Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Olivia Melendez, Harvard Business School

Olivia Melendez

Harvard Business School

“I’m a fighter – whether it’s in the boxing ring or the boardroom, I never quit!”

Hometown: Montclair, New Jersey

Fun Fact About Yourself: I love Mixed Martial Arts (MMA). For the last two years, I’ve been teaching boxing classes part-time in Sacramento, California. I also train in Brazilian Jiu-Jitsu and got my blue belt last July.

Undergraduate School and Major:

University of Michigan Bachelor of Science in Engineering – Industrial & Operations Engineering

University of Michigan Master of Science in Engineering – Industrial & Operations Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Portfolio Manager, Intel Corporation

What makes the case method so attractive as a means to learn and become a better manager? I am consistently blown away by the way HBS students can quickly articulate their thoughts on a complicated topic.

Looking back on my career, there have been times when I had an important thought or idea to contribute but spent too much time thinking about the best way to say it. By the time I was ready to speak, the conversation had already moved in a different direction.

The case study method creates leaders who can efficiently synthesize information, take an educated stance, and clearly vocalize their point of view. I’m looking forward to practicing these skills every day in the classroom (whether I’m prepared to or not!).

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? Generous. I have found my classmates to be incredibly giving with their time, knowledge, and network. Even before classes have begun, our Slack channel is full of classmates offering to share their expertise across many domains. Just last week, I participated in a product management Q&A panel, a virtual wine-tasting session focused on Australian wines, and a chat about the importance of mentorship programs for underrepresented minority students – all organized and hosted by my incoming classmates.

Aside from the case method and classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I was very drawn to the size of HBS, along with its first-year required curriculum and section experience. I think HBS gives students the best of both worlds. On one hand, you get a large incoming class of students from all over the world with exceptionally varied backgrounds who you can meet through clubs, social events, or random Zoom meetings. On the other hand, you get to know your smaller section on a very personal level by taking all of your classes together throughout the first year.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I can’t wait to get involved with Harvard’s Latino Student Association (LASO). As a second-generation American, I grew up knowing about my Cuban and Puerto Rican heritage, but not fully embracing it. It wasn’t until college, when I got involved in the Society of Hispanic Professional Engineers (SHPE), that I began to more fully embrace and appreciate my culture. Since then, I have found a sense of belonging within the LatinX community that I hadn’t even realized I was missing. I am looking forward to creating lasting friendships through LASO, as well as becoming involved in LASO’s outreach and mentorship initiatives.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: One of the most memorable experiences in my career was during my second year in a rotational program. I joined a small team that, at the time, had two things: a problem statement and a passion for solving problems. We worked in what I would consider a start-up like environment, with full autonomy (and limited resources) to create a solution that could address an issue that plagued thousands of employees in the workplace. I had the opportunity to play a variety of roles on the team, from consumer Researcher, to Project Manager, to UX Designer, to Product Owner. I am thankful for my incredible teammates because we not only accomplished a great deal but I learned so much from them and the experience.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? Pursuing an MBA had been a goal of mine since junior year of my undergraduate engineering program. I had planned to work full-time between 3-5 years so that I could gain enough experience to contribute meaningfully to classroom discussions as well as contextualize my own learning. Luckily for me, my plan worked out. At around the 3.5-year mark, my job scope increased to the point where the value of having an MBA was clear to me. I was starting to manage people directly (first an intern, then a dotted-line employee) and I was working with senior leaders who in many cases exemplified the skills that MBA programs aim to foster. My manager at work was also extremely supportive of my desire to continue my education.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Aside from HBS, I applied and was admitted to Stanford, Kellogg, and Wharton. Trying to choose between these programs was a very difficult process for me, full of more pros/cons lists than I can even remember. Ultimately, school choice is a very personal decision. For me, I felt that HBS would give me the most challenging and transformative experience, while still providing an exciting and diverse social atmosphere.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Can you help me fish my phone out of this garbage can?” No joke. On my way into Harvard’s California interview location, I passed by a distraught woman who had dropped her cell phone down a long, tall trash bin. I stopped to help her, without thinking much of it. But as soon as I got onto the elevator to head into my interview, I couldn’t help but wonder if that was all an elaborate trick staged by the interview committee. (It was not, of course).

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I knew I wanted to go somewhere with a vibrant student culture because I love being involved with clubs, affinity groups, and volunteer organizations. So when I started to research MBA programs, I tried to look for a student body that was passionate and engaged, coupled with a campus that would foster collaboration and community.

Throughout the school exploration process and application process, I was fortunate enough to be part of a few amazing organizations: Management Leaders for Tomorrow (MLT), JumpStart Advisory Group, and Forte Foundation. These organizations provided some great tools and frameworks that allowed me to refine my selection criteria, as well as connect with the students, alumni, and partner schools in their networks.

While there is a lot of information available online, I got the most value from interacting with students and alumni directly. I found that the vast majority of people that I reached out to were more than willing to chat about their experience.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? This is a question I struggled with as I was preparing my business school applications a year ago. While there are definitely singular moments that have affected me, I believe they pale in comparison to the influence that my parents have had on me. Both of my parents came from very little and struggled a great deal to put themselves through school and launch their careers. I often find myself full of pride and inspiration when I think of their journeys and what they continue to accomplish still today. More than anything I have an enormous amount of gratitude for the opportunities that I now have, which weren’t available to my parents or grandparents. It drives me to take full advantage of my business school experience.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them?Let’s get more specific… favorite coffee company? Dunkin Donuts, hands down. After being on the West Coast for four years, I can’t even begin to describe how exciting it is to see a Dunkin’ on every street corner in Boston.

What is the most important attribute that you are seeking in an MBA employer? Workplace culture is very important to me. I think that now more than ever, it is important to find companies that truly care about the well-being of their employees, just like we care about the satisfaction of our customers. As an aspiring Product Manager, I am looking forward to working for a purpose-driven company, where I can use technology to enhance the lives of people around the world.


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