2020 First Generation MBAs: Grace Stewart, Georgia Tech (Scheller)

Grace Stewart

Georgia Tech, Scheller College of Business

Class: 2022

Hometown: Morehead City, North Carolina

Fun Fact About Yourself: While working on a reality series about drift racing, I recorded voiceover work that made it into the final show. I’m technically a Netflix actor!

Undergraduate School and Major: University of South Carolina, Double Major in Theatre & English

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: iVision – Content Writer

What did your parents do for a living? My mom works at a local radio station and my dad works for the SC Ports Authority.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? Both of my parents have two-year degrees from community colleges.

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? I was raised in a one-parent home with no siblings, so my mom has always been the bedrock of my universe. I know how hard it was for her as a young single mother, but she met every challenge with a level head and optimism. By watching my mom, I learned how to be fearlessly independent and adaptable to anything life throws my way.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? In some ways, it felt like I was always on the path to college because I was in classes with kids who talked about their dream schools and touring college campuses. I do remember when I asked my high school guidance counselor about college, her only advice was to hand me one of those “Complete Guide to Colleges” books. I don’t know if that moment led me to decide to pursue higher education, but it did show me that I would have to put in a lot of my own work to get there.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? I was so terrified to go to college because I had no idea what to expect. I was moving from my very small hometown to a large university in a different state. I was so sure that I would show up wearing the wrong clothes, be interested in the wrong things, or wouldn’t be able to afford to do all the things everyone else wanted to do.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? I think the most challenging part was that I had absolutely no idea what I wanted to do. Almost everyone in my family is either in the medical field or another skilled trade – positions that don’t require four-year degrees. There also isn’t a lot of job diversity where I grew up, so I never met adults who had the kinds of jobs you go to college for. My idea of possible careers was probably the same as a kindergartener: doctor, lawyer, scientist, or teacher. I’m really glad that I took a lot of time to explore and figure out what I enjoyed – so I have no regrets – but it made things a lot more challenging.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better?  I don’t think my family understood how much of the undergraduate experience I said no to because it was too expensive. I watched my friends study abroad, join sororities, take internships that were unpaid (or in more expensive cities), go on spring break trips together, and on-and-on. My parents helped pay for books or small things here-and-there. Ultimately, I was the one financing my education and working multiple jobs through college. I am so grateful to my parents for supporting me through every decision I made and I will never be upset that they couldn’t pay for my college education. There are just so many “extras” that they probably don’t know I turned down because of money.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? When I met my boyfriend, he had just been admitted to his MBA program. I was 25 years old and had never (to my knowledge) met a person with an MBA before. Meeting him – and later, his classmates – opened my eyes to the business world and its opportunities. It also gave me a long time to do some serious self-reflection and consider my own long-term goals and how an MBA could facilitate them. Ultimately, I pursued an MBA because it will allow me to round out a lot of my business skills and pivot to a more strategic role than what I was in before, but I never would have known to apply if I hadn’t met someone with an MBA.

How did you choose your MBA program? I had a few priorities for my MBA program: smaller cohort size, good value or financial assistance, and strong career services. Scheller hit all of those easily and happened to be in Atlanta where I was already located. I also found an unexpected benefit to Scheller’s MBA program, which is that it attracts a lot of former engineers and quantitative experts. I knew that wasn’t going to be my value-add to the program, but I wanted to go to a school where I could learn from and round out the skills of my peers.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? There was a lot of self-doubt. I think every MBA student feels imposter syndrome at some point, and that’s probably more true for people from non-traditional work experiences like myself. I definitely felt at times like the school had made a huge mistake and I would never find a job, but everyone seems to go through some version of that.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first-generation student? I am a Forte Fellow and recipient of a merit-based scholarship at Scheller, as well as a Graduate Research Assistant. I’m fortunate that those items generously cover my tuition and fees. As for my living expenses during the program, I have saved some money by working for five years and will also be taking out some loans to fill in any gaps.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? You will likely have to work harder than a lot of your peers. You might not have all the connections or inside knowledge or financial support that they have. You might be juggling problems they never have to think about. But I have always found that my two most valuable skills are problem-solving and resilience, and those are things you develop when you look at all the doors that are closed to you and find a way to open one anyway.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? I plan to pursue opportunities in consulting or corporate strategy, with a particular interest in roles that leverage my experience in the entertainment industry.


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