2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Malena Hirsch, University of Pittsburgh (Katz)

Malena Hirsch

University of Pittsburgh, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

An aspirational leader with grit, agility, and a passion for servant leadership.”

Hometown: Cincinnati, Ohio

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve traveled to more countries around the world than I have to states in the U.S.!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Cincinnati, BA in Psychology with minors in Business Administration and Organizational Leadership

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? HORAN Associates, an insurance brokerage in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Strategy & Innovation Business Intern at Hospital for Special Surgery, New York, New York

Where will you be working after graduation? I will be working as a Senior Analyst at Aspirant, a management consulting and technology firm based out of Pittsburgh, PA.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Leadership Roles

President, University of Pittsburgh Graduate & Professional Student Government (Term: April 2020 – April 2021)

* Elected by 9,100+ graduate and professional students to serve 14 different schools and 200+ degree programs.

* Direct oversight of $300,000 budget. Collaborate with VP Finance and other Executive Board members to appropriately utilize budget.

* Significant involvement in University COVID-19 response and diversity, equity, and inclusion efforts; Chair of External Affairs Committee and serve on various University-wide committees.

President, Katz Graduate School of Business Student Executive Board (Term: April 2019 – April 2020)

* Elected President leading 420 full-time students (150 MBA, 270 MS). Direct management of $56,000 budget; oversaw 10 board members and 14 student club presidents and organizations, supervising an additional $600 budget per club.

* Engaged prospective and current students, faculty, administration, and Katz alumni to holistically improve the Katz experience and outcome post-experience. Induction of many successful, student-led initiatives.

* Logistics Coordinator, 2020 Katz Invitational Case Competition: Led team of student volunteers to execute a successful case competition that welcomed 12 national MBA program teams to Katz.

* Panelist, Leadership and Mentoring Panel at University of Pittsburgh 2019 Graduate Student Orientation.

Volunteerism and Community Work

* Student Consultant and Team Lead of a 5-member international team to support the American Red Cross of Southwestern PA and the Restoring Family Links program. Led team to conceptualize methodology to target displaced populations, assessing awareness and interest in Restoring Family Links program

* Child Life volunteer at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh, volunteering in bone marrow transplant unit, hematology-oncology unit, emergency department, and trauma unit.

* Executive Committee Assistant for American College of Healthcare Executives Western PA Chapter.

Awards and Scholarships

* 2020 Leadership and Service Award Recipient

* Sanjeev Khanna Endowed Fund Recipient

* John A. George Endowed Scholarship Recipient

* Graduate School of Public Health, Futures Scholarship Recipient

* Graduate School of Public Health, Health Policy & Management Scholarship Recipient

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

I’m most proud of my service as President of Pitt’s Graduate and Professional Student Government. This academic year has been challenging as we’ve faced a global health pandemic and numerous domestic racial and social injustices. I’m honored to have had the opportunity to bolster and champion important topics such as student health, safety, and well-being and support for BIPOC and international students—all while addressing the unique needs of graduate and professional students. I’m most proud of the work we’ve done to challenge the University and community to elevate the voices of oppressed minorities as we move in the direction of diversity, equity, and inclusion. I’ve had to thoroughly reflect on my own privilege and focus on how to emphasize topics that will challenge our community to sit in discomfort and open channels of communication while growing together.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? During my time at UPMC Community Medicine, Inc. (CMI), I served as Chair of the Patient Experience Committee. Engaging over 15 CMI directors and executive leaders, I managed numerous projects to empower staff with tools and resources to positively impact patient experience. I led the development of CMI’s first Patient & Family Advisory Group, a forum whose purpose is to gain the valuable insights of patients and patient caretakers, from which feedback was used to influence and revise current and upcoming CMI initiatives.

I also led a number of initiatives to improve employee experience, including co-leading the development and execution of CMI’s first physician leadership retreat—bringing nearly 100 physician leads together to equip them with tools, resources, and collaborative techniques to enhance their leadership capabilities. I led and participated in the planning and implementation of a department-wide manager retreat to build leadership and interdisciplinary skills and to foster community amongst over 100 CMI managers. I facilitated regular staff forums addressing employee questions, comments, and concerns, and participated in leading patient experience improvement trainings for staff members.

This role was very rewarding as I got to see direct effects of recommendations through changes that I helped implement. I felt proud to hear patients communicate that they felt valued and used this as further motivation to convert their input into patient-focused operational changes.

