2020 MBAs To Watch: Vanessa Chang, University of Maryland (Smith)

Zheng “Vanessa” Chang

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith School of Business

“When facing tough choices, I always choose the riskier one.”

Hometown: Baoji, Shaanxi Province, China

Fun fact about yourself: I can’t eat spicy foods but love to cook them for friends; I’m a big fan of Mafia Game; and before turning 23, I wanted to be a movie director, a fashion designer, or a poet and considered business as a second-to-last career choice after politics.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Undergraduate School: Dalian University – Environmental Science (China)
  • Graduate schools:  Durham University – Museum and Artifact Studies (UK)
  • Smith School of Business, University of Maryland – MBA (US)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? iTalk Global Communications, Channel Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Verizon – Marketing Intern at Basking Ridge, New Jersey.

Where will you be working after graduation? Amazon – AWS CloudPath, Sr. Program Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Awards and Honors:

  • Rising Star Award (Awarded to one first-year student who “Has Exemplified Outstanding Performance in Leadership, Engagement, and Academics over their 1st Year in the MBA program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business.”) – 2019
  • Terp-Help-Terp Award – 2019
  • Smith Fellowship Recipient

Community Work & Leadership Roles:

  • President, Data Analytics and Technology Club
  • VP of Marketing, Marketing Communication Association
  • VP of External Relations, Asian MBA Association
  • Member – Black MBA Association
  • Forte Fellow & Ambassador
  • Graduate Assistantship – Smith Salesforce team, MicroMaster’s Program
  • Organizing Study Groups, Volunteer to help cohort 2021 on academics
  • Teaching Assistant, Game Theory

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I’m most proud of leading the Smith MBA Data Analytics and Technology Club (DATC). Not having an engineering background prompted me to prioritize learning and exposing myself to the trends and dialogue surrounding analytics and technology. It has affirmed for me that this knowledge is not just for analysts, engineers, or product managers, but a must-have for any manager in today’s business world. Recognizing that some business students view analytics as engineering-focused and not impactful to their careers inspired me to run for DATC President and initiate a career-building focus to the club’s technical-skill-building niche. Subsequently, I’ve worked with a passionate DATC team to bring professionals of various career tracks and industries to speak to Smith MBAs and share how data analytics and technology has evolved and to show the students how what they’re learning in class connects with industry practices. We also have organized career networking events, student-to-student mentoring and organized student-led training sessions covering “most-needed technical skills” based on student-survey feedback. Subsequently, attendance for DATC-events has doubled with robust feedback from participating students. I’m truly grateful for the dedicated work from my board and tremendous support from friends, peers, and faculty to enable the DATC to influence such impact.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As the first college graduate in my family, I’m most proud of my career transformation from “science and art” to “business and technology.” After four years of training in science, I realized a passion for art. This led to my first master’s degree – in Museum and Artifact studies in the UK – which rendered me a deeper appreciation and empathy for various cultures and art. The harsh job market in the field, however, pushed me to expand my search for my first career opportunity after I returned to China in 2012. This led me to work for a 3D printing-focused startup looking to expand globally. Though without a business background, I initiated the firm’s expansion into the international market despite limitations on budget, time, and an understanding among my team members of Western business culture. Successfully meeting the complex nature of business and creativity required for that accomplishment was strongly rewarding, and it instilled my passion for business.

