2020 First Generation MBAs: Jennifer Lopez Ramirez, U.C. Berkeley (Haas)

Jennifer Lopez Ramirez

University of California, Berkeley – Haas School of Business

Class: 2021

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Fun Fact About Yourself: My first business was selling toys to kids in my neighborhood at the age of 10.

Undergraduate School and Major: University of California, Berkeley. Major: Psychology; Minor: Public Policy

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Legislative Director, California State Assembly

What did your parents do for a living? My mom is a housekeeper and my dad is a steward at two hotels.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? My parents both have a middle school education.

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? My mom has always been my inspiration and source of strength. She helped raise and provide for her nine siblings in Mexico. Ultimately, she left her life in Mexico to give my siblings and me the opportunity for a better future. Her resilience and grit inspire me every day. From expanding her mother’s meat business to starting her housekeeping business, my mom’s entrepreneurial spirit has instilled in me a drive to also challenge norms and be innovative in order to overcome obstacles that come my way. Whenever I’m faced with tough challenges, I hear her voice in my head saying, “Ponte las pilas,” meaning that I shouldn’t give up on myself and to get creative.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? I knew from a young age that I had to choose between school and getting involved with gangs. However, it was not until high school that the possibility of a college education became clear to me. I inadvertently participated in a college outreach program, hosted by Latinx student organizations at a UC campus, during my junior year in high school. Up until that point, I had done well academically, but I did not know what was next in my educational journey. I remember feeling seen and understood by the Latinx first-gen speakers at that conference. At that moment, I decided to pursue a college education.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? My family’s ability to finance college was my biggest worry before leaving for school. I helped my mom clean houses growing up and I worked a part-time job throughout high school, so leaving for college not only meant that I would need money, but it also meant that I could no longer contribute to my family’s finances. I felt guilty and I knew college would be challenging, but I also knew that it was an investment in our future.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? Combating imposter syndrome was definitely tough. I’m thankful for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP), which provides first-gen students with access to counselors on campus. It helped me find my footing when I got to campus and remained integral to my success at UC Berkeley.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher education experience that you wish they would understand better? As a first-generation college student, the higher education experience was all uncharted waters for my family. The most complicated aspect was explaining the feeling of disconnect I experienced as one of the few people of color in my classes. Thankfully when I decided to join a Latina-based sorority, Lambda Theta Nu Sorority, Inc., they were supportive. Initially, my family had some questions regarding the organization, but they witnessed the organization’s focus on providing a support system, Latina empowerment, community service, and academic excellence. My sorority sisters, alumnae and undergraduates alike, continue to support my professional and academic endeavors.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I began to re-evaluate my personal and professional goals four years after college. I had a great career in the state legislature, but I felt that I lacked experience in the private sector and I wanted to enhance my quantitative and analytical profile. My passion for people-centered solutions and the triple bottom line led me to pursue an MBA. The MBA education offered me the ability to focus on social impact, strengthen my analytical skills, and leverage my public sector background.

How did you choose your MBA program? I knew that I wanted to attend an MBA program with a focus on social impact and student diversity. Haas clearly had the first and is actively working on the second. I was impressed by the Haasies who spoke passionately about their MBA experience. Also, the small class size was critical for me because I wanted to get to know as many of my classmates as possible. I was impressed with how passionately they spoke about their MBA experience.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? My biggest worry before starting my MBA was learning different interview styles, such as preparing for a case interview, in time for internship recruiting.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first-generation student? The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management fellowship has made my MBA possible.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? As first-gen students, we are often our parents’ translators and advocates, among other things. This gets tougher as our parents get older, so remember that it’s OK to take care of yourself along the way. Find a community that understands and supports you because it can be lonely at times. Your mental health is key.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? Post-MBA, I plan to pivot toward the human capital space and continue championing diversity, equity, and inclusion in every role that I have.


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