2021 MBAs To Watch: Airian Williams, Boston University (Questrom)

Airian Williams

Boston University, Questrom School of Business

A heart that seeks understanding, hands that help, and a spirit that dreams.”

Hometown: Beach Park, IL

Fun fact about yourself: I sang alongside blues legend Carl Weathersby on a service tour with S-Factor, a vocal group I joined in undergrad.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Tufts University; B.A. in Sociology with a concentration in Social Inequalities and Social Change

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Education Resource Strategies; Associate Consultant

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? IBM; Remote

Where will you be working after graduation? IBM; HR Leadership Development Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Graduate Assistant; Questrom Center for Diversity, Equity, & Inclusion
  • VP of Finance; Graduate Students of the African Diaspora
  • Link Day Advisor
  • Chair of Student Diversity Recruitment Committee
  • Member of the Dean’s Sounding Board
  • Undergraduate Mentor

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of how I embraced my values of community, wisdom, and growth during my time at Questrom. I had leadership opportunities spanning student clubs, Questrom’s Center for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion, as well as Questrom’s Committee for DEI. Through these, I was able to create space for stakeholders in our community to come together, share their experiences, grow closer to one another, and get better together. Doing so was an incredibly rewarding experience not only because of the impact in our community but also for the lessons in leadership I gained.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As an independent consultant, I’ve enjoyed leveraging my experience in K-12 education, DEI, and analytics to support mission-driven organizations as they strive to achieve impact. Beyond the work though, feeding my entrepreneurial spirit has been an exercise in faith and the spiritual growth I’ve experienced, claiming the opportunities God has provided assures me that I can stand on His promises. So, I’m excited to continue exploring ways to serve others in pursuit of my purpose and God’s glory.

Why did you choose this business school? Questrom’s Social Impact Program provided an opportunity to learn the business fundamentals you’d expect from an MBA and apply them to nonprofit and mission-driven contexts. Given my motivation to utilize business’ potential to help people, the Social Impact Program was a huge part of my decision to attend Questrom and it did not disappoint.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? David Stolow was my favorite professor for two reasons. First, his Nonprofit Management class explored issues that inspired me to pursue my MBA like how race and racism, among other things, impact business today. Second, David takes an active role in building community among the Social Impact students and he is a great example of how that community extends beyond your time on campus.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Link Day is a one-day consulting event that matches mission-driven organizations with teams of Boston University MBA students and faculty to find solutions for specific problems facing organizations. The annual event embodies the best parts of Questrom – service, community, and teamwork – which is why it’s my favorite tradition.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Revisiting my priorities throughout the experience helped me accomplish my goals, so I don’t have any regrets about my time at Questrom. While it’s not something I’d do differently, attending classes in person post-COVID would have been nice. There’s nothing like being on campus with my people and – despite many virtual encounters – I miss them.

What is the biggest myth about your school? It’s not specific to Questrom but as I was considering an MBA, I was told my peers would be overly competitive, arrogant, abrasive, and the list goes on. So, I was very happy to see the folks at Questrom were collaborative, supportive, and humble. These traits created an environment that I thrived in and was a big part of why my experience was so memorable and worthwhile.

What surprised you the most about business school? Another thing people told me about business school is that it’s a little work and mostly play. So, I entered the program with plans to fill all my spare time only to find out spare time was hard to come by. With classes, work study, clubs, side projects, and home life, I felt busier than when I was working full-time. After acclimating to the pace of all I wanted to do though, I really enjoyed the opportunities and exposure the MBA program provided.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? It’s hard to say I had an edge for doing this, but I found speaking to current students, staff, and faculty to be valuable. Not only did I get a good sense of the community, which helped me deliver a compelling case for why I was a good fit in interviews, I was also building relationships with people who helped me get settled and connected in the program.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? As a person of faith, I deeply admire people who reflect God in all they and Erica Rothschild is one of these people. Erica demonstrates God’s character in the way she brings people together, supports those in need, and leads with humility. Questrom was a brighter place because of her presence and I’m excited to see how her light continues to shine in her next steps.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Questrom did an incredible job shifting to our Learn from Anywhere model, which offered flexibility for learners to continue their education from around the globe. I personally didn’t feel as though the shift was disruptive, but I recognize the same may not be true for students with different circumstances. I have so much respect for my peers who joined Boston night classes from Iceland or afternoon team meetings from the Philippines. I hope BU’s investment in sourcing and acting on student feedback made the shift manageable for everyone, but I can only speak for myself.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Whenever my mom speaks through her business ideas, the conversation always leaves me inspired. And my dad is a natural-born hustler whose stories and wisdom I carry with me every day. My parents gave me the space to dream while modeling how dependence on God was the foundational element of true success. I’m a first-generation MBA because of their love, encouragement, and perseverance and I hope I can make them as proud of me as I am of them. They are my reason – and Barbara and Aaron too.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I want to be a leader in the human capital and DEI space one day, pushing organizations to consider how they can leverage their capabilities and competencies to combat issues like racial inequity while improving their bottom line. I would also love to open a little nonprofit to address the needs of BIPOC youth in my community.

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

“Airian has brought an extraordinary blend of academic excellence, ethical leadership, and personal warmth to our school. He exemplifies our school’s most deeply held values. His generosity, honesty, integrity, and relentless good humor inspire all of our school’s stakeholders to unite in common purpose.

Airian is an outstanding student who has traversed our curriculum with vigor and rigor. In the classroom, he speaks selectively, building on the contributions of others and offering insights that push learning in new directions. Airian has served in numerous leadership roles. Most notably, he has worked boldly and strategically to create a more diverse and inclusive Questrom community, and to ensure that our school adopts a clearer and more consistent focus on racial equity. He conveys his views with candor and conviction, but without rancor or contempt. His approach is collegial, welcoming, and – consequently — productive.

Airian’s greatest contribution to our school has been his demonstration of courage. As a first-generation graduate student, a Black man, and a person of faith, he brings his full self to all of his endeavors. He is unafraid. He challenges all of our school’s stakeholders to recognize our responsibilities and to embrace our opportunities – for learning, for professional growth, and to build a more just society.”

David Stolow
Senior Lecturer, Management and Organizations


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