2021 MBAs To Watch: Alvin Huff, Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)

Alvin Huff

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Purpose-oriented professional interested in innovative solutions to community challenges.”

Hometown: Milledgeville, GA

Fun fact about yourself: Business school helped me rediscover my love of table tennis.

Undergraduate School and Degree: BA in Politics, Philosophy, and Economics (PPE) from Mercer University

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Economic Development Project Manager for City of Marietta, GA

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Kearney – Chicago office

Where will you be working after graduation? Strategic Operations Associate with Kearney – Chicago office

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Tepper Real Estate Club – President

Media Entertainment Club – VP of Finance

Black Business Association – VP of Community Engagement

Consortium for Graduate Study in Management – Liaison

Tepper Consulting Club – Advisory Board Member

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of the work with our Black Business Association. I volunteered for this role expecting to do a few community service projects, but 2020 had other plans. Given COVID and increased conversations about race across the country, I was busy throughout the year with projects such as managing a pro-bono consulting effort for local minority-owned businesses, facilitating conversations about race on-campus, and generally supporting our membership when possible throughout a difficult year.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my work with the Elizabeth Porter Park Project in Marietta, GA. The city council wanted to include a community engagement element in a new park to tell the story of the site and the surrounding neighborhood through public art. I was already in the process of becoming known as “the public art guy” within the city, so I got a chance to lead this effort. It was a great opportunity to manage the project from initial conception through community meetings, construction logistics, a fundraising campaign, and a final ribbon cutting. It was an educational and deeply satisfying experience. I was particularly satisfied after seeing the positive response of community members at our unveiling of the new statues and a ~130 ft mural after 2 years of work. It was also great to see the response from others in the industry as the project went on to win state and national awards for its community engagement efforts.

Why did you choose this business school? When looking at MBA programs, I was actively looking for programs that complemented the skills I already possessed. My previous roles certainly developed strong communication and interpersonal skills, but I wanted to get better at understanding the numbers. Tepper quickly made the shortlist for me. Once I visited and got a chance to chat with a few students, I knew I wanted to be in Pittsburgh.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? I enjoyed Dr. Lars-Alexander Kuehn’s Finance II class and discussions during office hours. Being new to finance, it was always fun chatting with him about course concepts, broader economics, and what the implicit model assumptions supposed about people and society.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? B**rs is certainly the tradition that I missed most due to COVID times. This event is an opportunity for the class to come together every Friday at 5pm during the academic year and catch up over snacks and drinks. It was a great opportunity to reconnect with classmates I rarely saw. COVID times has underscored the value of such opportunities for spontaneous connections.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? The biggest challenge during my first year was finding time to take advantage of the opportunities available across the rest of the university. During my first year, I considered joining a few university clubs in addition to business school clubs. Unfortunately, there wasn’t the free time in my schedule. Part of the value of being at Tepper is taking advantage of Carnegie Mellon’s broader research environment. I’ve done a better job of that during my second year by taking classes across schools and meeting people from beyond the MBA program; however, I wish I could have done that even earlier and when we were fully in-person.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that the program is filled with a bunch of engineers. Engineers certainly have a presence on the campus, but the cohort has a much broader range than just engineers. The reality is that, regardless of undergrad degree, everyone coming to the program has interesting personal and professional experiences. When I was applying, I remember admissions advisors saying that the program tries to find the right mix of personalities. I now understand what they mean by looking within my own cohort.

What surprised you the most about business school? The biggest surprise was definitely the pace.  Going in, I knew I wanted to pursue consulting. The pace of consulting is certainly different than local government, so I was optimistic but uncertain how well I’d be able to adjust. Knowing what I know now, I shouldn’t have been concerned because MBA life, with the pace of activities and deluge of information, certainly helped me adjust.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? This sounds simple, but I was comfortable being myself throughout the process. I was very much looking for the right school for my quirks, interests, and targeted areas of growth. I knew what I wanted to gain from the MBA experience and where I thought I had the best fit. I would be lying if I said I didn’t look at rankings, but that was far from the most important factor. Going into the application process, I was comfortable being myself when talking with admissions and articulating fit.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Priya Gupta. I have met many people who generally try to avoid discomfort and uncertainty, and I appreciate Priya’s ability to embrace those states. Whether talking about the ethical quandaries related to AI or advancing DE&I policies on campus, she is not opposed to operating and struggling in gray areas. She can do this for three reasons. First, she does a great job preparing and thinking through these challenges. This means being a great administrator and mapping out the conversation enough to provide structure while allowing exploration. Second, she has a firm grasp of limits – both the limits of productive conversation but also a strong sense of values when something crosses a line. Last, she is willing to struggle. She makes room for doubt and being wrong in situations where there may not even be a right. More than just taking a fatalistic approach and accepting the doubt, she still chooses to struggle and find the least bad answer. I find that admirable.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The immediate shift in Mini 4 of 2020 was actually easier than I would have expected. We were completely online.  Given our strong part-time program, some of my professors had experience with virtual classes. For the current academic year, the school embraced a hybrid model.

On the social side, by Mini 4, we already knew our cohort well. Maintaining relationships was just a matter of catching up with people. This year was much more challenging given that we have a new cohort of first years we want to get to know. Clubs played a strong role in connecting people, but it was still much more difficult to build those new relationships.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Paul Newman, really. I’ve worked with nonprofits in my past governmental roles, but it was by learning about the history of Newman’s Own and other, similar private firms operating towards a public-benefit that I became more interested in business. Learning the story of that one firm really opened my eyes to other firms that straddle that line between public and private sectors. While I’m focused on private sector right now, I’m interested in staying near that frontier long-term.

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

  1. I would love to work for a social enterprise or a medium to large nonprofit.
  2. Bring a product from concept to market

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

“Alvin’s ability to bring communities together in pursuit of collaboration and support to his peers has made him an invaluable member of the Tepper School of Business. His leadership as president in reviving the Tepper Real Estate Club as well as establishing a mentorship component in support of his first-year Consortium for Graduate Study in Management peers has shown the commitment he holds for promoting positive change, support, and growth for the Tepper community.

Alvin’s professional background in policy and economic development made him an invaluable member of the Black Business Association cohort that engaged the community-based organization Community Forge in serving as an MBA volunteer for their Bloom Initiative. Bloom serves as an incubator which provides business coaching, branding, and growth strategy support to small business in underserved communities.

Alvin continues to find success in his endeavors because of his undeniable authenticity, character, and commitment to serving others.”

Colleen McMullen
Executive Director of Community and Inclusion
Tepper School of Business



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