2020 MBAs To Watch: Nona Black, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Nona Black

Georgia Institute of Technology’s Scheller College of Business

A design-minded innovator whose dream is to spoil all the dogs in the world.”

Hometown: Athens, GA

Fun fact about yourself: In college, I was a bouncer at a club.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Georgia, Mathematics (BS)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Before coming to Scheller College of Business at Georgia Tech to pursue my MBA, I worked for a small startup in Tech Square, SandboxATL, as the General Manager of The Garage, an innovation-focused event venue and community space.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? I interned at Cognizant as a Senior Consultant in the Retail, Consumer Goods, and Hospitality practice. Over the summer, I worked with a leading global retailer developing SOPs for e-commerce content attribution and developed several thought-leadership pieces on the future of grocery delivery and emerging trends in voice and visual search.

Where will you be working after graduation?  I will be joining Capgemini Invent as a Senior Consultant.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Forte Fellow – The Forte Fellows Program recognizes emerging female leaders in MBA programs around the world.
  • MBA Ambassador – As an ambassador, I help recruit and welcome students to Scheller, and represent Georgia Tech at events.
  • Startup Mentor, Goodie Nation – Goodie Nation is a social impact accelerator in Atlanta, GA.
  • President, Women in Business – I led a passionate board that created events focused on raising awareness of women’s issues, supporting our allies, and lifting each other’s voices.
  • Vice President, Strategy & Innovation Club – As the VP, I helped develop programming to deepen our understanding of the skills needed for a successful career in strategy and innovation and I organized company tours and networking opportunities. During my tenure, we were voted as the ”Most Improved” Club and tripled our membership.
  • Peer Leadership Committee Member – The Peer Leadership Committee builds bridges between MBA classes by managing a formal inter-class mentorship program and our student speaker series.
  • Graduate Research Assistant for Venture Lab (Enterprise Innovation Institute) – Venture Lab works with I-Corps to teach evidence-based entrepreneurship throughout the Southeast. As a GRA, I was certified as an instructor, helped kick off a new Hacking for Defense class in coordination with the Department of Defense, and helped launch Georgia Tech’s first Female Startup Lab.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Achieving sustainable equity for all our students, faculty, and staff at Scheller is something I have been working on through my leadership role in Women in Business, but I felt there was more we could do as a Scheller community. As club leaders, we haven’t always coordinated on issues, activities, and agendas as much as we could. To address this concern, I began working with fellow Diversity and Inclusion Club leadership, our student government, and the Dean’s office to create the college-wide Diversity & Inclusion Committee. Thanks to the amazing input of my fellow leaders, we are building something better together. While we are still in the planning stages, this new collaborative, well-supported student committee dedicated to D&I will be established and functional before my cohort graduates.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Building The Garage, an innovation-focused event venue in Tech Square, from the ground up is my greatest professional success to date. When I took on the role at The Garage, I was hesitant to put myself in a position to fail because my prior experience in building businesses had been fraught with all the struggles you might expect a fledgling leader to encounter. The failures of the previous experience led me to walk away from something I helped build, which was incredibly difficult.

My approach building The Garage was much more cautious, and it took me a long time to trust my own judgment again; however, I was so fortunate in the new role to have colleagues and owners who believed in me and gave me the tools I needed to successfully execute our vision. I don’t think I would be the person I am today without experiencing both failure and success. Failure taught me to be more cautious and strategic in my actions, but success taught me that I could both overcome failure and build something of which I could be proud.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Dr. Laurina Zhang who taught my Corporate Strategy class is my favorite professor at Scheller. Dr. Zhang brings so much clarity and passion to her classes. She follows case methodology, has a knack for bringing out the best in people, and breaks down complex concepts into comprehensible pieces. Professor Zhang puts the focus on case material and discussion instead of presenting a lecture, which has taught me how to wield strategy frameworks and link financial decisions to strategic questions. Ultimately, Professor Zhang lifted the veil of mystery from corporate strategy for me, made me a better critical thinker, and taught me to back my opinions with strong, well-reasoned arguments. I expect to see great things from Dr. Zhang in the future!

Why did you choose this business school? I worked in Tech Square for a year-and-a-half before applying to Scheller. In that time, I worked with several Scheller staff as clients, watched a colleague join the Scheller community, and witnessed the drive and passion of the Scheller students who frequented our community workspace. Tech Square is a unique place where the Georgia Tech community, startup entrepreneurs, and corporate innovators walk the same halls and sidewalks, attend the same community events, and share tables at the same coffee shops. It is a community of driven people who respect each other’s intellect, capabilities, and ideas, and who are excited to collaborate. I saw how the Scheller community reflected all those values, and I knew that if I was going to get an MBA it would have to be here.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Be true to yourself and show your passion and enthusiasm. The experience at Scheller is special, and it got that way by including people of diverse backgrounds who share a drive, passion, and desire to leave the community better than they found it. While we value academics and are passionate about technology, our most important commitment is to the creation of an inclusive, supportive environment where we all succeed. We have a joke here that the only thing that will keep you out of the program is being a jerk. Granted, you still have to have the grades and the test scores, but cultural fit is critical.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Georgia Tech is known as an engineering school, and the perception that everyone is an engineer is largely true—but only for the undergraduate programs. Scheller is a different story. We have plenty of former engineers in the MBA program, but our program is incredibly diverse. We talk a lot about diversity in the admissions process, and the administration has worked hard to seek out diversity in professional backgrounds. The result is a class full of different perspectives and people willing to bring their unique experiences to the table. I’ve learned so much from listening to and working with my classmates, and I am glad that we aren’t all “a helluva engineer.”