Why did you choose this business school? I appreciated the culture of collegiality and collaboration without the sacrifice of academic rigor. I wanted to be in a program that would challenge me both academically and professionally and it was clear that Katz emphasized such an environment. Katz has proven its commitment to excellence and development both in the students and in the program. The culture that Katz has achieved and continues to foster has been instrumental to my development and success.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It has to be Elise Boyas, PhD. While committed, caring professors are not rare at Katz, Dr. Boyas is truly in the upper echelon. She teaches without ego, without judgment, and with genuine desire to educate and support students.

Dr. Boyas joined countless Zoom sessions to help teach and re-teach students outside of her office hours, business hours, or reasonable hours. I specifically recall a group study session where Dr. Boyas spontaneously led  approximately 15 students through a mini lecture when she learned we were struggling. On late evenings prepping for an exam, Dr. Boyas responded to emails without hesitation and even got on a Zoom to help me understand a concept after 10pm. She is a professor who, by nature, goes above and beyond.

Aside from her commitment to teaching excellence, Dr. Boyas is personable, hilarious, and a genuinely good person. While I cannot say I love financial accounting, I can attest to Dr. Boyas being one of the most impactful, dedicated, and caring professors I’ve ever had.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would’ve liked to be more involved with case competitions or national conferences to build my professional network and to meet students across different universities. I would’ve appreciated gaining the perspective of other environments, students, and professionals.

What is the biggest myth about your school? That graduates out of the Katz School of Business only get jobs in Pittsburgh. Many of my peers are working at jobs across the United States and internationally. While I am excited to hold a role that is based in Pittsburgh, I’m excited and proud to have friends and colleagues who are in roles across the nation from the West Coast to the Northeast and even overseas.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was expecting some level of aggressive competition regardless of Katz preaching a community-based program. I was surprised to find this program collaborative and team-focused at its core. Social relationships were fostered as well as professional ones to build a well-rounded community where students had trust in each other and in our professors to help each other learn, grow, and succeed.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I frequently talked with current students and faculty. “Fit” was very important in my decision making, so I was focused on building relationships at the onset of my application. I also think that my dual application with the Graduate School of Public Health set me apart. I was committed to expanding my learning and skills through both an MBA program and a Master of Healthcare Administration program in pursuit of my passions at the intersection of business and healthcare.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Jordan McBride. Jordan is innovative, dedicated, and genuine. She has unknowingly pushed me to keep up with her throughout each stage of our dual program. I admire her so much on a personal level and respect her so much professionally. Jordan has the ability to seamlessly transition between roles as a valuable group contributor to team lead. Her innate curiosity drives her to pursue answers through creative solutions. With interpersonal skills that are equally matched by her analytic capabilities, her ambition and skillset make her invaluable. Jordan inspires me to work hard, to seek to understand the unknown, and to stay humble. I am eager to see the incredible things Jordan achieves throughout her career.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? It was quite disruptive! As a student, classes that were never meant to be online were suddenly converted; it required a lot of effort from both professors and students to keep classes engaging as they would be in a normal setting. Relationships that I was making with new students were harder to build and maintain without in person connection. I certainly missed the social aspect of the program. Faculty, staff, and the Katz Student Executive Board made immense efforts to keep students engaged socially and to foster community for new and returning students.

Considering my role in student leadership, I found it challenging to engage and support students in a virtual setting. The GPSG Executive Board and I worked very hard to bring value to graduate and professional students, but I’ll be honest in saying that I didn’t always feel the impact of what we were doing. So badly, I wanted to be able to do more. I wanted to support student mental health, feelings of isolation, and address the lack of community—all of which were challenging virtually. We had to get creative with the ways we tried to engage students and shift our focus to different ways we could add value.

It’s also important to note that completing coursework and finishing degrees in an unexpected virtual setting can lead to the feeling that the accomplishment is minimized. I hope that students who have experienced the uniqueness of the past year feel proud and acknowledge the incredible accomplishment of persevering through these unprecedented times.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mom is by far my biggest influence and inspiration. I went into my undergraduate career thinking I wanted to pursue clinical psychology and would have never guessed that I’d eventually pursue an MBA. My mom, who was widowed in 1996 and raised three kids on her own, has always taught me to expect the unexpected. She was supportive of me pursuing different avenues of a career path but was strong-willed in compelling me to take business courses for transferability. When I was making the decision to pursue graduate school, I thought of the sacrifices my mom made to provide a life of opportunity for me and my siblings. Motivated by her embodiment of perseverance, commitment, and grit, I knew that I needed to challenge myself further and made the decision to go back to school. My mom continuously inspires me to push myself, to achieve more, and to act with empathy and purpose.

