2020 First Generation MBAs: Ivan Ibarra, Emory University (Goizueta)

Ivan Ibarra

Emory University, Goizueta Business School

Class: Class of 2021

Hometown: Duncan, OK

Fun Fact About Yourself: I grew up an hour away from the Tiger King’s zoo (never visited).

Undergraduate School and Major: Oklahoma State University, Finance

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: CSAA Insurance Group, Homeowner Field Specialist

What did your parents do for a living? My father has been a truck driver for about 30 years now. My mother works at an assisted living center but has done everything from working as a cook, as a seamstress, in retail, cleaning offices, and everything in between.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? My father completed some high school. There was no high school in my parents’ hometown and the nearest high school was the next town over.

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? I would say my parents equally. Both of them left their families in Mexico and came to the USA so that their future children would have opportunities that they themselves didn’t have. My father has been a truck driver since I was a child and sacrificed a lot of time with us as a family in order to make sure we were taken care of. With my father often being gone from home due to work, my mother had to take on the burden of juggling extra parent duty as well as work with two boys at home with several activities to keep them busy.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? My parents always encouraged my older brother and I to do well in school so it was ingrained in us at a young age. However, the moment that really solidified it for me was when I was about 12 years old and my father took me to go work in the corn fields with my grandfather in Mexico. I was given a burlap sack and taught how to pick corn. I don’t think I made it more than a couple of hours before being exhausted and knowing school was the best path for me.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? The cost at that time felt like a massive burden to overcome – as did being away from my family for the first time. I didn’t want to feel like I was missing out on too much, especially since my first niece was born a month before I left for school.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? I never felt very challenged in high school, so going into college I expected to just skate by. Unfortunately, I didn’t initially put in the effort I should have. I’m very appreciative for the RISE (Retention Initiative for Student Excellence) program as well as the Inclusion Leadership Program for making me a better student. In addition to those, Professor Andy Urich’s class at Oklahoma State really opened my eyes on how much better of a student I could be.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better? I’ve been fortunate that my family has always been supportive of any academic endeavors I pursue. However, I still could never convince my mother that I didn’t plan on returning home after college.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I didn’t think that I wasn’t going to be passionate in what I was doing for a career in the long term. In addition to that, I knew that I wanted to switch careers so an MBA felt like it help with that transition process while improving my skill sets.

How did you choose your MBA program? I wanted a program of a certain caliber. I also wanted a program that was small and had a sense of community. In addition, I hoped to be in a city that had ample opportunities and that I would enjoy living in during my time at school and also after graduating.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? My biggest worry was imposter syndrome mostly but also a concern of not fitting into the “MBA culture.” I remember meeting fellow interviewees at other programs and when they told me what they did for a living I felt underqualified to even be there. I felt like I had a very blue-collar job while the vast majority of my cohort came from very professional, white-collar jobs. As an insurance adjuster, my environment was one where I was often on my own working independently and away from an office culture, so learning how to work on teams again was also a concern.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? I’m financing my MBA through some scholarship and some more private loan.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? At times you’ll feel alone or that you don’t belong, but that’s part of the journey of discovering who you are as a person and as a student. You’re essentially a trailblazer in the sense that you aren’t doing this just for yourself, but also to provide an example to those behind you. I hope that one day I can help future 1st Gen students have the same opportunities that I did.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? I plan to pursue a role in Brand Management, ideally in the Food & Beverage space. I’m also interested in Sports Marketing. Eventually, I’d be interested in teaching at a university as a visiting professor or similar role.


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