2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Chanel Washington, Columbia Business School

Chanel Washington

Columbia Business School

“Bold, authentic and trailblazing disabled woman who can challenge norms and also have a laugh.”

Hometown: Lakewood, WA

Fun fact about yourself: I love music – all genres, but especially alternative rock and heavy metal. I have attended over 50 concerts and can’t wait to get back to seeing live music when it is safe again

Undergraduate School and Degree: Harvard University c/o 2015, Concentration in Government, Minor in Classics

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Goldman Sachs – Private Wealth Management, Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? The Robin Hood Foundation, New York

Where will you be working after graduation? McKinsey & Company – Generalist Consultant, New York

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Co-President, Follies
  • VP of Accessibility, CBS Reflects
  • Peer Advisor

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my time leading Follies. There is a lot of pressure in school to focus on career and academics, but I took the risk of throwing myself fully into Follies to have a creative outlet. It became my family at CBS, always kept me laughing (especially when recruiting had me crying!) and taught me more hands-on lessons about being a manager than any other business school experience. My Co-President, Olivia Mell, and I have been able to create an environment that is inclusive, encourages peers to try new things, and to foster community throughout the school on show night.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In the context of my life, simply having a professional career is a major achievement. I have a degenerative muscle disease called Spinal Muscular Atrophy, and I use a power wheelchair. Every day, I require the assistance of hired help to do tasks like getting dressed or cooking. Professionally, I don’t have any role models that look like me in media, from my workplaces, business school or in the C-suites of major companies. For people with disabilities who have complex health needs, government policies disincentivize us from working at a professional level in order to keep our healthcare. Between battling this system, managing my care team daily, and navigating the workplace as a wheelchair user, I am incredibly proud of where I am. The journey has had countless challenges. While there will be more, I will always pursue my professional aspirations as they have provided me with self-determination and purpose.

Why did you choose this business school? One of the primary reasons I chose CBS was because of the amazing financial aid resources and the team working hard to meet my need. As a first-generation college student with a single mom supporting a young sibling, the financial commitment of school was a significant hurdle. Taking on major debt would be a risk I wasn’t sure I could reasonably take. The financial aid office listened to my story and made the assistance I asked for available. There were many reasons Columbia was right for me, but their work made Columbia possible.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Easy – Professor Todd Jick! His Organizational Change course left me with real tools to take into my next role. I also took Bridging the American Divide (co-taught with Bruce Usher), a refreshing – at times frustrating – outlet to dive deeper on issues dividing America such as poverty, education, race and technology. That said, Professor Jick could teach a course on how to bake bread and it would be incredibly engaging. His love of teaching is apparent and as a student, it inspires me to learn. As an added bonus, Professor Jick is Follies’ #1 supporter, often making cameos in our show!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I took more opportunities to be vulnerable by discussing the experience of disability and effects of ableism with my peers. While I did find chances to do this, I also held back at times out of fear of being put into a box. It was important for me to share this aspect of my identity not only for my peers to get to know me better, but also to help educate them on the disability community. Knowing my peers are future business leaders, I hope what I shared may inform their decisions that could impact customers and product users with disabilities.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think one of the biggest myths about CBS is that it is primarily a finance school. I have found that while the finance program is very strong, there are so many other rich career communities within Columbia Business School. From retail and luxury goods, social enterprise, consulting and more, I quickly realized that any career path that appeals to you will have support at CBS.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I would say being authentic is critical. Going through my application process and helping others with their applications now, I see that sometimes people want to try to fit a mold of what they think Columbia Business School is looking for. During my interview, I did what I could to highlight the things about myself that I thought were different, unique, and showed off my individual personality. When you are trying to be what you think someone else wants you to be, you can hold yourself back and come across as disingenuous.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The student I admire the most is Samuel Sates. Sam was my learning team member and the first friend I made at school. I quickly realized he is one of the most authentic people at CBS and truly one-of-a-kind. His kindness knows no bounds. He truly values learning about others and will go out of his way to engage with people, especially those that are different from him. He genuinely cares about people, learning, and pushing himself to make the most of his business school experience. I regularly ask myself ‘what would Sam do?’ when I am trying to be a better version of me.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? I found shifting online challenging from not only an academic perspective, but from a social perspective. One of my goals coming into Business School was to be more social. That goal wasn’t achieved in the manner I had hoped due to COVID, but through clubs like Follies I have been able to maintain a close sense of community. The CBS administration created a safe environment for us to film in person, and those weekends are my best memories as I was otherwise isolating.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? One of my closest friends, Neimy Escobar, most influenced my decision. I knew that I wanted to leave finance and pursue another industry, but was feeling incredibly stuck. I had not considered business school before, as I don’t necessarily consider myself an academic. She began her process of applying, while educating me on the opportunities that Business School could create and that it is much more than just academics. She gave me the courage to apply and was my study partner for the GMAT. We both ended up going to Columbia Business School and I am so thankful for her motivation.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? The first item on my professional bucket list is changing the policies that prevent people with disabilities from pursuing substantive employment while keeping their Medicaid. If I could say that my advocacy work created more representation of people with disabilities in the workplace that would truly be a dream come true. The second item on my bucket list would be to join the board of a Fortune 500 company.

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

“Chanel is an invaluable member of the community as she and the Co-President of Follies have worked tirelessly to keep CBS traditions alive, even virtually. Her time commitment and dedication to the CBS community is not only recognized with her tremendous work on Follies but also the partnerships she has fostered with the Jerome A. Chazen Institute for Global Business and the Office of Student Affairs (OSA). Chanel was a crucial partner on the Fall 2020 Peer Advisor team and made an incredible impact on the incoming class of 2022, while partnering with OSA for the first ever virtual Orientation. Chanel’s commitment to her work with the Black Business Student Association and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion also will be part of her legacy as she spoke to her authentic self during 2020’s Black History Month Black Experience Panel, which left a lasting impression on the CBS community.”

Scott Siegel Ortiz
Senior Associate Director, Student Life and Engagement
Office of Student Affairs



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