Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Melvin Santiago Piña, Wharton School

Melvin Santiago Piña

Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania (Plus Lauder MA International Studies)

“Compassionate and hardworking, I want to democratize what I have learned both personally and professionally with communities that are in need.”

Hometown: Bronx, NY

Fun Fact About Yourself: Growing up, I learned to play competitive chess from older chess players in the parks of Harlem. I utilized these skills and learnings to compete in tri-state chess tournaments to achieve a local ranking. Currently I am nationally ranked in Chess and aspiring to achieve Grand Master strength someday.

Undergraduate School and Major: Baruch College (Undergrad, B.A. Economics and Law and Policy)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Private Equity Associate at ICV Partners, LLC

Aside from your 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 drawn to Wharton’s academic and extracurricular offerings, as well as their approach to community building. Part of how Wharton facilitates building relationships with Professors and other peers that are not in your program is through the flexible curriculum. Wharton provided the best opportunity for me to take a flexible curriculum of both core business classes as well as elective classes to supplement my learning in other areas. I enjoy this interdisciplinary approach across the various schools at UPenn.

Separately, but related, I also became fixated with the Lauder program, because of the global content and social aspects of all of the courses and the diverse group of students. By accessing talent and resources in the other programs – as well as subscribing to the Wharton and Lauder classes – I will receive vast exposure to global business leaders and be better prepared to solution complex problems and help my communities.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? My MBA classmates are very thoughtful and engaged. We have a diverse set of students who have a wide breath of experiences and all want to contribute to the Wharton community. This facilitates meaningful peer to peer learning opportunities.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? Hard to narrow my choice down to a single club at Wharton. However, I am very excited about both the Private Equity / Venture Capital and Entrepreneurship through Acquisition (ETA) clubs. Given my recent professional experiences and my community values, I want to help professionalize and partner with smaller, local mom and pop businesses and entrepreneurs to understand and improve their operations and ensure their competitive advantage and sustainability. I plan to help the businesses in my community in part through the knowledge and experiences I receive within those clubs.

What makes you most excited about getting your MBA at Wharton? What makes you most nervous about starting business school? What I am most excited about is pursuing my interest in entrepreneurship and finance in a safe environment in collaboration with my peers. I am excited to explore courses and extracurriculars that will refine my leadership style and help me improve my strategic thinking. As someone who is seeking to learn as much as possible in my two years here, I love Wharton’s multilayered community of current students, alumni, professors, and staff who have similar shared experiences in my areas of interest. I am most nervous about getting the highest return on my time and making sure I am not spread too thin. I have noticed it is easy to pursue and engage in many groups and activities which makes it harder to manage my time and deliver meaningful value to my peers.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? There are several mentors who have helped shape my career to this point and played a critical role personally and professionally. Raymond McGuire (Citigroup), John Rice (MLT) and Ivelisse Simon (Avante Capital) have each encouraged me to pursue an MBA now and continue to build on my existing skillset. Working in finance for a few years, I became passionate about helping businesses grow and helping them truly understand their differentiation and competitive advantage. After my two-year program in Private Equity, I concluded that I wanted to begin researching and generating a thesis in the industries I am most interested in. I believed that leveraging the institutional resources and relationships from Wharton would be the right choice and now would be the right time.

Separately, I also thought it was the right time to diversify my network outside of finance and meet experienced people in other areas of business, particularly given the recent downturn in the economy. The input of my peers who have different backgrounds have helped me think creatively about how to problem solve in a nonlinear way. After being a junior professional in a number of organizations, I thought now would be the best time to refine and improve my leadership and communication skills so that senior members in any organization view me as a thought leader in the room, to better prepare me for my next role.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Harvard, Columbia, Stanford and Booth

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? What matters most to you and why? This question was asked by a Wharton admissions officer and it touches on Wharton’s commitment to really get to know their students. The core values of students really matter to Wharton.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? I considered community and culture, the experiences of the professors, extracurricular activities, and legacy. In assessing the best fit for me, I connected one-on-one with many current students, alumni, and faculty. These discussions confirmed my understanding of the talent and culture amongst the various schools and programs at UPenn. Coming into the MBA program, I kept my career exploration broad (e.g. international vs domestic, entrepreneurship, finance) and determined that both Wharton and Lauder would help me focus in on my career aspirations.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? I come from a working-class family, which immigrated from the Dominican Republic. My father worked as a janitor for many years at a hospital in Manhattan and my mother worked as a school aid at a high school in Brooklyn to take care of my three brothers and me. Several of my childhood experiences in the South Bronx and Harlem significantly contrast my experiences in both corporate America and at Wharton. I saw generations of families in the South Bronx and Harlem be subject to evictions and many schools, businesses and community centers be shut down. These communities lacked the necessary resources in education, healthcare, finance and other areas to enable institutional growth. This led me to pursue a business education so that I could add to the existing intellectual capital in my community and in part shatter the glass ceiling. These experiences have cultivated grit, compassion and resourcefulness – qualities that I believe will be beneficial in business school and throughout my career.

What have you been doing since you were accepted to prepare for business school? Since being accepted to Wharton, I became a board member at my high school, All Hallows. I continue to focus on the fundraising efforts by pitching and positioning to alumni and wealthy donors to receive investments that will ensure the longevity of our program. Despite COVID and the economic imbalance that exists, All Hallows has received significant contributions from alumni and continued support from donors  in the last 12 months. While I am proud of our effort thus far, I recognize there is still more work to do. Separately, I have spent significant time working with a local restaurant business owner in the Bronx to help her navigate through the Small Business Loan process and build out her payment processing system.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? I am answering this from the lens of a company I had direct experience with and is more local in nature. One of my favorite companies is Coverall, a commercial cleaning and janitorial services company. From Coverall, business students, entrepreneurs, and leaders can learn how to create a safe and collaborative environment across various touch points in the organization. We can also learn how to establish and maintain a strong customer centric-culture focused on integrity and accountability. Through planning and organization, the company thought through creative solutions to adjust to customer needs while continuing to preserve an internal culture of training and development to ensure a committed and engaged workforce.


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