2020 First Generation MBAs: Daniela Diaz, Arizona State (W. P. Carey)

Daniela Diaz

W. P. Carey School of Business, Arizona State University

Class: 2021

Hometown: Bellflower, California

Fun Fact About Yourself: When I was 7 years old, I asked my parents to enroll me in music lessons. I imagined myself playing the violin or piano. My parents did enroll me in music lessons. However, they thought the accordion suited me well. So, for five years, I carried an instrument that was half my size and weight. I probably would still be playing it, if it wasn’t for a bike accident that shattered my right wrist. Two years ago, I gifted the accordion to my uncle, who is a true lover of music and appreciates the instrument much more than I ever did.

Undergraduate School and Major: I received my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry from Arizona State University. I am now pursuing my MBA at Arizona State University.

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Marketing Intern at Becton Dickinson

What did your parents do for a living? My father has been an autobody technician for the past three decades. My mom spent the earlier part of my childhood as a stay-at-home mom. She then earned her GED and worked her a way up to an accounting position in the same industry.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? My father graduated high school in Mexico. My mother earned her GED in the US when I was 12.

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? My biggest inspiration are my parents.

My Father: With a broken English and lack of US-based credentials, he managed to take care of his family, gain respect in his field, and always pushed my brother and I to see our worth.

My Mother: Her shattered dreams pushed our understanding of our obligation to others through service and love. I am a product of their sacrifices.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? The earliest memory I have of me voicing that I would pursue higher education was when I was 9. I had just started at a new school, of which I had missed the first two weeks of class, and I was studying out of a mathematics textbook at 7 a.m. on a Sunday morning. My dad walked into my room and asked what the heck I was doing up so early. I stated in a matter-of-fact manner that I was studying because I had to get into college.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? My biggest worry before going for my undergraduate degree was my finances. Though I had worked diligently during high school and, in turn, earned a four-year scholarship that covered all tuition expenses at an in-state school, I was still left to figure out room & board, books, etc. Everything worked out in the end, but I still remember all my late-night worries.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? The most challenging part of getting my undergraduate degree was simply not knowing and being too shy to ask. During my second semester of my freshman year, I was suddenly diagnosed with asthma. An allergy test then revealed I was allergic to every plant and grass in Arizona. I began using an inhaler multiple times a day. Getting out of bed, making the trek from my house to campus – from my parking spot to the classroom, from one side of campus to the other, from campus to my parking spot and back home – was exhausting. I was physically and emotionally spent, and my attendance and grades reflected the change. However, I continued to make the effort to attend classes, as I was terrified of losing my scholarships.

Years down the road, an academic advisor caught the troublesome marks on my transcript and called me in. She was the first and only person to ask about them. The story came out, and she hand-walked me to every office, every individual, necessary to make appropriate corrections on my transcript. She then sat me down and told me that I could’ve simply withdrawn from the semester with a medical petition, and that my scholarships could have been reinstated after a year’s rest. If only I had known this, I would’ve saved myself lots of tears.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better? I would have wanted them to understand that I was trying my best under the circumstances. I would have wanted them to understand that a lot of my energy was spent simply trying to understand what was going on and how to be a good student in a strange place. And lastly, I would have wanted them to understand that I needed more time away from home to participate in on-campus activities. 

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I have a love and passion for serving others through medical care. At one point, I believed the best path to fulfill this was by becoming a physician, hence my undergraduate degree in Biochemistry. However, I realized that innovation in the field is driven by external players, such as the medical device field. For this reason, I decided to pursue an MBA degree, which allowed me to serve others through medical care, but with a different role, this time being a managerial role in the medical device industry.

How did you choose your MBA program? I focused on proximity to home, diversity within the program, and financial aid.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? My biggest worry before starting my MBA was that I could not perform on par with my future classmates. I had a difficult time convincing myself that I was capable and deserving of my admission offer. I am happy to report I have exceeding my performance expectations.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first-generation student? I was able to finance my MBA education through a combination of scholarships, graduate assistantship stipend, personal savings and student loans.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students?

Do not be afraid to ask for help. Look around for familiar faces and latch on to them. The road is tough when you don’t know what the landscape is like. Having someone to guide you and ease some of the anxiousness makes all the difference.

Also, know that at some point you will feel guilty for charting down unknown paths. The guilt stems from wishing to honor your parents’ wishes while also yearning to discover who you are and where you belong on this earth. Peace will come down the road.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? After graduation, I hope to pursue a product management position at a medical device company.

Most importantly, I will continue to mentor future first generation students and carving out spaces for them in upper management.


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