Meet Pittsburgh Katz’s MBA Class Of 2021

Shen Tian 

University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

“A logical thinker with persistent passion in history and improving environmental quality in developing countries.”

Hometown: Beijing, China

Fun Fact About Yourself: I love history and am a certified tour guide in China.

Undergraduate School and Major:

  • Peking University: BS in Environmental Science and BA in International Relations
  • Carnegie Mellon University: MS in Environmental Science
  • University of California, Davis: MS in Civil and Environmental Engineering
  • University of Pittsburgh: Ph.D. in Civil and Environmental Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Covestro, Principal Environmental Engineer

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In 2019, I led a diverse team selected as one of the six finalists in Covestro’s startup challenge among over 230 participants. Our team aimed to design and deploy a low-cost drinking water filtration system using polyurethane foam and data science techniques. Our team is the first and only U.S.-based team in this company-wide, global competition.

Another success story in my career so far is that I resolved one of my employer’s top 10 business risks by improving one of the USEPA’s environmental models. The original model double-counted environmental emissions from many manufacturing sites across the U.S. and did not include the correct chemical destruction efficiency, which resulted in my employer being listed very high in a top air polluters list in the U.S. I approached the USEPA technical contact at a conference and explained why I believe the model is inaccurate. After working with him, USEPA made the changes per my recommendation and my employer dropped out from this top air polluters list. It was a big win for my employer.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? They are so kind, enthusiastic, and have a real passion for the business world. This is not limited to the 2021 MBA class, but also students from classes before mine.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key factor that led you to choose this program for your full-time MBA and why was it so important to you? The networking opportunities with local and international business leaders, such as Katz’s Executives in Residence program. After working in the technical field for a while, I searched for an MBA program that would open doors to the business world outside my background. In my experience, professional connections, especially senior executives in the industry, are the best people to learn from. Katz’s commitment to connecting students to worldwide business leaders is important because it can help me achieve my career goals and prepare me for my next career move.

What club or activity are you looking most forward to in business school? Networking opportunities with the Executives in Residence at Katz and entrepreneurship-related activities.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? Since you have more experience than the average full-time MBA student, why didn’t you choose our Executive MBA program? After careful consideration, I decided to pursue a full-time MBA because I want to build a solid business foundation, meet more people, and experience everything Katz could offer in a two-year timeframe. The EMBA program at Katz is also top in the nation, but I felt that I could broaden my career scope and bring it to the next level in many industries through the full-time MBA program.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I have been working in the environmental field for 10 years now and I’ve been considering getting an MBA since 2016. Now is the time to broaden my scope beyond my comfort zone and take my career to the next level.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? None, I have been a long-time Pitt fan.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Because I have two young children at home, I decided not to leave Pittsburgh while completing my MBA. As a result, I was only looking at schools in the western Pennsylvania area. Pitt was my first choice since I am very interested in Katz’s experience-based learning and would love to make connections with the Executives in Residence. Plus, I graduated from the engineering school at Pitt and know the campus very well.

What was your defining moment and how did it shape who you are? My first internship experience in the U.S. shaped who I am today. I came to Pittsburgh for graduate school in the summer of 2007 and I received an internship interview in early summer 2008 at Covestro (Bayer Material Science at that time). It was in the middle of the 2008 financial crisis. As an international student, I did not have much luck in the interview search during the months prior and didn’t have much hope of landing the internship. Additionally, I didn’t have a car at that time and had to take the bus to Covestro’s office near the Pittsburgh International Airport on interview day. Unfortunately, I missed the bus and had to walk over a mile to the office.

For a split second, I thought about calling to reschedule the interview, but I decided to call and ask the hiring manager to wait a few extra minutes in case I was late. After all was said and done, I landed the internship and it led to a contracted position and then to a full-time position at Covestro. The hiring manager is a Pitt alumnus and treated me very well throughout his time at Covestro before retiring. He was not only my manager but has also become my mentor and long-term family friend. He strived to help me finish my Ph.D. through generous funding from Covestro and supported me to get professional engineering licenses. Every time I look back to that day, I think about how if I had asked to reschedule that the position may not have been mine and my life would be totally different. This experience taught me never to give up on any opportunities and to always try my best even when it seems like there are many obstacles ahead. Persistence, passion, and a solid technical background will eventually lead to success.

Where do you see yourself in ten years? My plan is to manage and oversee new product development, manufacturing, and marketing in the area of advanced environmental technology to improve quality of life. There are so many exciting, innovative, and sustainable environmental solutions that can change people’s lives in developing countries. The challenge is how to commercialize them and make a profit so the businesses can grow sustainably. My preference would be working with entrepreneurs or researchers in mid-size corporations to develop, produce, and market these technologies. I also would like to be the connector among private industry, investors, NGOs, and public and governmental organizations to facilitate the deployment of sustainable technologies. I believe the companies can “do well by doing good” and there is a tremendous market waiting for them. The opportunity to work on projects that are valuable and impactful to people’s lives is my career goal in the next 10 years and beyond.