Meet The MBA Class of 2022: Rony Cepeda, Duke University (Fuqua)

Rony Cepeda

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

“Passionate about transforming the public and nonprofit sectors to create a brighter and equitable future.”

Hometown: Perth Amboy, NJ

Fun Fact About Yourself: I am a fan of fantasy books and think that we should view our world from a more exciting lens – why is slaying a dragon any different than landing that big job interview?

Undergraduate School and Major: Harvard University, Economics

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Education Resource Strategies (ERS), Principal Associate

The MBA program is renowned for its “Team Fuqua” culture, which is predicated on six paired principles: Authentic Engagement, Supportive Ambition, Collective Diversity, Impactful Stewardship, Loyal Community, and Uncompromising Integrity. Which of these resonates most with you – and what does that principle demand of you as a Fuqua MBA? Fuqua’s paired principle of Collective Diversity is one that strongly resonates with me. There are lots of identities that influence my perception of the world. For example, I am deeply influenced by my Latinx roots, my experiences as an immigrant and my experiences as a first-gen student. Fuqua’s Collective Diversity principle invites me to bring forth my individuality and my authentic self while simultaneously demanding that I respect and celebrate the individuality of others. The principle rightly demands a collaborative culture.

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? In order to become a better organizational leader in the public sector, I knew that I needed to find a place where I could learn new business skills while also applying them towards social impact. Fuqua and its Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE) has the programming that will empower me to experience this growth. While at Fuqua, I plan on pursuing concentrations in social entrepreneurship as well as financial analysis/accounting. Furthermore, I’m excited for the plethora of different programs Fuqua offers outside of the classroom, from which I can gain firsthand experience and knowledge.

What quality best describes your MBA classmates and why? My amazing MBA classmates are definitely resilient. The year 2020 has been full of surprises and unfamiliar territory. However, I have been blown away by the resilience that my classmates at Fuqua have demonstrated. For instance, my classmates managed to make virtual orientation and learning fun due to their intense energy and resilience!

What club or activity excites you most at this school? I am excited about the hands-on learning activities offered by Fuqua’s award-winning Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE). In particular, I am interested in Fuqua on Board – which matches Duke MBA students with local Durham nonprofits to serve as non-voting board members. Programs and activities such as Fuqua on Board will empower me to learn the skills necessary to lead at the intersection of business and social impact.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: Over the past four years, I have worked as a consultant with an organization called Education Resource Strategies (ERS). Alongside an amazing team of passionate and smart individuals, I partnered with large school districts across the country to transform how they use resources. One of my projects involved helping a large urban school district develop a new school funding formula that would allocate $375 million to schools more equitably. The new funding formula ultimately gave more resources to schools with higher concentrations of high-need students (e.g. low-income students, transient students, English-language learners, etc.). This new equitable funding formula has now been in place for three years.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I aspire to be a leader at the intersection of business and social impact. My wish is to help organizations in the public sector thrive. However, I realized that there is much learning and growing that can help me become a better organizational leader. Ultimately, I decided that an MBA was the perfect opportunity for me to step back, reflect on my leadership style, its strengths, its weaknesses and how I can evolve.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Darden, Yale, Columbia, Haas, Harvard

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? Fuqua’s “25 Random Things” essay prompt was both challenging and fun. It is very difficult to come up with 25 random things about yourself (try it!). It ultimately required that I not only reflect about my experiences, but also interview my closest friends around how they perceived me. In a way, I was asking my friends about my personal brand and their most memorable facts about me. It was a really fun experience to hear what they had to say!

What have you been doing to prepare yourself for business school? I took some time off in between work and b-school in order to relax, unwind, and focus on my wellness. I definitely recommend it!

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? When I was seven years old, my family and I immigrated to the United States from the Dominican Republic. On that day, I remember looking out the airplane’s window and thinking to myself: “Wow, this place definitely has a lot more street lights and electricity.”

Indeed, the United States has given me and my family amazing opportunities. But as I grew up, I realized that there were deep issues with equity in this country. While growing up as an immigrant, I saw how systems and institutions in high-need communities always seemed under-resourced and under-performing – creating vicious cycles of poverty and trauma. That moment of coming to the United States, coupled with my first-hand experience of seeing inequity through the lens of an immigrant, has led me to always think about the bigger picture as a leader. How do our decisions impact our communities? How can organizations also focus on social impact? These are questions and viewpoints that I bring to business school and beyond

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? My favorite companies and organizations are those that genuinely focus on the triple bottom line and attempt to maximize their social and environmental impact. I am a big fan of Ben & Jerry’s and their “Justice ReMix’d” initiative, which brings attention to the U.S. criminal justice system and how it disproportionately affects people of color. I also applaud Google for pledging to donate $1 billion to nonprofits and 1 million employee volunteer hours. I want business students to learn from these companies that business is not just about maximizing profits. If we are to thrive as a society, businesses need to start taking the triple bottom line more seriously.

DON’T MISS: Meet Duke Fuqua’s MBA Class of 2022