2021 MBAs To Watch: Rachel Loya, University of Maryland (Smith)

Rachel Loya

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith Business School

“A motivated problem-solver who is comfortable leading, values collaboration, and welcomes challenges with enthusiasm.”

Hometown: Livingston, New Jersey

Fun fact about yourself: I’m an avid runner – my favorite race was the Napa to Sonoma Wine Country Half Marathon where you run through the vineyards! And of course, there’s wine at the finish line!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of Delaware

Bachelor of Science in Hotel, Restaurant, and Institutional Management

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Cvent, Senior Client Success Advisor

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Liberty Mutual Insurance, Corporate Development Program (Based in Boston, MA but worked remotely during summer 2020)

Where will you be working after graduation? Deloitte Consulting, Senior Consultant in the Government and Public Services Group

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Leadership Roles:

Vice President of Finance, Smith Association of Women MBAs

Vice President of Finance, MBA Consulting Club

Communication Chair, Smith Full-time MBA Orientation Committee

Leadership Fellow, Office of Career Services


Forte Fellow

Smith Fellow

Smith Impact Spring 2020 Award

Terps Helping Terps Fall 2020 Award

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?) At the beginning of last summer, it became apparent that Smith and many universities across the country were not going back to in-person classes. As part of the MBA Orientation Committee, this required that we pivot and adjust existing, planned programming for the incoming cohort. Historically, Smith hosts a two-week, in-person orientation that introduces students back into the classroom, kick-starts their career search journey, and fosters an environment of inclusivity and network building amongst your peers. I was so proud of the way our team navigated the uncertainty. We tackled the challenge of simulating human interaction, orienting students to the classroom environment and virtual networking building, and turned it into positive series of events including career workshops, ice breaker networking sessions, and a virtual case competition. These events successfully communicated Smith’s values and created a sense of community for the incoming cohort, setting them up for success similarly to cohorts before them. I am grateful for the opportunity to have worked with such resilient leaders at Smith.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? One of the last roles I held at Marriott International was an Outlet Sales Manager. This role included prospecting new business, contracting events with clients, and planning the food and beverage elements with the client in advance. Prior to this job, my entire career was in operations and I had zero sales or event management experience. This was an internal opportunity that I applied for to stretch and learn new skills like client relationships, sales, negotiations, and how to effectively run an event. I’m fortunate that management took a chance on me and allowed me to step into this role and challenge myself. I took ample time to orient myself to the role by shadowing my peers, establishing close relationships with the food and beverage teams in the hotel, and taking time to meet existing clients and establishing a rapport with them. I put in long hours to stay late to watch other events going on in the hotel to better understand the flow, how they were run, and the different options available to our customers. I soaked up all the new information and put it into action for my own clients. I remember how thrilling it was when I booked and executed my first event. I was so proud of myself for doing something out of my comfort zone.

I held this title for about 18 months. While there were challenges along the way, I learned so much and walked away with an entirely new skillset I could transfer to other industries and roles. In addition to the new skills, I generated $1.1 million in revenue in my first year (which is a lot considering my market was groups of 50 or less), which resulted in a 15% year-over-year growth for the department.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose Maryland Smith because of the tight-knit community. From the moment I stepped foot on campus for my interview, Smith felt like home. A brief anecdote about that day: I got so lost getting to my interview. The University of Maryland is a massive campus and navigating the bus system and stumbling across the mall to find the business school (in a suit and heels!) was a challenge. It was obvious that I was terribly lost, and three random strangers on campus all helped me get to my interview. This included the bus driver, a girl on the bus informing me I was at the last stop, and a faculty member in Van Munching Hall where the Smith school resides. I was blown away that strangers would go out of their way to help me get to my interview on time. This just goes to show the character of the University of Maryland greater community. This sense of community directly translated to my experience in the MBA program. While some may see the smaller size of Smith’s cohort as a disadvantage, I think it’s a huge positive differentiator. I feel I really know every member of the Full-Time MBA program, and I’ve developed strong personal relationships with many of the faculty.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It would be Maria Cecilia Bustamante, who teaches the Valuation in Corporate Finance course. This course was one of the most challenging I have taken at Smith, with weekly cases and financial analysis. I don’t have a strong finance background, so I was a bit nervous how I would fare in this elective. Professor Bustamante took what is an incredibly intimidating subject and made it approachable. Her enthusiasm, expertise, and supportive nature is what made this class enjoyable to me. I learned so many valuable skills from this course because I was challenged — but challenged in a supportive and psychologically safe environment. I can honestly say I walked out of that class smarter and more confident than when I walked in.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? One of my favorite events was Maryland Smith’s annual Women Inspire showcase, celebrating female empowerment. Last year, I had the opportunity to attend the showcase in person and listen to the inspirational stories of two incredibly successful Smith MBA alumnae: Meg Goldthwaite, Chief Marketing and Communications Officer for The Nature Conservancy, and Sherika Ekpo, Global Diversity and Inclusion Lead for Google AI. One of my favorite aspects of Smith is its emphasis on gender parity and the celebration of women succeeding in business. Smith wants all women to reach their full potential and advocates for women in the classroom and in the workplace. I’m proud to be part of a program that currently is 37% women, and I know that number will continue to rise each year.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? This may sound cheesy, but I think it’s very relevant given the year we all just experienced – I would soak up every single minute on campus. I would attend that home basketball game, participate in the campus events I turned down, and go to one more MBA social happy hour. After shifting to the virtual environment, I realize that there are things at Smith I took for granted. If I could give advice to an incoming student, it would be to take advantage of the next two years at Smith by being an active member of the community and never say no to something fun.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One of the biggest myths about Smith and large public state schools in general is that they attract primarily regional talent. The University of Maryland is conveniently located right outside of Washington D.C. and Baltimore. Prior to joining, I thought many students in the MBA program would be local. Personally, I already lived in the DMV region, so going to Smith felt like an easy transition from city life into graduate school and I expected to so many others like me. However, this was totally a misconception, and I was immediately proved wrong my first day in school. In fact, Smith has an incredibly diverse program with students hailing from all-across the country and globe.

