Meet the MBA Class of 2023: Austin Cole, MIT (Sloan)

Austin Cole

MIT, Sloan School of Management

“Striving to create a just and free world. I love food, athletics and exploring arts/culture.”

Hometown: Springfield, OH

Fun Fact About Yourself: In the last ~8 years, I’ve lived full-time in 7 different cities across 3 continents (North America, South America, Europe).

Undergraduate School and Major: Brown University: Development Studies, Latin American and Caribbean Studies

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Blue Meridian Partners, Senior Portfolio Associate

What word best describes the MIT Sloan MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far and why? Openness. All the students and alumni with whom I’ve spoken or met so far (both in the application process and after I made my decision) have been so open and forthcoming about their experiences in the program and beyond. I also have been astounded at the varied backgrounds and professional and personal interests that students and alumni have. I’m someone who is coming into business school with varied experiences (management consulting, nonprofits, philanthropy), but hoping to pursue more ‘non-traditional’ post-business school opportunities. As a result, I’ve been encouraged to meet so many Sloanies who are open to pursuing new ways of solving challenges; motivated by a desire to fulfill their professional and personal goals beyond a narrow set of jobs; and are trying to solve some of the most persistent issues of our time.

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of MIT Sloan’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I feel the flexibility that MIT Sloan provides (in courses and extracurriculars) is unmatched among similar business schools. I have many different interests that I’m hoping to explore in business school. I felt as though Sloan offers the most diverse potential academic experience among peer schools and provides us the opportunity to participate in other clubs and activities at other schools and departments at MIT. This is crucial for me because I feel like integrating business and management learning with other academic and practical areas of study creates for a more dynamic environment, as well as better potential solutions to challenging problems.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at MIT Sloan? I’m excited to potentially engage with the Delta v accelerator (as well as other entrepreneurship accelerators and programs at the Martin Trust Center). I don’t have any experience in starting my own organization/company, so I’m looking forward to being involved in the startup ecosystem at MIT and potentially turning one of my ideas into a startup.

Action Learning Labs are one of MIT Sloan’s biggest attractions. Which lab interests you most? How does it fit with your interests? S-Lab (Lab for Sustainable Business). One of my major reasons for coming to business school is to explore innovative models for solving entrenched social issues. Through S-Lab, I’m looking forward to working directly with companies that are grappling with challenges that embrace the complexity of business, climate, and society. There is obviously a common interest among business school students, but I think what sets MIT Sloan apart is the ability to get practical experience working closely with organizations who are trying to solve real business problems in real-time.

When you think of MIT, what are the first things that come to mind? How have your experiences with the Sloan program thus far reinforced or upended these early impressions?
The first things that come to mind are a tech focus and the eclectic community of students. So far, I’ve come to realize that while MIT (and Sloan specifically) have a ton of experience and resources dedicated to tech entrepreneurship and careers, there are a lot of other areas that the program excels in outside of that. While I think everyone at Sloan has an appreciation for the opportunities that technological innovation affords, I’ve been relieved that there are a lot of people in the program that have aspirations in many other fields as well.

In terms of the community of students, I think that impression has held true so far. I’ve already met people from many different backgrounds and with diverse career/personal interests and aspirations. This diversity of thought and experience is something that I was looking forward to experiencing at Sloan, and so far, it’s held true.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In my previous role, I supported, managed, and sourced a portfolio of investments in place-based partnerships and racial equity-focused organizations. My proudest accomplishment so far has been working with local nonprofit leaders in a few communities in the US to invest millions of dollars in partnerships focused on improving regional social and economic mobility. During my time in grant-making, I worked to see through a few of these place-based investments, as well as larger more national grants focused on racial equity. Over the next few years, I look forward to seeing how the investments in these communities and institutions might improve the lives and opportunities of children and families for years to come.

How did COVID-19 change your perspective on your career and your life in general?
For my career, COVID-19 has shown me that I don’t need to waste any time waiting to do the more aspirational things that I want to do with my career. I don’t regret any of the experiences that I’ve had, but I certainly had prioritized less risky career moves versus wholeheartedly pursuing my passions (both long-term and near-term). For me, these passions involve being in service to my communities and working to a world that is more just, sustainable, and egalitarian. That way, the devastation that we have seen with COVID-19 was absolutely a motivating factor to start more directly dedicating myself to these goals. In general, I also understand better that not every career step I have will be perfect. As long as I’m being true to my values and keeping my long-term goals in mind, then I can find both fulfillment and balance.

Personally, I think I’ve gained a better idea about the sacrifices that I’m willing to make for my career and the ones that I am no longer willing to make. For example, I have prioritized spending more time with family and friends, but I’ve also tried to spend more time at home (alone or with my partner) resting or relaxing. Before the pandemic, I definitely had the mentality that I needed to be productive with every minute of my day, and now I’ve come to appreciate that I’m actually at my best when I can embrace quiet moments as well.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation?
My hope is that through the MIT Sloan MBA program, I can sharpen my skillset and explore ways to practically transform our social and economic systems to be more just, sustainable, and egalitarian. I decided to pursue an MBA now because I wanted to build off the experiences that I already have in a few different fields: academic research, management consulting, workforce nonprofit, and philanthropy. Now felt like the right time in my career to take a step back from full-time work and spend time learning, growing, and becoming part of a different community. I’m looking forward to the opportunity to deepen my management and technical skills gained so far in my career, while also experimenting with innovative business and operating models that might contribute to a more sustainable future.

After graduation, I plan to work towards supporting solutions to racial and economic justice challenges that affect the most marginalized individuals and communities, particularly in US cities. I’m especially focused on building or expanding economic models that can solve labor market, housing, finance, and climate justice issues that make it difficult to reduce poverty and the racial wealth gap. I’m particularly excited by opportunities that combine inclusive local production, democratic forms of business (like cooperatives), participatory budgeting/planning, and non-extractive finance. I’m not sure whether this means I will be working for a startup nonprofit, joining a public entity in a large city, or starting my own project, but I’m hoping to figure that out over the next couple of years!

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Wharton, Columbia

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into MIT Sloan’s MBA program? Find and talk to alumni and current students. There is a ton on the internet and on the MIT Sloan website that is useful to getting an understanding of the program, but there is no substitute for connecting with people who have been in your shoes. I especially recommend finding and getting connected to alumni who work in the field that you want to end up in or who were involved in activities you’re thinking about pursuing in business school. This will not only improve your application, but also help you figure out if MIT Sloan is the right place for you.

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