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

  1. To become a mentor. I have been very lucky and fortunate to have mentors who are impactful, professional leaders and caring, personable individuals. I hope to one day emulate the relationships that I am so grateful to have.
  2. Be seen as an inspirational, impactful, servant leader. I cherish the leaders and teams that have helped me grow and evolve. There are many individuals that I admire and hope to make proud. By leading effective teams with servant leadership at the core of my methodology, I hope to one day inspire others.

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

“Perhaps the most defining aspect of Malena’s time as a student at Katz is service to the school and her fellow students. She is one of the most professional students I’ve had the pleasure of working with, and her commitment to her colleagues is second to none. Malena has a genuine ambition to make a positive impact, a willingness to assist in any way possible, top-notch leadership and collaboration skills, and the drive to see things completed to the best of her ability that have made her a valuable asset both within Katz and throughout the University at large. Malena has been an exemplary ambassador for what it means to be a student of the Katz Graduate School of Business, and while there are likely many worthy nominees Malena truly deserves more recognition for everything that she does.

As a student in the dual MBA/MHA program, Malena has had three years to continue giving back in bigger and better ways. In her first year, she joined the Student Executive Board at Katz and helped to spearhead several events and initiatives during the year. Her leadership skills and efforts were recognized when the following year she was elected as President of the board by the vast majority of the 420 full-time MBA and MS students. As President, she led a team of 10 other MBA and MS students in addressing student concerns, increasing collaboration between all of the student organizations, and helping lay the foundation for a more efficient board. In this position, Malena oversaw 14 other student club presidents and was able to bring a group that doesn’t always collaborate well to seamlessly work together. Malena was also instrumental in the launch of the Katz Student Speaker Series, which created an opportunity for students to share their knowledge and advice with their colleagues. While working with other campus organizations, she helped bring the authors of “Swipe to Unlock: The Primer on Technology and Business Strategy”, comprised of Project Managers from Microsoft, Google, and Facebook, to campus. This latter event would prove her ability to collaborate across teams and bring people together, as she coordinated the event with the graduate student government of the University of Pittsburgh’s Swanson School of Engineering. Through events such as a Katz Welcome Field Day, Asian Cultural Night, International Friendsgiving, and the Katz in the Community series (which gave increased opportunity for students to volunteer in the Pittsburgh community), Malena has welcomed all students with open arms and helped to create a community away from home for our students. As the advisor to the student board, I had the privilege of watching Malena work up close and was blown away at her abilities.

In her final year, when most students in dual degree programs take it relatively easy and focus on their job search, Malena was not content to sit on her laurels. She strove to continue giving back to the University, and her ambition to improve the student experience was so far reaching that she ran for and was elected the President of the Graduate and Professional Student Government, the University-wide student government for graduate students. Malena has also been involved in University efforts around diversity, equity, and inclusion, serves on several University-wide committees, and has had the opportunity to hone her skills by presenting to University Senate Council and Board of Trustees committees. While this has given her the opportunity to have an even wider impact at the University of Pittsburgh, it also has shown her ability to lead under crisis as she’s had to adapt and improvise due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. When the pandemic started taking hold and the University was rolling out its response, Malena was significantly involved in the messaging to graduate students and ensuring they had a voice as classes continued under these new circumstances.

It would be easy to stop there, but again Malena continued to strive for the highest. Malena is passionate about service and she has proven that time and again outside of the University of Pittsburgh setting. Putting her interest in the medical field to good use, she has regularly volunteered her time at UPMC Children’s Hospital of Pittsburgh as a Child Life volunteer. She has given her time in the bone marrow transplant unit, hematology-oncology unit, and emergency department working with patients to make their stay a little more pleasant. Previously, she volunteered her time as an Executive Committee Assistant for the American College of Healthcare Executives of the Western Pennsylvania Chapter and as a Support Group Facilitator at the Fernside Center for Grieving Children, a nonprofit specializing in childhood bereavement support in the greater Cincinnati area.

Malena secured a position as a Senior Analyst in Aspirant’s Marketing & Innovation team. With previous work experience in the UPMC Health Services Division, at the American Red Cross of Southwestern Pennsylvania, and Hospital for Special Surgery in New York, Malena has a unique blend of experience and skills that put her above and beyond other MBA students. Though she will soon be leaving, Malena has not only made Katz a better place but has had a positive impact on both the University of Pittsburgh and the City of Pittsburgh. Malena epitomizes the qualities that Poets & Quants is looking for in their Best and Brightest winners, and I cannot think of anyone who deserves this recognition more than her.”

Michael Chott
Program Manager
University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business


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