Hometown: Pompton Lakes, NJ
Fun Fact About Yourself: When I was 14, I played baseball in France as part of Team USA.
Undergraduate School and Major: University of Rhode Island – Chemical Engineering
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: VirtualHealth – Senior Associate, Product
What did your parents do for a living?
My father (Steve Colombo) owns a small sporting goods store.
My mother (Jodi Colombo) assists my father and does minor bookkeeping (both part-time).
What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your father?
Father: High School Diploma (Pompton Lakes High School).
Mother: High School Diploma (Kennedy High School – Paterson NJ)
Which family member or mentor is your biggest inspiration or role model? Why? My father is my biggest role model for a few reasons. Before starting his own business, my father worked his way up in the food production industry from washing floors to VP of Operations at Drake’s Bakery. He started his own business, a small-town local sporting goods store, when I was 12. Years of spending my free time learning the subtle nuances of starting a business sparked the entrepreneurial spirt that empowers me to step into ambiguous situations with enthusiasm. The work ethic, charisma, and sheer scrappiness that he’s exemplified in his career are qualities that I try to embody every day. My father’s cancer diagnosis in my junior year of college catalyzed my yearning to make an impact in the lives of others. From this realized purpose came the will and drive to apply myself more than ever before. That same desire for impact is the driving force behind my pursuit of impact investing.
What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? My parents always pushed me to grow as an individual and pursue opportunities that they did not have, so higher education was always in the back of my mind. Albeit, I did not have much guidance or direction in that pursuit.
What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? I know how much your network plays a role in getting prestigious positions at great companies. So my worry was this: Can hard-work and initiative make up for the lack of pre-existing familial connections?
What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? The most challenging aspect of getting my undergraduate degree was not knowing all of the different career options that existed. Since my parents did not go to college, they themselves did not know the types of careers that are out there, particularly in business. For example, going into college I did not know what a career in marketing really meant and never heard of careers like product management, investment banking, or venture capital. This blind spot led me to make decisions about my future without a full understanding of what’s possible.
What didn’t your family understand about the higher experience that you wish they would understand better? For me, the biggest aspect of higher education was the perspective that you obtain from surrounding yourself with a community of diverse individuals with different backgrounds. I learned the most about myself and the world not from my classes, but from my peers. College is just as much about expanding your perspective on the world as it is about learning formulas and other hard skills.
What led you to pursue an MBA degree? My experience as a non-voting board member on the Community Resources Cabinet within UJA-Federation of NY led me to pursue my MBA degree. From this experience, I learned the power that finance and impact investing can have in achieving my personal mission – creating the greatest impact in the largest number of lives possible. Through finance, I can facilitate impact by empowering others with the capital and resources they need to create solutions for a wide array of social, environmental, and racial problems. Given that we are on the precipice of social, environmental, and racial fallouts, developing the skills needed to do this effectively and expanding my network of motivated individuals has never been more important.
How did you choose your MBA program? I knew that I wanted to develop a robust quantitative background so I can make data-driven decisions in ambiguous situations. I was steadfast in my requirement that I surround myself with diverse individuals that were committed to fostering social impact. The quantitative focus, strong Net Impact chapter, and devotion to the cross-pollination of disciplines were extremely attractive aspects of CMU’s MBA program.
What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA? My biggest worry was that I would feel like I didn’t belong in the program. I come from a traditionally blue-collar town with a family that cannot give career advice and is not well-connected. As a result, I was fearful that I would not be as well-regarded as my peers. Given that I’m looking to pivot into a new career that is primarily network-driven, this was particularly a concern.
How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? I’m lucky to have a flexible employer in VirtualHealth, which is allowing me to continue working part-time, which will fund my day-to-day expenses. However, the tuition, housing, networking events, etc. are 100% through student loans. Fun!
What advice would you have for other first-generation college students?
First of all, you should feel unbelievably proud of being the first one to pursue higher education in your family. That, in and of itself, is truly a great accomplishment and speaks to your drive and ambition. Secondly, don’t look at being a first-generation college student as a negative. Sure, there are going to be those who will have an easier time entering their professional career, but that doesn’t matter. Use that to fuel your work-ethic and motivation to create opportunities for yourself by taking initiative and fearlessly putting yourself out there in terms of networking. My final piece of advice is to find a great mentor in the field you want to pursue. Be that a co-worker, friend, or a seemingly random person on LinkedIn, 9 times out of 10, they are 100% willing to help and give you advice for your career that you can’t get from home.
What do you plan to pursue after graduation? With my end-goal and dream of starting my own impact-accelerator in mind, I plan on kickstarting my new career in venture capital or at an impact accelerator. I’m also proud to say that I am now a member on the Community Resources Cabinet of UJA-Federation of NY with full voting rights, and I plan to continue volunteering my time and serving my community in this position.