2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Diana Nichols, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Diana Nichols

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business

Relentless pursuer of dreams who refuses to accept that anything is impossible.”

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Fun fact about yourself: In my last year of teaching middle school Math after college, I gave six students an A in the class after they rose to the challenge of memorizing pi to 100 digits. We were all shocked, and I was forever known as the coolest math teacher ever.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Florida A&M University – BS, Economics

FAMU is one of the largest and most well-known HBCU’s (Historically Black College or University) in the nation. I decided to attend after then-President Frederick Humphries traveled to my high school on the southside of Chicago, full scholarships in tow and convinced me and my buddies that an HBCU was an optimal choice over the other institutions that were courting us. To this day, it is still probably the best decision we all made.

Georgia Institute of Technology – MS, Economics

In undergrad, my drive from Tallahassee home to Chicago usually included an intentional weekend layover in Atlanta. I grew to love the city and soon outfitted my daydreams with a house in Midtown. My plan was cemented upon realizing that FAMU was a feeder school for Georgia Tech, an institute that graduates the highest number of Black Masters and PhDs in the nation. I knew Georgia Tech was where I wanted to pursue graduate studies.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?  Vroom Vroom Escape Room – President & Co-Founder

My wife and I met in graduate school and dated over late-night point-and-click computer escape games in the school library. We vowed to build our own real-life version but promptly tucked the dream away upon starting full-time jobs. After my first graduate degree, I worked for Munich Re as an Actuarial Analyst, but I still felt the pull to be an entrepreneur. It took an incredible leap of faith to step out and pursue our own business ventures. Today, Vroom Vroom, Atlanta’s first mobile escape room, is a five-star rated experience and continues to transform office spaces into escape rooms and players into confident sleuths and team members.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? I interned at PepsiCo in the Revenue Management – Pricing Strategy department in Dallas. Frito-Lay validated my decision to pivot careers (and wreaked havoc on my waistline). During the summer, they held their own Shark Tank style innovation contest. I won Best Marketer with my pitch for Flamin’ Hot hot sauce and got funded with 8 million chip dollars! PepsiCo’s heavily marketing-focused finance department seemed to be a perfect place to further develop my entrepreneurial and finance skills and to eventually transition to a corporate venture capital role.

Where will you be working after graduation? PepsiCo – Strategic Finance Associate Manager. I got the offer!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: (Include school awards and honors)

Full Merit Graduate Research Assistant, MBA Programs & Admissions – My most significant task during this opportunity was developing an escape room for our MBA interview process. I designed, tested, and administered Scheller’s Escape the Norm for the class of 2021 and trained a crop of Ambassadors to keep it going with future Scheller MBA prospects. For me, this opportunity was one that brought together my love of escape rooms and my excitement for the program. I love that my legacy is a heart palpitating, brain-teasing wrath upon every First Year’s head!

President, Scheller Pride – As this year’s President, I was charged with resurrecting the club and building a support system for our LGBTQIA members and allies. I also recruit and represent Scheller at diversity initiatives and at conferences such as Reaching Out MBA. This work is meaningful both personally and professionally because it gives me the chance to highlight the skills and talent of a marginalized community that has always contributed to business and society. Elevating our voices at this time and in this space is a way for our club to highlight the excellence of our queer classmates.

Social Chair, Blacks in Business – My goal with the Georgia Tech Blacks in Business Club was to bring the members and allies together over non-traditional MBA outings. Our events this year included white water rafting, cabin trips, mud racing, kickball games, food cookoffs, Black History trivia nights, and requisite happy hours. These events have created bonds through new experiences and will help us create a foundation for ongoing personal relationships after graduation.

Cap’n, Intramural Racquetball Team “The Medium News Bears” – Our motto: We’re not that bad. My captain duties were primarily convincing my team that winning really isn’t that important after all. Our season was a success, despite what our record would have you believe! We had fun together, and we kept the games going even when we didn’t have to. We truly learned grace in the face of defeat and the importance of a team dynamic during the highs-and-lows.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my team winning third place and $10K in the National Black MBA Association case competition. I am proud of the growth and grit I exuded competing over the 2 years: coming into a case competition cold in my first year, studying the winners, seeking feedback, curating a redemption team, tapping into alumni for guidance, putting Georgia Tech in the winners’ circle, and believing in the process.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? To date, my proudest achievement was co-choreographing a flash mob full of actuaries at a Life Insurance conference in Orlando, FL. My studies and early career were very technical and mostly focused on mathematical analysis. Leadership, though, requires a different set of skills. To wrangle a room full of reserved and rhythmically challenged actuaries and get them to believe in my vision and give me their best effort was absolutely amazing. Before each practice, I wrote bad words – fear, doubt, nervousness, etc. – on scraps of paper and had them ceremoniously throw them in the trash. Pulling off the flash mob confirmed in me that the same motivating leadership skills I had with middle school students transferred to corporate with professional teams.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite tradition is the Scheller Student Speaker Series. It’s our own mini MBA TEDTalk. The speakers are my classmates, and they go in-depth on subjects near and dear to them, from tough life and death decisions in Iraq to the struggles of cultivating the perfect Tinder profile. Scheller is comprised of truly interesting characters, and we were all carefully selected because of our lives beyond business. Discovering those details about each other makes for new friendships and is the reason why we’re so close as a class.

