Hometown: I was born and raised in Montevideo, Uruguay, but I consider Los Angeles, CA my U.S. “hometown.”
Fun Fact About Yourself: I used to be a child model! One of my most memorable moments was doing a commercial for Benetton; I got to skip school for two days and earned my first paycheck (and a free t-shirt!).
Undergraduate School and Major:
Undergraduate: University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign (B.S. Architectural Studies)
Graduate: University of Southern California (Master of Architecture, Graduate Certificate in Building Science)
Most Recent Employer and Job Title:
MBA Internship: March Capital Management; Project Management Summer Intern
Pre-MBA: CO Architects; Associate / Project Architect
What did your parents do for a living? They owned a small business that sold Chinese goods. They also had a small restaurant attached to it.
What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? My mother began pursuing a higher education degree (in Uruguay) but had to drop out a few years into her studies in order to help out with her family business; she was never able to go back and finish. My father has a high school diploma.
Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? Both of my parents have been my biggest inspiration. Not unlike most immigrant stories, together they have made countless sacrifices in the pursuit of a better life. They have had to uproot their life twice. First, they moved from China to Uruguay (Cultural Revolution) during their adolescent years, and then uprooted again to come to the United States in order to give my siblings and me more possibilities and career opportunities. Through both moves, they had to learn new languages, find new jobs, establish new social circles, and adapt to new cultures—all while supporting and inspiring us to pursue our dreams. Because of their personal sacrifices, they provided us with the resources and opportunities to pursue our goals. I will always be extremely grateful and thankful for what they’ve done.
What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? I don’t think there was a particular moment, but rather a combination of factors. While my parents did not earn college degrees, higher education has always been encouraged in my family. My parents, especially my mom, have always been firm believers that knowledge is something that no one can take away from you. As a result they’ve made sure that money would not be a factor in pursuing any educational opportunity. They also wanted to provide us with opportunities that they did not have growing up. I’ve seen how hard they’ve worked in order to afford a good education and the sacrifices they’ve made to come to this country; every moment has led me to pursue a higher education.
What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? When I came to the States, I was a junior in high school. My brother was the only person I knew applying to college. So, for the most part, I had to figure out the application process along the way. At the same time, I was still trying to adapt to American culture. Growing up in one of the few Asian families in a country like Uruguay was challenging. There was no rulebook on how to behave or what to expect. My siblings and I were the only racial minority in the entire school and, like most children, I just wanted to fit in. With an exceptionally Chinese family name “Lin,” connected to a traditional Spanish first name “Andrés,” I was an uncomfortably anomalous student through my early years.
When we came to the States, I was once again the odd man out: a student of Chinese origin, born and raised in South America, with a strange accent and foreign culture. For me, I was worried about fitting in, understanding my place in a new environment, and navigating the American college experience.
What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? As an outsider, it seemed as if most of the other students were navigating their college experience through a fairly straight path, as if they had the “college experience” figured out. They knew what clubs to join, what classes to take, and exactly what to do. My path to graduation was filled with curves and detours. As a first-generation college student, I didn’t have any role models to guide me through the traditional American college experience. But the deviations along the path taught me important life skills. Along the way, I found mentors, friends, and colleagues who helped me get back on track. I learned to be vulnerable and admit when I needed help. I experienced a few setbacks along the way, but I quickly learned that they were opportunities for growth. Navigating this path taught me the value of learning from my failures and the power of mentorship.
What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better? While my family has always been supportive of the pursuit of higher education, they do not understand every aspect of it, and neither did I until I experienced it. The education process goes beyond the classroom. Learning from peers, volunteer trips, and other social activities has had just as much of an impact on my personal and professional development as the classes I was taking. Often times, my parents asked, “Why are you spending your time volunteering, or visiting other cities instead of studying?” It was hard to explain how much those experiences also shaped my view of the world and allowed me to discover my passions. Through volunteer experiences with Habitat for Humanity, I realized how architecture had the power to change communities and cities. It is one of the main reasons why I pursued it as a career.
Furthermore, a higher education experience is not just a means to a job. I think a lot of first-generation (especially immigrant) parents see a college degree as such. While this can be true for the most part, I believe that a higher education experience is a means to discovering interests and passions that will eventually lead to different career opportunities. When I told my parents I wanted to pursue an MBA, one of their first questions was, “Why do you want to pursue another degree after all the effort you put into architecture?” It was hard to explain how a specific degree would help me advance in my career in new and exciting ways.
What led you to pursue an MBA degree? Even though I attained my license and enjoyed the work I was doing as an architect, I wanted to help effectuate change at a greater scale. Living and practicing in Los Angles, I saw how the affordable housing gap continued, and will continue, to displace underserved communities, including the Hispanic community. Having lived for most of my life in a Hispanic country, I have a very deep sense of commitment to my identity and people. I realized that developers and clients have more power when it comes to pursuing projects and making final design decisions. I wanted to build upon the skills I’ve learned as an architect and supplement them with an MBA in order to create architecture that is both socially equitable and responsible; and eventually lead a change in the affordable housing sector. I believe an MBA will provide me with the necessary skills I couldn’t learn practicing solely as an architect and allow me to interweave the complexities of design and development.
How did you choose your MBA program? I based my decision on cultural fit, academics, and the school mission. Choosing SOM became an easy choice as the application process progressed. I was fortunate enough to visit the schools I was interested in and I also reached out to alums and current students. I found that I connected the most with SOM’s tight-knit community through welcome weekends, alumni events, and even the admission officers. Every person I met was not only high-achieving, but also extremely humble. Finally, I felt that Yale SOM’s mission of “Educating Leaders for Business and Society” very much resonated among the student body. I wanted to attend an institution where my fellow classmates were also interested in creating a positive change in society.
What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? Even though I’ve gone through an undergraduate and graduate program, the fear of not fitting in, or that I’m not good enough, sank in. The impostor syndrome can really affect you psychologically. I had to take a step back and realized my value and what I’ve accomplished thus far.
I was also scared I was not going to be able to keep up, especially since I was coming from a non-traditional background, and I knew the first year was going to be very quantitatively heavy. That fear quickly dissipated as my classmates provided me with support whenever I had trouble with specific topics.
How were you able to finance your MBA as a first-generation student? I was very fortunate to have received a scholarship from the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, which covered the cost of tuition. Furthermore, I have an incredibly supportive partner who has relocated to work remotely in order to support additional expenses such as rent and the cost of living. The combination of both has allowed me to focus on the professional and personal development opportunities at SOM.
I would encourage any underrepresented minorities thinking about an MBA to apply via the Consortium. The connections and the friendships I’ve made through the program have made my MBA experience even better.
What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? Pay it forward, don’t be afraid to ask, and don’t be afraid to push yourself.
A lot of the achievements that I’ve been able to accomplish were because there were people along the way that supported, mentored, cheered, and provided guidance every step of the way. I couldn’t have done it on my own. Do the same for others!
Asking for help has also been instrumental. I wish I had sought mentors earlier in my career. Often times I did not ask for help for fear of being a burden to others, especially when most people are busy with their professional lives. That couldn’t have been farther from the truth. A lot of mentors were excited to provide me with advice and even opened doors to new opportunities.
What do you plan to pursue after graduation? After graduation, I plan on pursuing a career in real estate in order to focus on affordable housing.