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? There have been so many opportunities to pursue my passions and interests, and it is easy for me to pour myself into those initiatives. If I could do anything differently, I probably would have spent more time at socials just enjoying the experience.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are so many people, but the person I most admire is Shannell Smith. The MBA experience encompasses your whole life. It is a lot of work and a huge time commitment. For anyone with children, it means you have to find a way to juggle everything and still be there every day to nurture and care for your child. Shannell is a single mom from California. Not only did she take on the challenge of completing a master’s degree with a child, but she also chose Scheller knowing it would require her to uproot her family and move them all to Georgia. That took courage and faith in herself that she could manage it all, and a belief that an MBA would mean a better life not just for her but also for her family. No one can say for sure what the outcome of an MBA will be for each person. Taking on debt, making a significant life change, and betting on your future can feel overwhelming. I am in awe of Shannell for everything she did just to get here.

On day one of our program we were sitting in orientation and it was Shannell’s turn to introduce herself. I remember her standing up and exuding a sense of uncompromising self-assuredness that I found inspirational.  In the time since, we’ve become friends and worked on several projects, events, and initiatives together. Shannell has helped me better understand how to create a more equitable environment for those who will come after us and inspired me to ask hard questions of those around me. I am better for having met her and I know she and her son Eric will go on to do great things with “their MBA”.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I would not have considered business school if it hadn’t been for Ian Edelson (Scheller MBA, class of 2019). Ian and I worked together for a year at a small startup around the corner from Scheller. Ian and I applied for the same job, and inevitably I lost out to him in the final round. When another role opened up, the CEO called and offered me the position. Ian and I spent a year working closely together. During that time, Ian had my back, supported my decisions, acted as a sounding board, and convinced me I could be great at anything I attempted. When he left to attend Scheller, the support and enthusiasm did not stop. He went from the best work cheerleader to the best life cheerleader and seeing his MBA journey slowly convinced me to apply to the program myself.

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

Be the founder and CEO of a company

Start a foundation focused on building equity in our society

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would most like to be remembered as passionate and driven to leave the program better than I found it, and that I was kind and inclusive of everyone.

Hobbies? Playing with my three dogs, lifting weights, and mentoring fledgling entrepreneurs

What made Nona Black such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“Since she joined, Nona has been an integral part of the VentureLab. She has been unafraid to dive into our various commercialization activities, and she often takes the initiative to dive in. She joined the inaugural Hacking For Defense class at Georgia Tech as our Teaching Assistant and helped provide team feedback throughout the semester in a manner that was honest and kind, while pushing the students to challenge their assumptions. She has led internal design-thinking sessions for our group, helped us prepare for a major proposal, and jumped in to help us mold long-term research projects with other universities, providing feedback on methodology and implementation. Nona is a fantastic, kind person and is certainly deserving of this honor.”

Colin Ake
Principal | VentureLab | Georgia Tech
Regional Lead Instructor | I-Corps South

“I had the pleasure of having Nona in my corporate strategy class in the fall of 2019. I structured the course to be heavily discussion-oriented, which required students to not only be prepared for each class but also highly engaged. Nona is superb at responding to fast-moving discussions, developing a clear point of view, and providing persuasive arguments that either challenged or supported her classmates’ point of view. Her willingness to push herself out of her comfort zone to become one of the strongest students in the course is a testament to her hard work and perseverance. I expect great things from Nona in the future.”

Laurina Zhang
Assistant Professor, Strategy & Innovation

“Nona’s presence is the first thing you notice about her; once you engage her in conversation, you quickly confirm the first impression matches the lasting one. A classmate shared, “Nona is a natural leader. When she walks into a room, she exudes confidence and competence. She backs up this natural presence with action – she led Women in Business by increasing meaningful programming and has listened and responded to what membership wants out of the organization. Every time I have the chance to work with Nona, I take it. I know her experience and perspective will be invaluable, and I will never have to worry about the quality or timeliness of Nona’s work.” While president of the club in her second year, Nona brought a focus on mindfulness and self-care for Scheller’s women and allies.

In addition to her leadership role in Women in Business, Nona has been a transformational leader in the Strategy & Innovation Club. Nona drew upon her connections within the startup community in Atlanta to bring in speakers and to create opportunities for classmates who are interested in working for a startup. Further, Nona has garnered considerable accolades as a peer mentor. Classmates have provided feedback including, “Nona has been an incredible mentor, helping me navigate the career landscape to find out how to apply my passion while gaining new skills.” Another mentee stated, “Nona has invited me to meet her contacts, mentioned my name to recruiters, and kept me informed of interesting opportunities—she values my success and has put in significant effort to ensure it.”  We are grateful for the impact Nona has made during her time at Scheller and extremely excited to see the impact she will have in her bright future.”

Katie Lloyd
Assistant Dean, MBA Programs


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