Why did you choose this business school? In the next ten years, I plan to be in the C-suite of a Fortune 500 or be a successful entrepreneur.  I chose Georgia Tech because I knew either goal would be within feasible reach with a Scheller MBA. When I disclose my school, people immediately assume I know everything and that I can do anything because Georgia Tech is world-renowned for producing illustrious, industrious graduates. That is exactly how I want them to think! I can’t wait to see what doors the Georgia Tech name opens for me next.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? My advice is to have others read your essay. Have someone who knows you well, someone who knows you professionally, and someone who doesn’t know you at all to give you feedback (Any Scheller student or alumni would be happy to help with this!). Your goal should be to reflect your authentic self in every aspect of your application. The essay is key in communicating who you are to the admissions committee, and it should never be completed in a silo. While test scores and GPA help gauge your ability to understand the material, the essay conveys your fit for the program and your cohort.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that the Georgia Tech student is a techie who can only talk about computers and Dungeons & Dragons. The truth is we are just as well-versed at leading teams and building brands as we are at coding and role playing. We do it all.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The one thing I would have done differently is to have coffee chats with all my professors. It was not until my second year that I started utilizing our “Coffee with a Professor” program. Because of it, I have gotten to bond with my professors on a personal level outside of the classroom. I wish I had taken advantage of the opportunity in my first year.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The classmate I admire most is Shannell Smith. She moved her entire family (son, mother, grandparents, and dogs) to Atlanta from California to attend Scheller. To be so integral in her home life and still excel in a rigorous MBA program would be too much to handle for most, but not for Shannell. Shannell’s personality always lights up a room. She transforms pressure into productivity and exemplifies student leadership. She manages to still contribute meaningfully to Scheller as a graduate research assistant, the President of Blacks in Business, and by being the consummate teammate. She does all this while raising the coolest nine-year-old you will ever meet.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My wife mostly influenced my decision to pursue an MBA. After we started Vroom Vroom Escape Room, we turned to Google, YouTube, and friends to help guide us in our business moves. Piecing together a business strategy was nothing short of frustrating. My wife urged me to seek out programs with a strong entrepreneurship curriculum. Her background was in engineering, so she focused mainly on our product development. My background was closer to business, so the onus was on me to keep the company afloat. We figured an MBA was also a good move in case the company did not pan out; I would be able to return to corporate with expertise in another field. Although I felt like I had aged out of a full-time MBA, she reminded me that “it’s never too late to be what you could have been” and encouraged me to apply.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? My wife and I want to make Vroom Vroom truly mobile. One dream is to take a summer off, buy a tiny house on wheels, turn it into an escape room, and travel the country with it.

My other big bucket list goal is to direct the venture capital arm of a Fortune 500 company. I want to be instrumental in investing in startups with non-traditional founders who have limited access to capital.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? You mean Diana with the cool hair, who was never afraid to be herself, who came out of corporate with dreadlocks and went back in with a fro-hawk, who embraced her unconventionalities and flexed her Weird Privilege, her?

Hobbies? Triathlon. Fun for me is learning and exploring and improving. It took me every single second (and six extra) of the 17 hours allowed to complete Ironman Florida. Some people do it in 8 and it still blows my mind that humans can move like that. I love challenging myself to be better than I was the day before.

Another recent hobby that my wife and I picked up is building KiwiCo makers kits. Our projects include a home-built coin sorting machine, a ukulele, and a battery-powered pinball machine. It’s our new date night activity!

What made Diana Nichols such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“I am delighted to support the nomination of Diana Nichols. Diana is in my Startup Lab class that allows students to pursue their own startup idea using the Lean Startup methodology.  She has a very curious mind and has been an outstanding student in the course, soaking up all the ideas and applying them thoroughly in finding that mythical product-market fit. While she already has experience in making her entrepreneurial ideas real, she is driven to go beyond and make her startup truly impactful. This after already landing a job at one of the top blue-chip companies in the world!  She is not only a diligent student but also an inspiring leader for the MBA student community here at Scheller. She wears multiple hats at Scheller as a student leader and is admired by everyone among the faculty and students. She is truly an exemplar MBA student!”

Nishant Dass 
Associate Professor of Finance 

“Diana was one of my best students in the South Africa International Practicum section. She worked extremely well with her client, was highly engaged in the course, and added value to her team and the class. Furthermore, having her as a member of our class made the traveling experience more enlightening, more uplifting, and more enjoyable.”

Joyelle Harris, Ph.D. 
Director, Engineering for Social Innovation Center 
Associate Director, CREATE-X LEARN programs 

“Every so often, you interview a candidate who leaves a lasting impression. Diana was one of those candidates. Reading Diana’s application, I was intrigued by her diverse experiences, impressive storytelling ability, courage, and candor. Meeting her in person, I had no doubt she would be a change agent at Scheller. That hunch materialized as Diana demonstrated exceptional engagement during her MBA studies. In addition to revitalizing Scheller Pride, our LGBTQIA organization for members and allies, Diana took on a leadership role in Blacks in Business, was a rock star case competition participant, and transformed our prospective interview days. Leveraging her entrepreneurial experience as a mobile escape room owner, Diana created an escape room experience for Scheller’s MBA interview process. Diana designed a customized experience highlighting Scheller’s emphasis on community, curriculum, and careers. The activity beautifully sets the stage for the mix of intellectual stimulation, teamwork, and fun out-of-the-box teaching methods that prospects can expect to encounter at Scheller. Now in her last semester, Diana has trained first-year ambassadors to run Scheller’s Escape the Norm for the next class so the popular Interview Day feature will continue. Diana will be missed tremendously once she graduates, but her legacy will continue.”

Katie Lloyd 
Assistant Dean, MBA Programs 



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