2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Riana Shah, MIT (Sloan)

Riana Shah

MIT, Sloan School of Management

Interdisciplinary problem-solver working toward creating environments where individuals can reflect and bring their whole selves.”

Hometown: Ahmedabad, India and Queens, NY

Fun fact about yourself: When I was in high school, I became New York State Table Tennis Champion in the men’s category because there weren’t enough women to get our own team!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Sociology and Educational Studies at Swarthmore College

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Innovation Strategy Consultant at Brightidea

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Morgan Stanley in Menlo Park, CA

Where will you be working after graduation? Technology Investment Banking Associate at Morgan Stanley

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

School Leadership:

  • Co-Chair for Diversity, Equity and Inclusion, Sloan Senate/Senator
  • Co-Chair, COVID-19 Working Group & Co-Chair/Co-Founder of Hack Fall 2020 (a.k.a. how to make the most of a COVID semester)
  • Co-Founder and Co-President, of the First-Gen, Low-Income Club at Sloan
  • Co-President, Entrepreneurship Club
  • Co-Organizer, MIT AI Ethics Reading Group
  • Search Committee for a new Director of Diversity, Equity and Inclusion at Sloan


  • Legatum Fellow for Entrepreneurship
  • MIT Sandbox Innovation Fund Winner

Teaching Assistantships:

  • FinTech Ventures
  • Disciplined Entrepreneurship Lab
  • Management of Services
  • Entrepreneurial Finance MOOC for MIT EdX

Honors Outside Of Sloan In The Same Time Period:

  • 2020 P.D. Soros Fellowship for New Americans
  • Edmund Hillary Fellow
  • Youth to the Front Fund Frontliner

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Starting the First-Generation, Low-Income (FLI) Club at Sloan was one of my proudest achievements during business school. Socioeconomics and the FLI identity are often highly taboo topics at business school, especially since familial socio-economic status can be so invisible. Starting this club has allowed us to be more inclusive and intersectional from a socio-economic perspective. It has also allowed us to bring together a community of peers who want to connect around challenges that are unique to FLI students face such as helping plan for and funding our parents’ retirement, balancing familial needs and business school finances, etc.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement I am most proud of is founding the People of Color Affinity Group at the Management Consulting firm I worked for right out of college. I worked closely with senior leaders to write the company’s first ever diversity, equity and inclusion strategy. This work changed the values of this 4000-person firm and made it a more welcoming place for individuals of all backgrounds. Learning how to change culture at a $2B company as an entry level employee was daunting and it wasn’t my day job, but I’m glad I took the risk and spoke up. This experience gave me the courage to speak up in all future environments to create greater inclusion and be an intersectional ally.

Why did you choose this business school? MIT Sloan gave me the perfect combination of tech, finance and entrepreneurship. Many business schools run in a silo and are not as integrated within the larger institution – MIT Sloan is definitely not one of those schools. I loved getting to interact with and get involved with things happening on the main campus at the Media Lab and the Legatum Center, while also being very involved at Sloan in student government.

Throughout my time at Sloan, I loved how student-run the school is and how responsive the administration is to student feedback and input. In all the time I spent looking at business schools, I was most blown away by the warmth of the community.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Gary Gensler (now Biden’s Nominee for SEC Chair) is one of my favorite MBA professors. He accompanied us as our faculty advisor as we went on a student-led study tour to Switzerland and Estonia to learn about Blockchain and Cryptocurrency. Hearing about his humble beginnings, his incredible professional career, and his continued desire to make impact have been incredibly inspiring for me as a first-gen student.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school The Yarn is one of my favorite traditions at Sloan: hundreds of my classmates packed themselves into a room (pre-pandemic) or over Zoom (during pandemic) to listen to our classmates’ stories. At the Yarn, classmates transform into close family as they share their vulnerable stories of joy and sadness with hundreds of their peers. Every month the stories shared at the Yarn are a testament to the safe space that the Sloan community is able to create. I loved sharing my story and have truly enjoyed hearing my classmates’ stories.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I had spent more time going on trips when I had the opportunity. I went on several trips pre-COVID, but wish I had done more. Spending time with my classmates over a bonfire or at a family dinner at an Airbnb were some of my favorite b-school highlights.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? One thing I did during the application process that I believe gave me an edge was to not only talk about what I get out of attending MIT Sloan, but also the ways in which I wanted to contribute to the school and community at Sloan. A thoughtful elaboration of the diversity and perspectives that an applicant brings to their classmates can help an admissions committee see how they might fit into this the new class they are building.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? It is incredibly difficult to choose one classmate, but if I have to, I would say Olga Timirgalieva. Olga was one of the co-founders of the First-Gen, Low-Income (FLI) club at Sloan with me. We connected after participating in a socioeconomic inclusion “Ask Me Anything” at Sloan. Talking to Olga helped me realize that so much our stories and tendencies were similar because of the sociological contexts we both came from. When Olga has an idea, she is unafraid to voice it, and always makes them a reality while bringing others along for the ride.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? While the shift to online/hybrid after COVID was disruptive, what truly struck me was the positivity and creative thinking of so many of my classmates. As a leader of the COVID-19 Working Group, I got to occupy a front row seat to watching my classmates do incredible things to make the most of the COVID environment. I saw my action-oriented peers propose ways for parents with young children at home to learn in the online environment, organize COVID-19 related Hackathons, and even Sloan-wide Zoom dance parties. Several members also continued to serve on a committee over the summer to help Sloan operationalize an amazing hybrid fall 2020.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I did not pursue business in college – I studied Sociology and Educational Studies while running an education technology social enterprise. I decided to pursue business while I was working for the Advisory Board Company. I did not know too many people who had gotten MBAs before I started my process of applying to school. That said, one person who inspired me to pursue a business degree was Graham McLaughlin, the head of CSR at the Advisory Board (now UnitedHealth Group) at the time. In my early years as a consultant, Graham and I spent a lot of time talking about some other folks he knew who had MBAs and the mental maps they had to solve problems, which was a huge help and inspiration.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. I would like to be on the NASDAQ trading floor at some point when a company IPOs – either my own or one I’ve worked on.
  2. I would love the opportunity to turn around a struggling division or company. I think it would be a fascinating challenge to get to the heart of issues that may be plaguing a business and use a variety of tactics to turn it around.

What made Riana such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Riana Shah has been a true citizen leader during her time at MIT Sloan.  As a student senator, TA, and club leader she has consistently been a galvanizing force for her classmates, administrators and faculty through the challenges of 2020.  Riana approaches each problem as an opportunity, and with quiet confidence builds alliances to create innovative solutions. Faculty single her out as someone who always advances class discussions. She is well known and well regarded within the Sloan Community as an inclusive and positive leader.

Maura Herson
Assistant Dean, MBA & MSMS Program
MIT, Sloan School of Management



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