of Education: Introduced Ross’ first Human Capital Week, a celebration of people-first leadership.
  • Impact Consulting Project Leader: Led team in 4-month engagement to consult with a Detroit based start-up aiming to crowdsource neighborhood change proposals.
  • Student Fellow with the Center for Positive Organizations: Engaged in weekly learning sessions around practices for building flourishing organizations.
  • Ross Open Road Fellow: Spent 3 weeks on a road trip consulting with entrepreneurs on pressing business challenges.
  • Hurricane Relief Service Trip Co-Leader (Houston): Co-led a group of ten MBAs to Houston over spring break to work on Hurricane Harvey rebuilding efforts.
  • Diversity Equity & Inclusion Committee Member: Introduced intercultural pre-orientation training for students soon to travel on international consulting assignments.
  • Consortium for Graduate Study in Management Fellow: Selected for membership into Consortium, an organization committed to underrepresented minorities in management.
  • Forte Fellow: Selected for membership into Forte, an organization catalyzing women’s growth in business.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I feel proud of structuring a community service spring break trip for a group of MBAs. It all started at a meeting. I was sitting next to a classmate who also had a nonprofit background. In the discussion, we realized there was no mechanism to engage Rossers in the kinds of service trips that we had done in undergrad (Now we have an amazing club called Wolverine Disaster Relief). We had a moment of “Why don’t we do it?” and got to work. We found an incredible nonprofit partner that was working on Hurricane Harvey relief in Houston. We then sought help from UM’s Ginsberg Center, which specializes in supporting students in crafting community service trips. Additionally, we received funding from Ross’ Business + Impact initiative to offset our group’s out-of-pocket costs. After running a selection process for students, we designed orientation sessions to build awareness of the hurricane and of the privilege we entered these spaces with as business students. The team had a powerful experience together in Houston. Thus, we launched a small fundraiser that raised over $2000 for our nonprofit host.

This effort demonstrated the incredible way resources at UM and Ross are ready to support the energy and ideas of students. It reinvigorated my confidence in my ability to create meaningful experiences for others. And finally, it gave me an acute sense of joy to see that my past experience (in social impact) and my present context (business school) could successfully merge.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My biggest accomplishment was holding a leadership role at VOICE  4 Girls, a girls’ empowerment social enterprise in Hyderabad, India, during its very early stages of development. As head of content, I led a team in the start-to-finish creation of a curriculum for our flagship program, a summer camp for low-income girls. The camp has a dual mission: providing girls exposure to life skills and improving their English-speaking abilities. While more than 3,000 adolescent girls experienced our curriculum in the summer of 2013, the organization now has a reach of over 30,000 girls.

The opportunity to work globally, lead a diverse team, and tangibly witness the impact of our content gave me professional confidence that continues to serve me to this day. The experience instilled in me a willingness to raise my hand to tackle complex challenges at subsequent places of work. It also moved me to be proactive and find ways for my skills to add unique value to an organization.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite MBA professor is Jane Dutton, one of the founding academics of Ross’ Center for Positive Organizations. I admired Jane even before I came to Ross—her research on building high-quality connections in the workplace exemplified why I aimed to pivot to the HR profession. When I came to Ross, I took her class, “Foundations in Positive Business,” where she expertly presented research that proved that investing in employee well-being isn’t just “nice,” but is linked to better business outcomes. While talking to Jane during a class break, I mentioned my interest in exploring how to build strong virtual teams. She immediately expressed openness to working with me on an independent study to dive deeper. During that project, Jane helped me see intellectual strengths I didn’t know I had and enabled me to craft a concrete framework for improving virtual team dynamics that I can continue to leverage after school. I am so humbled to have her in my corner!

Why did you choose this business school? In my professional life, I consistently made the following observation: many organizations are so fixed on achieving their aim, that they forget what makes it possible to attain success— their people. I realized that a lack of emphasis on talent development and culture could stifle an organization’s impact. In my most recent place of work, I tapped into a passion for designing solutions around this exact challenge.

Thus, when applying to business school, I knew I wanted to go to a place where I could learn about creative human capital strategies and organizational design. The Ross School of Business stood out as a leader in this realm. It was one of a few schools with an active, thriving human capital club. It also houses the Center for Positive Organizations, Ross’ academic hub for promoting and researching positive business practices. The student and career services-led support for building a career in human capital also impressed me. I felt that at Ross, I could truly geek out about effective people management and better equip myself to serve companies in growing their people. Being almost through the journey now, I can say it hasn’t disappointed.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Rossers are so special because they exude warmth and don’t have airs about them. While applying, I was struck by the fact Rossers didn’t wait for me to ask questions. Instead, they expressed curiosity about who I was and our interaction became a real conversation. Thus, I would say to applicants that the more you are mindful of expressing and showcasing your genuine interest in others (be it fellow applicants, admissions, the communities you care about, etc.), the more “Ross”-y you will feel to current students and admissions officers.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One myth is that one needs to be “sporty” to enjoy their time at Michigan given the incredible culture around football and basketball. As someone who doesn’t identify as a sports enthusiast, I’ve enjoyed plugging into the energy and school spirit generated by sports. At the same time, I don’t feel left out if I don’t go to a football game. That being said, I’ll still wear my maize and blue on game day!

MBA Alumni often describe business school as transformative. Looking back over the past two years, how has business school been transformative for you? The most transformative aspect of being here has been the realization that my empathy for others is a boon to my ability to be an effective leader, not a hindrance.

