There’s a lot to consider when choosing an MBA program: the rankings, location, specializations, and (of course) the network! Here’s another aspect that sometimes gets overlooked: community.
In business school, you need to bring your true and full self. Whether you’re up late crushing a case competition or visiting your local watering hole to unwind after class, your classmates give you the confidence needed to take risks and find success.
Lately, I have been on a massive Disney kick. I highly recommend it as a healthy way to deal with quarantine fatigue. That being said, there is a metaphor that has stuck with me. You want your MBA community to feel more like the “Be Our Guest” scene in Beauty & the Beast and less like Simba walking through the elephant graveyard in Lion King.
BE OUR GUEST
In the Beauty & the Beast scene, the ensemble is welcoming Belle to the Castle, dancing and singing as they make her feel at home. In contrast, Simba feels unsettled and jumpy, worried he may be attacked at any moment in the elephant graveyard. Your MBA community can mean the difference between these two extremes. No matter where you go, I hope you have the support you need to grow and take risks and don’t find yourself on edge as you pursue your MBA.
For me, Tepper’s community was the perfect fit. They made me feel like I was their guest. Upon coming to Tepper, I discovered some of the most amazing colleagues and friends imaginable. They are entrepreneurs looking to improve themselves and launch big ideas! They are talented musicians and artists who regularly impress our class with their abilities and remind us to pursue more than just academics. They possess diverse international backgrounds that enable us to consider business and ourselves in the global context.
You’ll even find a few engineers who seemingly got lost on campus and wandered into the Tepper Quad.
I wrote about the experience of visiting Tepper in my last blog. I found these students to be refreshingly candid about their experiences. Being on the other side, I now understand why they were so open with the roles they were playing to enhance the program: the students here put in work far beyond the call of the classroom. I have seen friends spend hours planning out events that can provide the most value possible to first-years in spite of COVID-19. Other students will jump off hours of Zoom classes and then immediately run to a coffee shop to be a mentor.
A SPIRIT OF COLLABORATION
Don’t just take my word for it though. There are plenty of other students who love to talk about the unique community we enjoy here in Pittsburgh. Let me share some examples.
Nitzan Sherman is a second year Tepper student, a board member of the Marketing Club, and a first round draft pick for the Tepper Soccer Club. I asked Nitzan about his time at Tepper and he was happy to share what made the school so different:
“Whether I needed help with classwork or preparing for interviews, my classmates were always available and willing to pitch in with their time.”
Tepper has a nondisclosure policy with grades, and the smaller program size emphasizes the importance of working together with other students in your field who may be subject matter experts. When I asked Nitzan about his experience with the Tepper community specifically, he focused on the unique collaboration that Tepper instills in its MBA students.
“It is not uncommon for a group of classmates all interviewing for the same role, to help one another the night before the interview.”
This willingness to help people you are perhaps competing directly with highlights how far Tepper students are willing to go to assist each other as we pursue our goals. Many times, under normal circumstances, you’ll find the Tepper Quad packed with MBAs before big interviews. Students will share tips, give last minute pep-talks, and run case questions and behaviorals up until the last possible moment. This collaboration extends beyond the confines of the Tepper building with students also supporting each other as friends.
“Whether it be attending club events or meeting at a local bar or restaurant… I really enjoyed attending events thrown at Tepper, such as the talent show or Diwali celebration,” Nitzan adds.
ACCELERATING YOUR DEVELOPMENT
Speaking of goals, Souvik Aswad was already a successful entrepreneur who ran a tech startup in Dhaka, Bangladesh before coming to Tepper. While it can be intimidating to pack up and move half way around the world to pursue an MBA, Souvik said Tepper gave him the guiding hand he needed to be successful from day 1.
“I feel extremely well supported as an international student at Tepper. From the very beginning, I was provided with the necessary resources to transition smoothly into the US, both culturally and career-wise.”
I made a smaller move from Cleveland to Pittsburgh, about a 2 hour drive, and was curious what sort of support Tepper provided for international MBAs. Souvik ran me through some of the assistance provided by the program. It included: special events put on by the career center for international students, sponsorship clarification sessions from companies coming to campus, advice from the international alumni community, and interview preparation from the Accelerate Leadership Center.
“The center arranged special events for international students and sought to clarify sponsorship related queries from companies coming to campus. The international alumni community was also gracious with their time and advice to help us learn how to thrive in a new environment. The Accelerate Leadership Centre proved to be an excellent resource for me as I was preparing for my internship interviews.”
The Accelerate Leadership Center is one of the best resources on campus for Tepper students. It offers one-on-one leadership coaching and workshops to help us explore what we truly want to get out of the program. The ALC also provides further help in examining our values and our leadership styles as we become the next generation of leaders in the international business arena. One of the best part of the ALC, says Souvik, is that each student receives customized coaching.
“They helped me identify the cultural differences in interviews between my home country and the US and guided me to perform well in them.”
“A MELTING POT”
One of my favorite parts about Tepper is the amazing diversity of backgrounds and stories that I get to encounter through the program. This is a fairly common reaction to the Tepper community and one shared by Souvik.
“Tepper is a melting pot of many different nationalities and cultures. The variety of social and affinity clubs foster a sense of belonging and cohesion.”
The diversity of the program helps each student grow as a more well-rounded individual. With these benefits in mind the Tepper MBA student government has placed an emphasis on fostering diversity, equity, and inclusion. Melissa Bizzari is an entrepreneurship guru, a rising hockey star, and student body president for the MBA program. With everything that has happened in 2020, community has become a focal point of the Graduate Business Association (GBA – our student government). That’s exactly what the MBA program has provided to Melissa.
“Community is core to the Tepper experience. For me Tepper has created a space where I can be myself and grow.”
Melissa has been instrumental in fostering a stronger community at Tepper by placing a focus on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DE&I) to ensure everyone can thrive in the program. This includes making DE&I one of the main pillars of the GBA, encouraging open communication between students, and supporting school initiatives such as Diversity Weekend. This focus on diversity at a small program guarantees everyone feels welcome when they walk into Tepper, even as the classroom extends into our homes.
“The intimate class size has allowed me to get to know all of my classmates on a personal level,” Bizzari adds. “These diverse relationships are the foundation to learning from others and feeling comfortable taking risks in the classroom.”
The MBA experience is determined largely by the community at the school you choose to attend. Tepper is a small program. Because of the size, almost everyone here has a chance to lead, contribute, collaborate, and leave their unique mark on the school. Nitzan, Souvik, Melissa, and other student leaders have helped my class leave a legacy behind for the program.
For me, Tepper is a near perfect fit. Our community is extremely collaborative to support the pursuit of goals. Tepper programming encourages international students to provide unique perspectives to us all as we work to apply new principles globally. Finally, our focus on diversity is ensuring that Tepper is a more representative melting pot where everyone feels welcomed. We are all striving to continue the tradition of enriching the Tepper experience. I am truly excited to see how future classes follow in our footsteps.
Chris Wendt is a second-year MBA student at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School of Business. From humble beginnings as an aspiring music teacher, Chris has built his career as a digital marketing guru and spent his summer internship as a Product Marketing Manager at VMware. Chris enjoys music, whiskey sours, rock climbing, and long walks with his pet FitBit.