Ah, December. For MBA students, it’s a time for group project frenzy and finals stress – followed by a loooong winter’s nap. However, it can also be time for reflection on your classes, your career search, and—hopefully—your legacy within your MBA program.
“But wait a minute,” you’re protesting. “The MBA is about preparing for everything after graduation, right?” Ehh. There’s no time like the present (holiday pun intended) to consider your impact and influence.
I’m feeling particularly inspired this month after Professor Charles Mulford, a beloved MBA core instructor and noted accounting expert, gave his last academic lecture at Georgia Tech. After nearly 40 years at the Scheller College of Business, he recounted his career and reflected on his most important professional legacies. He challenged us to evaluate what was truly meaningful by asking, “What will your contribution be?”
By contribution, he meant in our own 40+ year careers. Still, why not start now? I’m only at business school due to the influence of my parents, teachers, friends, and mentors. It has been made far less stressful thanks to the legacy of alumni donors. I believe anything worth doing is worth doing well; in this case, doing well means doing good for the benefit of others.
I have only one semester of business school left. I intend to make it count, not only for myself but for the Scheller MBAs to come. But how? There’s a ‘ghosts of MBA past, present, and future’ joke to make here somewhere, but let’s not linger.
GO BEYOND YOUR COHORT
A “legacy” suggests persistence and perpetuity—things all made difficult by the typical timeline of an MBA student. To shamelessly quote Hamilton, legacy is “planting the seeds to a garden you’ll never get to see.” The short two-year window to make a lasting impact can be made especially tricky from the time-constraining realities of MBA life and the resource-constrained environments of universities. That doesn’t mean it’s impossible. Simply use the tools your MBA has given you: find product/market fit and a sustainable financial model!
At Scheller, one legacy success story is the Peer Mentoring program. Members of the Class of 2017 knew they could offer coaching to the Class of 2018, who were in need of supplemental guidance for academics, involvement, and recruitment. Because the program provided a mutual benefit between classes without requiring funding, it lives on to this day through the coordination of a subcommittee of the Graduate Business Council. Current committee chair Val McKay remarked, “It’s rewarding not only to facilitate mentoring and connection between the two active classes, but also to help extend the impact of the 2017 founders.”
GO BEYOND YOUR BUSINESS SCHOOL
So, now you might have a great idea in mind. Will it scale? One way to broaden your impact and help rally continued support for an organization or tradition is to take your idea to main campus. While business schools are great at incubating ideas, they can also be prone to isolating them due to removed geographic placement on campus or lack of cross-campus interest among MBAs. To make a lasting difference, call upon the resources of your university.
My classmate Kiera Patterson did just that. Driven by a personal desire to make a difference and Scheller’s commitment to diversity and inclusion, Kiera co-founded the ABLE Alliance during her first year as an MBA student. “As an engineering undergrad at Georgia Tech, it was hard to find other students who used wheelchairs,” she told me. “Coming back to Tech for business school, I wanted to create a platform for students with disabilities to meet and connect about their shared experiences while advocating for disability awareness on campus.”
By partnering with a faculty member and another graduate student to start the organization, Kiera has ensured longevity for ABLE Alliance. She has already made her mark within the Scheller College of Business building, having consulted with facilities staff when they upgraded all doors to push-button accessibility last year.
GO BEYOND YOUR RESUME
If this all seems too overwhelming, don’t fret. Your legacy doesn’t need to be cemented in an official student org designation, student leadership election, or name on a plaque somewhere. Not everything is resume-worthy, but that doesn’t mean it’s not worthy of your time. To make a difference in your MBA program, simply do what you love and share it with others.
In week one of her first year, MBA student Michelle Rosenbaum set out to craft birthday cards and gather well wishes for all her classmates. Jon Tran and Zach Martin, whiskey connoisseurs and second-year students, recently launched a monthly Whiskey Club for educational tastings for their enthusiast classmates. 2018 graduate Jacquelyn Renée Schneider has hosted annual International Women’s Day brunches in her home for current MBAs and fellow alumnae. Each of these student leaders have left their own legacy within the MBA program, but – more meaningfully – they’ve enriched the legacy of the community overall.
Start small and use your gifts and experiences to help your peers. Did you just leave consulting to make a pivot? Then help your classmates with case prep and consulting interviews. Did you make a near perfect score on Verbal? It’s time to proof and edit your friends’ cover letters. The small things you do to help your community add up to a legacy bigger than you can currently envision.
GO BEYOND IN 2020
We have a few weeks left in 2019, and then it’s time to make some new resolutions. MBAs love goals and metrics, so I challenge you to set one goal aligned with your desired legacy. For prospective MBAs, seek out a program where your input is welcomed, so that you can exert influence and impact.
When I leave the Scheller MBA program in May, my hope is that I leave behind more than just the photo of the back of my head in all our brochures. Time for my own long winter’s nap to dream up what that legacy might be!
Jasmine Howard, a Tennessee native and marketing strategist, is a second-year MBA candidate at Georgia Tech’s Scheller College of Business. Each month, she offers advice, pro tips, and life hacks for the emerging challenges of today’s evolving MBA world.
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