Coming from the nonprofit sector, I came to business school thinking I wasn’t “business” enough. For that reason, I felt it would be best for me to be the person behind the “real,” less “soft” leader. This changed after participating in Ross’ Leadership Crisis Challenge, a simulation that puts students in the position of a leadership team embroiled in a public relations crisis. Against my own churning gut, I volunteered to be CEO. I had the responsibility of presenting to our “board,” a group of real senior leaders brought in from across industries. I was terrified, thinking I had tanked the presentation. However, when they gave me feedback, I was shocked. They didn’t care about the words I stumbled over or an answer that wasn’t perfect. They were impressed by the compassion I brought to a tragic situation. That day, I received an “Executive Presence” award from the board, but what I took away was something much greater—confidence that I have a valuable leadership perspective, grounded in emotional awareness, to contribute in business contexts. This realization further emboldened me to run for the role of President of Ross’ MBA Council.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? This is a really hard question, as so many of my classmates blow me away! One of the first people who come to mind is Shirley Arteaga, the current co-President of one of Ross’ largest clubs, Michigan Business Women. What I admire most about Shirley is her fierce commitment to supporting people she loves, even if she could lose out. For example, both Shirley and I had the same dream internship– Microsoft HR. It was one of the first things we bonded over when we met. And yet, she maintained a focused approach to ensuring I was ready for my interview, and I returned the same support. In the end, there were two spots offered to Ross students—to both of us.

However, Shirley was intent on ensuring that our precedent of lifting each other up didn’t stop at the internship offer. Over the summer, she put reflection sessions on our calendar so we could think about if we were truly maximizing our internship experience. She sat with me to brainstorm good Day 1 questions to ask our managers. Shirley’s favorite quote is, “If I go alone, I can go fast. But to go far, we must go together.” And she lives by it. Through our friendship, I have elevated myself as a person and professional. I can only imagine where her audacious generosity will take her.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I would most credit one of my mentors, Kristin, who is an organizational design consultant and leadership coach. I met Kristin because she was hired as a facilitation expert in an organization where I worked. One day, I was expressing to her how my professional passions were shifting toward feeling more concerned about how organizations operated over what they did. I could see that culture and talent played a huge role in an organization’s success. She was the first person who proposed that I take a closer look at the HR field. I began to research HR careers and the floodgates opened—it was everything I had been thinking about for years. The natural next question was: Where should I go to learn this? I had always seen myself going to policy school given my nonprofit experience. I then realized that the business degree would give me the functional exposure I wanted, while allowing me to understand the many components of an organizational ecosystem. The decision became clear. I will always be grateful for Kristin, who helped me connect my passion to a career.

What was the goofiest MBA term or acronym you encountered – and what did it mean? I would have to say “Turkey Drop,” which refers to the phenomena of long-distance couples breaking up around Thanksgiving of an MBA 1’s first year. While I first thought the term was an exaggeration, I found myself surprised at how many couples followed this pattern!

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…in an MPP or MPA program. I likely would’ve focused on workforce development, which isn’t too far off from my pursuit of the human capital profession!”

What dollar value would you place on your MBA education? Was it worth what you paid for it – worth more or worth less? The MBA has been invaluable. Before I started my program, it would have been incredibly difficult for me to pivot into an HR career. Business school gave me access to the alumni and resources to build credibility, and demonstrate what value I could bring to the field. Further, I always say that the most important study in the MBA is the one of yourself. The experience allows you to test your leadership in many different settings in a short time. You get to see yourself and how you engage with people more clearly—and learn how to maximize what you do well, and improve what you could do better. I am leaving Ross with a deeper insight into who I am. I can hardly place a dollar amount on that.

What are the top two items on your bucket list?

  • I love doing Zumba, and sometimes have a vague fantasy of becoming an instructor—you’re basically leading your own little party!
  • I have a firm belief in the power of facilitation and appreciative inquiry. I dream of consulting with leaders and organizations around incorporating these skills into their approach to problem-solving to build more resilient teams and organizations.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want to be remembered as a Positive Energizer, as someone who made others feel seen, recharged, and confident in their unique talents.

  • Positive Energizer is a term coined at Ross’ Center for Positive Organizations

Hobbies? When I’m not working I am doing some combination of watching any of my favorite late-night TV hosts (Jimmy Fallon), planning for the future, or having cozy evenings with friends.

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

“Kashay embodies the Ross way by empowering others to take the reins and be a change agent under her leadership. Kashay is the MBA Council President, which is the largest student organization at Ross with over 850 members. The Council is charged with ensuring student needs are met through the building or refining of programs, processes or policies.

Dedicated to promoting inclusivity and creating more positive connections across students, Kashay led the launch of two new initiatives to foster relationship-building: Ross Recess, which is a series of fun, social events on campus that are alcohol-free, and “Guess Who’s Coming to Dinner” events where students could sign up to have dinner with classmates they don’t know. Kashay also invited her classmates create committees around issues of importance to students and propose solutions. The three priority areas for the student committees were: building positive teams, supporting mental health, and engaging with graduate students across the University.

Kashay is admired by her peers, faculty, and staff for her positivity, inclusiveness, supportive attitude, and caring nature. She has the unique ability to intently observe, listen, reflect, and engage others in solution-finding. She has been a motivator of her classmates and a thoughtful collaborator with the MBA Program Office in creating the best student experience possible.”

Soojin Kwon

Managing Director, Full-Time MBA Admissions and Student Experience

University of Michigan | Ross School of Business




Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.