I subsequently developed a passion for technology and leadership through four years as a channel manager for a U.S. telecom firm. This role involved successfully developing and launching a new product in a new market and gave me a burning desire to learn more about business holistically – to piece together the puzzle of challenges I faced in previous work and to pivot my career to technology and leadership. Joining the Smith MBA program was the answer to such a calling for growth. I sought out and seized opportunities for leadership roles, training, case competitions, and club events. I further gained invaluable experience through my summer 2019 Verizon internship and proudly accepted an offer from Amazon to become a senior program manager for its CloudPath program. More than a job opportunity, this Amazon position is like an affirmation of a successful journey through a mixture of experiences to my true passion. Moreover, perceivably irrelevant experience in art actually internalized and shaped my way of viewing the world and business. This equipped me with stronger empathy and creativity, which are important for today’s business environment.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor is Associate Dean of Master’s Programs Wendy Moe – both for her teaching style and as a leadership role model. In her market forecasting class, her teaching models illustrate her extensive industry experience in real business cases.  I also worked with her in promoting Smith’s recently launched MicroMaster’s program. In the process, I witnessed her vision and strategy to position and leverage automation and digital channels, which is crucial for long-term user growth. I am amazed by how efficiently she organized and motivated a team of professors and students to carry out the project. Her clear communication ensured everyone understood her vision and their potential contributions. Wendy exhibits that she truly cares about students. For example, she initiated the Female Leader Mentorship program by successfully recruiting women from the Smith faculty ranks to mentor female students. Just as many of these students have received valuable support from the program, I’m grateful to have Wendy as my mentor.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite MBA event, “Hear My Story,” is organized every year by the Smith Pride Association and engages members of the Smith MBA community at large to share and learn about one another’s experiences. It’s surprising to realize how little you know about a classmate you may sit next to in every class. More importantly, I love and am proud of this tradition at Smith, as it truly promotes and encourages a sharing and caring culture that embraces diversity. The conversation is by no means limited to the day of the event. It’s continuous and leads to a more connected community.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Smith because of its small but strong community. It is a safe place to be yourself, to experiment, and learn fast. During my application process – including interacting with staff, current students and alumni – I got the impression (that proved true) that everyone is here to support one another to succeed and that every voice is valued. For example, I reached out to a Smith alumnus, following a LinkedIn connection, with a list of questions and surprisingly received an extensive and candid, same-day reply. The alumnus shared about her Smith experience and offered encouragement and helpful advice. Responding to my question “How should I best use my time in business school as an MBA student?”, her answer resonated strongly and inspired me to act accordingly. She advised me to explore ‘…not just your passions and curiosities, but also things that may scare you – that take you out of your comfort zone.’ Subsequently, I’ve experienced enormous self-growth through the process, built valuable friendships, and am truly happy about joining Smith – a decision surely influenced by that email.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Share what motivates you – your passions and aspirations – because the admissions staff will feel it! Truly reflect on what made you “you,” and how you see yourself contributing to the diverse and strong Smith community. Don’t be shy to share stories about failure. And when you challenge your fears, reflect on and seek to grow from those experiences. Be honest and vulnerable, as the Smith community values the authentic and genuine you.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That the Smith MBA is rigidly career-track structured — according to marketing, consulting and general management, finance, and supply chain tracks. Students initially may view choosing a track as a hard decision since it is tied closely with their career direction. While this is an important concern, each track in the Smith MBA curriculum provides students with a large room to curate classes outside the core courses of a given track based on their interests. For example, a supply chain-track student can set himself or herself up for a consulting career that specializes in supply chain-related projects, as well as develop a more well-rounded business perspective.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have applied to join the Mayer Fund — a $5 million investment fund run by a selected group of second-year Smith MBAs. The students run every aspect of the fund to ensure that it outperforms benchmarks. This entails forecasting global economic trends, conducting industry and company analysis, and pitching investment ideas in a global marketplace. In the most recent update, the fund outperforms the S&P 500 by more than 4%. As a marketing-focused student, joining the Mayer Fund would have provided valuable industry knowledge from a finance perspective — through interacting with industry experts and a highly dedicated and tight-knit group of classmates.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I most admire, Ha Le, a mother of two and owner of a real estate business. Despite a busy schedule, she is pursuing her passion for analytics through a dual degree in MBA and MS in Marketing Analytics. She is a trustworthy and hardworking team player, not only in study groups but through serving on multiple, student-club boards – including the Data Analytics and Technology Club. She truly shows she cares and is dedicated to contributing to her community. As a friend, she’s dependable for a great opinion, a smile, and a warm hug – especially if I’m having a bad day. She demonstrates true influence without authority and is a genuine human being and a great friend!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? First, my mother. Living in a small town with just a high school degree hasn’t limited my mom’s influence on me to explore the world. She’s a constant advocate for education and self-challenge.

More directly, Ingrid Du, a telecom marketing director and personal mentor, influenced me to pursue my MBA. An MBA graduate herself, Ingrid turned a challenging business into one of continuous growth and managed a scattered team that performed efficiently and in a tight-knit manner. I witnessed what leading-without-authority means as she was adept at getting peer and stakeholder buy-in through tough business decisions. I also consider her as a role model – as a female leader in the corporate world who met and resolved challenges by facing them fearlessly with professionalism and passion for the work and the people. She shared with me that her MBA experience gave her business knowledge from a holistic perspective and help her grow enormously through countless self-reflections after trial-and-error. She strongly encouraged me to pursue an MBA degree. Her advice and insight have been invaluable.

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

Develop products that improve the accessibility of education resources to children especially in the underdeveloped areas. 

Be an entrepreneur who becomes known for developing and marketing an innovation that makes people’s lives better.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? If you are looking for an empathetic ear, come and talk to me.

Hobbies? Weightlifting and painting. Experimenting with and creating food/meal recipes.

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

“Vanessa came to Maryland Smith for a true career transition. After receiving an MA in Museum and Artifact Studies, she worked at a startup and realized her true passion for technology and leading teams, thus leading her to the Smith MBA program. Vanessa took on many new experiences throughout her time at Smith that pushed her outside of her comfort zone – attending trainings, competing in case competitions, and taking on 1st-year club leadership positions. She went above and beyond assisting her classmates in their first year and was recognized by receiving both the “Terps Helping Terps” award and the “1st Year Rising Star” Award. In her second year, she took on leadership positions as president of the Data Analytics and Technology Club and serving on the boards of the Marketing & Communications Association and Asian MBA Association. Vanessa is always looking for ways to support her classmates both inside and outside of the classroom – she has served as a TA for challenging courses and was very engaged with the Office of Career Services. Under her leadership, the Data Analytics and Technology Club has planned workshops and trainings to provide students with a better understanding data analytics, from speakers connecting what they learn in the classroom to industry to training for technical skills. Vanessa has been a great role model for her fellow classmates, and we know she will continue to succeed at Amazon after graduation as a Senior Program Manager.”

Wendy W. Moe
Associate Dean of Master’s Programs


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