2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Norma Torres Mendoza, Rice University (Jones)

Norma Torres Mendoza

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

I always strive to leave people, places, and organizations better than I found them.”

Hometown: Born in Queretaro, Mexico and raised in Houston, TX

Fun fact about yourself: In six months, I went from not being able to run two miles to running my first half-marathon in 2 hours and 22 minutes. I have completed five half-marathons since then, and now I am training for my first marathon in January 2021. This might be the biggest physical and mental challenge that I have encountered yet, and I am excited to reach this goal.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor of Arts in Political Science and Hispanic Studies at Rice University (Summa Cum Laude & Phi Beta Kappa)

Master in Public Policy at the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (PPIA Full Scholarship)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school?

Deloitte Consulting LLP: Human Capital Analyst

IDEA Public Schools: Director of Financial Literacy and Alumni Funding. I fundraised $3 million for scholarships and 0% interest loans by meeting and persuading regional foundations and influential donors, writing major grants, and co-coordinating our annual gala.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2018? Ernst & Young; Strategy & Operations, Houston, TX

Where will you be working after graduation? Ernst & Young; Strategy & Operations Senior Consultant, Houston, TX

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: (

Awards: The Paul & Daisy Soros Fellowships for New Americans, Inaugural Rice Consortium Fellowship (full scholarship)

Leadership: Rice University Board Fellows; Admissions Ambassador; Mentor for first-year consortium members; Rice Global Ambassador,

Community Work: Harvard Undergraduate Interviewer, Board President of the non-profit Young Owls Leadership Program; Board Member of the Houston Art League, Volunteers in important local and state elections

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I loved my experience serving as a Rice Business Board Member at the Houston Art League. I was able to participate as a non-voting board member and learned about a beautiful community that strives to bring diverse art to Houston. As part of my tenure there, I helped develop their strategy for selecting, training, and onboarding their new board members. I also attended their holiday party where I made meaningful connections to local artists.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have supported over 6,000 students’ educational journeys through the Young Owls Leadership Program (YOLP), Café College Houston, and IDEA Public Schools. I co-founded YOLP, when I was 19 years old, and, since then, the organization has supported over 500 students to become first-generation college students. At my summer internship at Harvard, I initiated Café College, a one-stop-shop for college admission assistance, financial aid guidance, and career exploration in Houston, Texas. Since then, they have served over 5000 students. At IDEA Public Schools, I raised $3 million dollars so that first-generation college students could have the opportunity to attend the college of their dreams.

This work is important to me because I am the first person in my family to attend college. Education has transformed my life. It has provided me not just with economic stability, but it has opened many doors of opportunities that I would have never imagined. My hopes are that I continue to be a bridge that connects other students to their own version of the American Dream.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Rice Business has a slogan about being a global business school and some of my favorite events revolved around obtaining an international business perspective.  I started this past summer in Lima, Peru as part of the Global Field Experience where I performed market research and customer services for an American company that was exploring to launch there. Next, I flew to Frankfurt, Germany where I studied the German market and visited companies for two weeks at our partner school (WHU – Otto Beisheim School of Management). My urge to understand the global perspective led me to spend a semester abroad in Spain at IE Business School where I learned about mergers and acquisitions in the EU. During my time there, I traveled to 18 countries where I learned about the intersection of business and policy. To finish off, I traveled to China with 40 of my classmates to learn how China has been able to escape extreme poverty in the 1980s to become the second-largest economy in the world.

Why did you choose this business school? I choose Rice Business for several reasons:

1) They are extremely generous with their scholarships (about 80% of the full-time student body receives some type of aid).

2) Small class size gave me the opportunity to get to know the faculty and staff very well.

3) Partnerships with global universities.

4) Houston, Texas. I had longed to return home after being away for five years. My long-term goal includes running for elected office in Houston to create a sensible business policy that will get more people to improve their financial circumstances.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program?

Choosing Schools: If possible, visit as many schools as you can before selecting your top program. Some schools like Rice University might surprise you, so don’t just make a selection on where you want to apply based on what you think you know. Experience a day at different schools to see if you would like to be part of that community.

