2020 First Generation MBAs: Anthony DePina, Wharton School

Anthony DePina

The Wharton School at The University of Pennsylvania

Class: 2021

Hometown: Boston, MA (title town!!)

Fun Fact About Yourself: I have at least 37 aunts and uncles (“at least” because the exact number is up for debate lol)

Undergraduate School and Major: Rochester Institute of Technology, Mechanical Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Goldman Sachs, Associate – Exotic Derivative Trade Review 

What did your parents do for a living? My father is a school bus driver and my mother is a nurse.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? After immigrating from the Cape Verde islands, my father never got a high school diploma in the states, while my mother was able to get her bachelors much later in life.

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? My mother is my biggest inspiration as I grew up seeing her stretch herself considerably to make a better life for me and my family. My father, of course, sacrificed a lot and showed me what hard work and grit looks like, waking up extremely early every day for work to provide for the family. In addition to that, my mom showed me what no excuses looks like.

Growing up, my mom spent most of her working life as a nursing assistant, while having dreams of one day becoming a nurse herself. While I was in middle school, she took the leap one day and decided to enroll in community college and pursue her associate degree to become a nurse. I vividly remember her time while being in this program. It consisted of a next level commitment and determination that was forever engrained deep in me as she balanced being the rock of our household, working full-time, being a church volunteer, and putting in the necessary time to accomplish her goal. This was no easy thing for her as English is her second language, but even through the ups and downs, the successes and the failures, she finally obtained her degree and passed her exams to become a registered nurse.

I remember being so proud of her and realizing that if my mom could do it, as an immigrant to this country and someone that had much less to start off with than I did, than I had no excuse. In addition to this though, she actually enrolled in school again to pursue a bachelor’s degree while I was pursuing my undergraduate degree. And again, she was able to accomplish that goal, with my sister enrolled in the same program. Ultimately, all three of us actually ended up receiving our bachelor degrees within two weeks of each other which was something I’ll never forget!

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? Higher education was always something my parents stressed as it was viewed as the way to make a better life for yourself. An example of that is the aforementioned path my mother took as her efforts led to a better life for me and my family. It was then in middle school, probably around when I was 13, that I knew I was going to go to college because I always envisioned myself as someone that would continue to elevate and push my family forward, and I knew having an education would be instrumental in doing so.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? My biggest worry about undergrad was just the vast number of unknowns. I didn’t have anyone in my family who could really prepare me for or give me a heads up for what to expect, so going away for school was very daunting. To add to that, I was pursuing a degree I knew would be really challenging for me and didn’t know how much I would really need to apply myself.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? The most challenging part of getting my undergraduate degree was getting used to the amount of time I had to put in to get good grades. I thought I’d be able to coast by and I was wrong. There were points in school where my grades were slipping. However, it wasn’t until I hit the hard reality, that without good grades I probably wouldn’t get the job I wanted, that I started to apply myself more and really buckle down. The amount of effort I had to put forward was much different from high school and it was something I wasn’t prepared for, and that showed during my sophomore year.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that youwish they would understand better? My family didn’t necessarily know the majority of different avenues you can pursue, regardless of the degree you have. I was able to find out myself, through internships, that I didn’t want to pursue being a full-time engineer. However, I probably could’ve found that out earlier if I was advised to explore other opportunities such as consulting, financial services, or product management. Instead I remember answering a lot of questions relating to why I would be pursuing a career at Goldman Sachs even though I have an engineering degree.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? While at Goldman Sachs, I believed I was able to broaden my horizons. I was at an institution that was very prestigious and well-known in the business world, but largely unknown for me and the community I grew up in. While I was there, I was able to brush shoulders with many successful and ambitious people and soak in knowledge from them that truly led me to believe that if we were walking the same halls, that I could achieve a similar level of success. With that new belief, I started thinking about my future and spoke with MBA students and did my research. I was trying think of a path forward that would have my former glass ceilings, with respect to my success, be my new floor. I landed on an MBA as the way to do that because of the vast opportunities that come with it.

How did you choose your MBA program? I chose my MBA program based on a few things. First, it was the network I was signing up for as I really connected with the Wharton people I met in a very genuine way. This was important to me given I’d be spending the next 2 years of my life with them. Second, the strong brand is something that I felt validated me for anyone and everyone, regardless of who you are. I’m not someone that lacks self-confidence, but I know certain brands speak for themselves before you even walk in the room. I wanted that associated with myself, especially the more I started to think long term and realize that this was a lifelong decision. Lastly, but certainly not least, coming to an Ivy league institution was something I hoped to be an indication to my family and friends, that come after me, that they could do it to. Sometimes people, from the community I came from, put limits on what they can do, and I was guilty of that as well. But as I started to bet on myself more, I realized that it’s important, for kids like my niece or nephew to see me at an ivy league school and know that they can and should reach for the best as well.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? I was honestly worried about how I’d be viewed by my classmates. I knew majority of them would already have been super accomplished, really intelligent, and probably come from a background different than mine. Knowing this I wasn’t sure if I’d be viewed as an equal or someone that just slipped through the cracks during the admissions process. Of course, this is also known as imposter syndrome, but I was pleased to look back and say that this was not the case as I think I fit in just fine and started to value my different perspective I brought to the table.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? Financing my MBA was done through a fellowship I received at Wharton that covers some of the cost of tuition and the rest are loans.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? For other first-generation college students, I’d say bet on yourself and surround yourself with people and mentors you want to be like. That’s because getting different perspectives of what your future could look like is very important, but believing that you can accomplish what you set out to do, I’d argue, is even more important.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? After graduation I will be going to Bain and Co. as a consultant. Long term, I’ve always been interested in the media, sports, and entertainment space, so I envision myself aligning to the industry. Whether it be as a consultant or a professional within the space, only time will tell.


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