What surprised you the most about business school? Smith, like many MBA programs, is very competitive. However, something that truly surprised me was the culture of community competition. Of course, everyone wants to be successful academically and professionally, but by no means is Smith cutthroat. Members of the cohort genuinely want to see success for their peers and support one another – even if they’re competing for the same internship or grade. This supportive competition was not something I expected in business school, and I believe is something unique about the Smith community.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? If I could recommend one thing to a student applying to business school, it is to be your authentic, true self. I found value in the application process acknowledging where I was coming from, what I wanted to get out of business school, and openly shared that I didn’t know where I wanted to go yet in life. However, I knew that I was capable of growing and ready to participate in something bigger than myself. It’s OK to not know what your future holds. By showing vulnerability, honesty, and confidence in myself and my abilities, I think I was able to set myself apart from the crowd.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? One of my closest classmates, Casey Windmuller, is Superwoman. I have no idea how she does it all. She is actively involved in the Smith community through multiple leadership positions. She mentors full-time MBAs during their career search as a Leadership Fellow in the Office of Career Services. She’s also getting a dual degree in social work, which requires practicum hours in addition to MBA and MS course work. While juggling all these obligations, she’s is a kind and thoughtful friend. She’s the type of person who would drop what she was doing if she knew you were having a bad day and go out of her way to include those in group discussion who might be more shy and not speak up. She is hardworking, genuine, approachable, and I know that I can count on her to pick me up when I’m down or be my biggest cheerleader during my successes. I’m grateful to have made a friend like her at Smith and know that she is going to go amazing places.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Honestly, it was not as bad as I thought it would be. The University of Maryland did an amazing job. I was impressed by how quickly UMD shifted to the virtual environment, and how prepared professors were to take their curriculum online. There was ample communication and expectations were made clear to students. Once I realized that we would be home indefinitely and my internship would also be virtual, the biggest change was going out to buy a desk for my apartment.

While I obviously miss the in-person interactions with classmates and professors, given the circumstances I think that UMD made the best choices and was able to effectively deliver a challenging and rigorous MBA curriculum from the comfort and safety of our homes. The University put student and faculty safety above everything else. In addition, our program got very creative when it came to networking with employers and socializing with classmates.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I would be lying if I picked one specific person as my influence to pursue business in college. Sure, I have role models and others in life who inspire me. However none of them guided me to take the road I’m on today. My parents never told me to pursue business. I’ve never had a career mentor tell me that getting an MBA would be a benefit to my career. There were no role models in my industry who had and MBA. No one has ever said to me “Hey! Have you considered an MBA?” Going to business school was entirely self-discovered and self-driven and I think there’s value in sharing that. Inspiration can come from many places, including within yourself.

In my career prior to business school, I always knew there was value in furthering my education. I knew I was capable of growing and contributing to something greater than myself. I explored numerous different graduate programs, and getting an MBA was the logical choice for someone with my career aspirations. Using my goals as fuel to my fire, I motivated myself to take the entrance exams and I advocated for myself during the application process. I knew what I wanted to achieve, and when I put my mind to it, I didn’t let anything get in the way.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list

  1. I am a lifelong learner – someone who is always trying to develop and improve themselves. With that in mind, a concrete item on my bucket list would be to continue to further educate myself through designations such as the PMP.
  2. I’d like to be in a management position where I can help others learn and grow to be the best versions of themselves.

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

Rachel is the epitome of a Smith student and excels both inside and outside of the classroom. She has strengthened the Smith community from her first semester and continues to do so as she approaches graduation. She was awarded the “Smith Impact Award” at the end of her first year – nominated and voted on by her classmates in recognition of the contributions she had made over her first year. Rachel has since held a number of leadership positions, including VP of Finance for the Smith Association of Women MBAs and VP of Finance for the MBA Consulting Club. Both clubs have held impactful events over the last year and have not let the virtual environment slow them down.

In addition, Rachel was Communications Chair on the Orientation Committee – where she had the unique challenge of being the “voice” of the 2nd years to the incoming 1st years during the first ever virtual Orientation. Rachel’s positive attitude and energy was contagious, even over Zoom, from the committee planning meetings to the Orientation events. She was quickly “discovered” as the favorite DJ and kept spirits up during Zoom stretch breaks during long Orientation days. Rachel has also worked closely with the Office of Career Services (OCS) over the past year. As a Leadership Fellow she helps develop career programming and meets with 1st and 2nd year students as they prepare for interviews. In addition, she has focused on strengthening the case interview preparation curriculum with OCS and faculty to benefit future students in their job search. Rachel is well-prepared to join Deloitte after graduation as a Senior Consultant in the Government and Public Services Group, and we look forward to seeing her continue to grow in her career.”

Wendy W. Moe
Associate Dean of Master’s Programs


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.