How Two Harvard MBA Students Grew Their Startup In B-School

B-Schools Must Do More For First-Generation Students

This year, 9% of Stanford’s entering MBA Class of 2022 is first-generation college graduates.

Yet, experts say, b-schools need to do more to serve first-generation students. In an article for University Business, Joyce A. Banjac, director of the MBA program at Notre Dame College, and Brooke Peppard, coordinator of The FirstGen Center and an adjunct instructor at Notre Dame College, argue that now is the time for MBA programs to address the unique needs of first-generation students.

“To adapt to changing business needs, MBA programs must keep first-gen students top of mind when building their curriculum,” the authors write. “First-gen students have the potential to significantly contribute the business world, if given the tools they need to get there.”


First-generation students often have unique challenges to overcome.

Malena Lopez-Sotelo, an MBA candidate at Duke University’s Fuqua School, knows this first-hand. For her, school is just one of the demands she needs to juggle.

“For a period of time while growing up, my dad was undocumented,” Lopez-Sotelo tells P&Q. “It was not uncommon for me to think through a Plan A, a Plan B, and a Plan C should my family have to deal with such a tragic and life-altering event as deportation. As the oldest of five siblings, I was also responsible for stepping in when my mother, as a single parent, needed to work late or work two jobs to make ends meet.”

And as the first in their family to pursue higher education, many first-gen students are faced with greater feelings of self-doubt and lack of confidence when compared to their peers.

“Unlike many of their peers, first-gen students don’t have a parent to walk them through the process of getting a graduate degree,” Banjac and Peppard write. “They are also unlikely to have connections in the business world and need an MBA program with an emphasis on networking and building social capital to get their foot in the door.”


Banjac and Peppard argue that if given the proper tools to succeed, first-gen students have the potential to significantly contribute to the business world.

“First-gen students are incredibly resilient and can withstand adversity more readily than those with less-challenging experiences in higher education,” the authors write. “These traits serve them and their employers well, as they are often more willing to make necessary sacrifices to get ahead.”

Thus, the authors argue, it’s critical for MBA programs to ensure first-gen students have the tools and resources to succeed.

“First-gen students need certain supports in place to be successful in an MBA program,” the authors write. “Higher education must do more to integrate students into their institutions and cultivate stronger bonds of belonging.”

Because at the end of the day, adapting to challenges is what the MBA is really all about.

“Generalist and affordable MBA programs that stress how to thrive in a constantly changing environment will prepare first-gen students to think critically, creatively and conceptually about business,” Banjac and Peppard write. “They will learn how to adapt in real-time, analyze and assess data and build relational bridges which are of vital necessity as virtual technologies remake the commercial landscape.”

Sources: University Business, Stanford Graduate School of Business, P&Q, ResearchGate

To learn more about over 30 first generation MBA students, click here.

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