2020 First Generation MBAs: Ana Flavia Dias, University of Virginia (Darden)

Ana Flavia Dias

Darden School of Business at the University of Virginia

Class: 2020

Hometown: Anapolis, Brazil and San Francisco Bay Area

Fun Fact About Yourself: As a child I was a terrible Super Mario game player, so much so that my brother would hand me an unplugged remote (I caught on quickly). I’m happy to announce that upon graduating Darden, I beat the game.

Undergraduate School and Major: UC Berkeley, Chemical Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:

Pre-Darden: I was working as an Operations Supervisor at ChemTrade Logistics, a sulfuric acid plant.

Post-Darden: I’m currently working as a project manager for Facebook.

What did your parents do for a living? Both of my parents clean houses.

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

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? Probably my maternal grandma. She is one of eleven. She was ecstatic when she graduated elementary school. She then found out that her student days were over and she would start work because her family couldn’t afford to send all 11 kids to school so none would go. On that same day, she ripped up her elementary school diploma.

She eventually had a very successful career as a car saleswoman and was the breadwinner of her family. Her financial independence allowed her to walk away from a dysfunctional marriage – a lesson I will never forget.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? I wish I knew so that I could recreate that moment for others. I think it was a combination of three factors:

1) During summers in high school, instead of visiting colleges or taking SAT classes, I went to work with my mom cleaning houses. They were often huge houses in San Francisco and most had walls decorated with several diplomas, many of them were MBAs. So I began to associate greater life opportunities with education from a young age.

2) By nature, I love a challenge. If you tell me I can’t do something, I will work harder to achieve it. Growing up, my mom and I spent more time designing my wedding dress than we did talking about college or having a career. I was raised to be a wife and a mother. And I was quick to notice that the rules I had to follow were different from my brother’s. So I chose to challenge everyone’s preconceptions, and realize my own expectations.

3) Luck. Even though our family had our fair share of obstacles (when we first got to the USA, I was one of ten people in a 2 bed/1 bath apartment), I never had to worry about my next meal or where I would sleep at night. My parents were brave enough to come to a country they knew nothing about that spoke a language they didn’t speak so they could give my brother and I more opportunities. I didn’t choose that. They chose that for me. No matter how many “moments” present themselves, had I not been born to my parents, I wouldn’t be where I am today.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? Paying for it. Due to my immigration status at the time, I wasn’t eligible for scholarships, student loans, or work. My registration was blocked a couple of times due to late installment payments.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? All of it.

Berkeley engineering was a whole different ball game. I graduated high school with a 4.2 GPA and scored well on the SAT without any help. At Berkeley, you are thrown in the deep end – and you either sink or swim. Turns out, a lot of my classmates had floaties, while others had been swimming their entire life or had a personal life-guard.

Living at home was the only way I could afford Berkeley so I commuted via public transportation, which took a lot of time out of my day. And home wasn’t exactly the best environment for a student. One day, when I came home from Organic Chemistry lab, I witnessed a shooting outside of our house. I was later called as a witness in court for the trial. I remember getting my first F ever, in a multi-variable calculus quiz, and I cried from Evans Hall to Tolman Hall where I had my next class. I graduated from UC Berkeley with a Bachelor in Chemical Engineering because I saw my obstacles and failures as opportunities to prove myself.

I also can’t stress enough the importance of putting in place programs for students that don’t have a lot of support outside of school. A couple of programs that helped me at Berkeley were the Multicultural Engineering Program and the Professional Development Program, led by Cal alum Hugo Ramirez.  In these programs, I was able to find a smaller community of individuals with similar backgrounds to mine in a school of 30,000+ undergraduate students.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher education experience that you wish they would understand better? It’s not only about putting your head down and doing the work.

There are a lot of nuances and networking involved to achieve success. It’s not just about school, there are also so many extra-curricular activities and social events where attendance may not be required but is expected. It was difficult for my family to understand that I wasn’t partying when I attended four networking events in one week. The work doesn’t end when class ends. It’s also difficult for them to come to terms with the fact that following the opportunity sometimes means time away from family. To say my dad was adamantly against me moving away to pursue my MBA is an understatement. But he was still proud once I graduated and realized all the doors an MBA can open.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I wanted to continue building my professional career and I saw the MBA as a way to gain access to new opportunities. I also wanted to round out my experience so that I will be more impactful wherever I go.

My undergraduate experience allowed me to build technical competency. However, that doesn’t always translate to effective leadership, so I decided to pursue my MBA.  I also think that the more I accomplish, the bigger the influence and reach I can have in the communities and people I care about.

How did you choose your MBA program? I had a few priorities when choosing an MBA: I wanted to attend a program that was consistently ranked top 20 across the board, I wanted a tight-knit community, and I wanted to work on my soft skills.

After experiencing what it’s like to be a part of a large school, I wanted to be a student in a school where I recognized everyone’s face.  Darden’s case study method and required core and learning team create a collaborative environment that teaches you to think on your feet and to eloquently and effectively articulate your ideas and reasoning through practice. In essence, it best mimics the corporate world and teaches you the emotional intelligence you need to be an impactful leader. I’m happy that Darden checked all three boxes.  A bonus: the professors really are as good and approachable as they say! Believe the hype.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? I was worried about making friends and whether there would be anyone I could relate to.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? I was fortunate enough to receive a full-tuition, merit-based scholarship from the Darden Foundation, for which I am extremely grateful. Dean Beardsley has dedicated a lot of energy during his tenure to increasing funds devoted to scholarships because he knows that having an affordable education increases the diversity of the student body. Thereby, he can create a richer experience for all the students, which enables them to take on greater risks like starting a business. An affordable education is especially important for students who don’t have a safety net, like most first-generation students.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? KEEP GOING. It will be tough. You’ll often be the only one at school and work. And when you get home, you will also be the only one. You’ll feel alone. You’ll have the unique experience of not belonging to either world and belonging to both worlds at the same time. You won’t feel understood in either world. You’ll have to work harder than your peers. The list of obstacles can feel endless. But someone has to be first, and you have the opportunity to make sure that someone is you.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? I started working at Facebook in July as a Project Manager in the Community Operations team. I believe  the technology we build is amoral, and we are all called to the challenge of using it to do good. Our platform gives people the power to create a group called “Empowering First-Generation College Students” (currently at 4.7k members!) so that students can connect and not feel as alone on their path to higher learning. Meeting others like you who have succeeded helps you see what’s possible for yourself. My job is to ensure that our communities are safe so that people can come together and do what they do best!

I’m also looking forward to using my position to connect with people and build communities offline. Facebook partners with a variety of organizations that connect early career talent from local, under-represented communities with roles at Facebook and teaches them new skills required to be successful at companies like Facebook.


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