2020 First Generation MBAs: Emilia Lispi, Notre Dame (Mendoza)

Emilia Lispi

University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business

Class: 2022

Hometown: Scranton, PA

Fun Fact About Yourself: Currently, I’m the only person living in the US with my whole name! I was named after my great grandmother, who was also Emilia Lispi.

Undergraduate School and Major:

Bachelor’s: University of Miami, Biology

Master’s: University of Pittsburgh, Health & Fitness

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Treasure Valley Family YMCA, Group Exercise Coordinator

What did your parents do for a living? My dad owns a landscaping and excavation company for residential and small commercial work. (My mom is deceased.)

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? Both of my parents received high school diplomas.

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? My paternal grandmother is a very significant role model for me. She was the epitome of grace, always conducting herself with humility and class. She never hesitated to give her time or anything she had to help someone. People from all walks of life gathered at her table for a meal and glass of homemade wine. My Grammy inspires me to be understanding, empathetic, and giving. As she always said, we are the luckiest.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? There was never a question that I would attend college. Not having earned college degrees, my parents were unwavering in their dedication to my education. From reading with me to sacrificing vacations and other extras, my parents made sure I got everything they could give me to succeed.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? Before starting undergrad, I was most worried about making the right career choice. I have many interests, which made it difficult to choose just one thing. I’d be lying if I didn’t say that I was also worried about making friends! Thankfully, I found a wonderful roommate and circle of friends, who are still my biggest cheerleaders and inspire me to achieve more.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? I did change majors during undergrad, which was difficult to decide. I was an athlete for a year, balanced a part-time campus job with a full course load, and took on what was probably too many club leadership roles. Looking back, it was stressful, but at the time, it was what needed to be done to achieve what I wanted. I hope that my kids don’t have to work during school to afford it, so they can focus on the things that will move their careers forward.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better? Since my parents didn’t go to college, they couldn’t relate to how much I juggled at once. I also think they struggled to understand how much of the job market is online and often depends on having connections. These days, it’s not as easy as dropping off applications and waiting. That being said, they were understanding and always supportive.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? Having earned my degree in health and fitness, I enjoyed my role at the Y and working with the community directly. While there, I found myself enjoying the business aspects of my role, like finance and data analysis. Instead of slowly shifting my focus one job at a time, I chose to accelerate my career change by pursuing an MBA.

How did you choose your MBA program? Notre Dame is a highly selective program with a renowned alumni base, but the mission of the business school is what solidified my choice. Coming from the nonprofit world, giving to the community is a priority for me. I knew that Notre Dame would teach me the business essentials and nurture my desire to “ask more of business.”

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? My biggest worry about the MBA was having a non-traditional background. I knew others would have non-business backgrounds as well, but I worried that I would be behind. After starting classes, I realized that I would catch up through the core curriculum and later pursue the advanced finance classes at the same level as my cohort.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? I’m very thankful that the majority of my MBA tuition is covered by a Forte Fellowship. The remainder of the tuition and some of my living costs are covered by federal student loans and savings.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? Be as intentional as possible about choosing your school and your degree. A bachelor’s degree is an investment in yourself, and you want to make the most of it. By doing your research before deciding on a school, you will not only make the most of your time there, but also enjoy it with as little stress as possible.

It’s also important to fully understand the financial commitment you’re making when you enroll. For many first generation students, college tuition is covered by loans, for which repayment can feel far in the future. If you truly don’t know what you want to pursue, don’t feel pressured to enroll in a full-time program right out of high school. Take a few classes at a time while working, interning or shadowing in an industry that interests you.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? After graduation, I’d like to work in corporate finance focusing on financial planning and analysis. I hope to participate in a formal leadership program so that I get the most out of my first few years after my MBA.


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