2020 First Generation MBAs: Jessica Reese-White, University of Texas (McCombs)

Jessica Reese-White

The University of Texas at Austin, McCombs School of Business

Class: 2021

Hometown: The Bronx, New York

Fun Fact About Yourself: I helped break a Guinness World Record for most couples kissing under mistletoe with my wife while at Six Flags. Best date idea ever!

Undergraduate School and Major: Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, B.S. Business Management

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Google, MBA Intern

What did your parents do for a living? My father works as a cook and my mother worked as a toll collector until she suffered a disabling car accident.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father? My parents both have high school degrees, and my father went into the Navy for some time.

Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? My grandmother is my biggest inspiration and role model. She was raised in a time where schools were segregated and suffered many indignities simply for being a black woman in America. Still, she managed to achieve a professional career as a paralegal while raising two sons on her own. She helped me to understand that I could work to be more than what the world expected of me, more than just a teen mother living off welfare.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? My mother raised me on her own. Although my father loved me, he wasn’t present in my life other than some summers. From when I was very young, she instilled in me the importance of achieving a high level of education. When she was younger, she was denied the opportunity to attend college by her father who refused to sign a consent form or fill out any financial aid paperwork. He felt her place as a woman was to get married and stay home. My mother wanted more for me and she pushed me to achieve that, taught me to read before kindergarten, enrolled me in after-school programs and supported me when others did not. I’ve always wanted to learn and know more, and I know that without her early encouragement I may have never attained the level of education or achievement that I have.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? My biggest worry was that I simply would not be able to afford it, that at any moment I would lose my scholarship, financial aid policies would change, or we wouldn’t be able to come up with the portion of the tuition I was required to pay. People talk about the college days nostalgically living off of ramen and rice, but I didn’t have money for that even some weeks and instead planned my life around school events with free food or signed up for research studies to make enough to eat for the week. It’s hard balancing that and school, and I’m lucky to have been able to do so and still complete my degree.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? Oddly enough the most challenging part of getting my degree was entirely unrelated to classwork; it was coming out as a Lesbian. Here I was a first generation student already becoming distanced from my family because I was ‘uppity’ or ‘too good’ to get a city job and I had to also learn to accept myself, face others who did not accept me, and family who suddenly didn’t know who I was.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better? I think my family didn’t understand how hard it was on me as a student. The pressure to find internships, working while in school, and trying to perform well in classes. This while trying not to bring the financial burden of all these activities back to the family, since we were already struggling.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? I’ve known since undergrad that I wanted to get my MBA. I have a long-term goal of being an executive level leader and an entrepreneur. I knew that for me, pursuing an MBA was the path that would best equip me to achieve those goals.

How did you choose your MBA program? I chose my MBA program first by filtering for programs that prioritized diversity, were heavily analytical, and had a great and collaborative culture.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? My biggest worry before starting my MBA program was recruiting, landing an internship and finding a full-time opportunity after the internship.

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? I was not able to save for my MBA tuition so I sought out scholarship opportunities. I am honored to be the recipient of fellowship through Consortium, ROMBA and Forte. In addition to these I have some student loans for living expenses.

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students? My advice would be to build connections and push for change in the system. I try to live my life by the rule that you should be building connections with three groups of people constantly: mentors, peers, and mentees. The first two groups help you to frame your goals, support you in your pursuit of them, and coach you to success. The last group is an opportunity for you to give back to those who are coming up after you. Finally, push for changes in the systems around you. They aren’t built to support us, so we have to advocate for change that will help these systems support those like us in the future.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? Post-MBA, I plan to continue to build on my analytical abilities while leveraging strategy and innovation management techniques to become a leader in the technology industry.


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