Academic: If you have never taken a finance or accounting class, it is ok! However, you must know that you will be in classes with people that are experts, and, thus, you might want to think about taking a crash course online or at a community college. This will help you academically and make your first year a more positive experience.

External: Make sure that you are asking yourself the hard questions: Why do I want to earn an MBA? What is the motivation that is driving me to do this and, when things get rough, do I have the appropriate system to glue back my life together? These questions will not only help admission officers understand your thought process, but they will give you inspiration when it is 2:00 am and you are still studying for a finance final.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Rice Business is that it is primarily an oil and gas school. In the class of 2019, only 17.9% of the class accepted positions in the “Petroleum/Energy” Industry. Rice University has much to offer given the proximity to the medical center and being the fourth-largest and most diverse city in the United States. Some of my classmates are starting their own ventures, while many others are doing consulting and investment banking.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Rice Business was ranked No. 1 in entrepreneurship this past year and my only regret is that I did not take advantage of more of the entrepreneurship classes, panels, and the Lillie lab. Entrepreneurship Acquisition was a class that intrigued me, but I did not have enough time to take it. If I could do this all over again, I would focus on expanding my knowledge so that, one day, I am able to start or acquire my own business.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The student that I admire the most is Aamir Hasanali. He serves as the class vice president and was a member of my core group. Aamir took it upon himself to not only tutor me but also organized whole sessions for many classmates who felt like we needed extra support. In addition, he has led many initiatives around the business school. He did this because he believes in building as he climbs. He is a leader that cares about the whole Rice community. He also taught me how to invest in my first stock, and has transformed my relationship with money. Although I did not have parents who were able to teach me about finances (my mother has a third-grade education), I feel extremely lucky to have a friend and mentor like Aamir who takes the time to close the inequality and knowledge gap associated with being a first-generation college student.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? There were two people that made a significant influence in my pursuit of an MBA. My friend and former colleague at Deloitte, Alejandro Freeman was my sounding board every step of the way as he was also applying to business school (Wharton, ‘20). We would call each other every Saturday to ensure we were studying and applying to the right fellowships (he is the one that told me about Consortium). Another handy friend and mentor, Davinia Rodriguez (who interviewed me as a Rice undergrad more than 10 years ago), provided an inspiration since she knows what it is like to be one of the few Latinas in her field. I could always count on her to provide a “si, se puede.”

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. Start or buy a business before I turn 40 years old
  2. Write a memoir in honor of my mother and Godmother before I turn 35

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like to be remembered as someone who was not afraid to push back on ideas, travel to new places, or engage in hard conversations that are crucial for building the next chapter of our country.

Hobbies? Things I am good at doing: Running and trying new restaurants. I love to try new food and new spots in town. Luckily for me, I also love to run so it gives me an excuse to have a little bit more for dessert.

Things I aspire to be better at doing: Tennis and skiing. I fortunately (or unfortunately depending on how you view it) married a tennis state champion who pushes me to be my best self on the courts all the time. To top it all off, he also grew up in the mountains of Colorado, so the snow is his second nature. I have been trying to ski since we have been together for over 10 years. I am getting better every time.

What made Norma such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“In my two decades of working with students, I’ve not met any student with such a well-developed sense of purpose! As a proud, first-generation Latina, Norma has inspired and educated us. She has challenged assumptions, demonstrated passion for causes she believes in, and has led by example.

She has impacted our program in ways that are significant and genuinely heartwarming:

  • Taking the lead in broadening our corporate engagement by inviting Consortium alumni in the Houston-area to campus events
  • Serving as a mentor to first-year students — even during her study abroad experience in Spain
  • Rallying her classmates to contribute to an Uber gift card when a classmate’s surgery prevented her from driving to classes

In addition to her on-campus contributions, Norma is very active in the community. With deep ties serving as the board president to a non-profit, she started when she was 19 years old, volunteering for political campaigns in Houston and Texas, and serving as a mentor to many Latinas in the business world.

Norma tops our “ones to watch” list! She is a star and most importantly, she enriches the experience of those who are fortunate enough to be in her orbit.”

Lina Bell
Director, Diversity and Inclusion


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