2020 First Generation MBAs: Alyssa Blankenship, University of Michigan (Ross)

Alyssa Blankenship

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

Class: 2021

Hometown: Donkin, Nova Scotia (Canada)

Fun Fact About Yourself: I’ve never met anyone from a smaller town than mine. Donkin has a population of approximately 450.

Undergraduate School and Major: Yale University, Economics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: SWIFT, Business Analyst

What did your parents do for a living? My dad was an officer in the Royal Canadian Mounted Police, and my mother stayed at home when I was young, but went back to work as a dental assistant when I was a teenager.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? Father: 11th grade; Mother: high school diploma

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? I have to start with my parents. They were relentless about the importance of education! When I was in elementary school, I remember them telling me I would go to college and leave Donkin for better opportunities. I couldn’t understand why they would want me to live so far away from home. I know it was difficult for them to nudge their children out of the nest, but they did it because it was in the best interests of my siblings and I. Now, they wish I would come home to visit more often.

I also made some incredible friends at Yale whose parents became role models for me. When I started college, I still believed I would return home after graduation, get married, and have kids – not even necessarily pursue a career. That was my mom’s role in the childhood I’d known and loved. My friends’ parents really took me under their wing and made an effort to show me that I could have both – a close-knit family and a career – and pushed me to think outside my personal bubble.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? Because my parents had always talked about me attending college, I don’t think there was a specific moment that led to the decision. However, I do remember a meeting with my high school counselor who told me I should set my sights lower than the Ivy League. This comment really lit a fire under me to prove him wrong. I have a pretty strong competitive streak.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? I was so naive about the whole concept of college and how to take advantage of the opportunities afforded to me. For example, I returned home every summer to spend time with my family and just took whatever job I could find (retail, summer nanny, etc.) rather than getting an internship to gain job experience. It’s something I wish I could do over again, and it is one of my primary reasons to pursue an MBA.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? I worried a lot about my parents and the financial strain the cost of college put upon them. Even with loans to cover tuition and school-related expenses, it was difficult for them to afford the hidden costs like flights home for the holidays. They made a lot of sacrifices, but never wavered in their support of my education.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you
wish they would understand better?
After I graduated and was working in New York City, I had a relative who asked why I needed to go to Yale just to have an “office job”. In my hometown, people are primarily employed in coal mines or on lobster boats, so there was a lack of understanding of the opportunities that a college degree could provide and that an “office job” could be a good thing! There were even a few family members who believed I thought I was “too good” for the local college; but I wish they would understand what an incredible opportunity and privilege it is to attend institutions like Yale and Michigan.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? My husband and I learned we were pregnant with our first child in early 2018. As we talked more about what kind of life we envisioned for our family, I thought a lot about the expectations my parents had set for me at an early age. My siblings and I were taught to push ourselves and embrace risk. I wanted to accelerate my career, so I decided to embrace the unknown and began studying for the GMAT during my second trimester and submitted my applications soon after she was born.

How did you choose your MBA program? I was looking for a school community that would be as welcoming to my family as they were to me. I also prioritized a collaborative culture so I could learn from my classmates with different work and cultural backgrounds. I found all of that at Ross and knew it would be a good fit for me.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? So many! I wanted to make sure I took advantage of all the school had to offer, because I had not done a good job of that in undergrad. I worried about recruiting and getting the job I wanted to start me on a new career path. And I worried about how the change would affect my family.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? Lots of loans!

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? When it seems the hurdles in front of you are insurmountable, think about the sacrifices your loved ones and your community have made to help you reach this point. They are still behind you, believing in you, and willing you to succeed. You can keep going.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? I am spending my summer with a consulting firm and hope to continue that after graduation.


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