Before I started business school, several people told me MBA programs were a breeze and that you’d only be there to make connections. They could not have been more wrong. At Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business, the students are placed in a rigorous program from day one. In my first semester alone, we had five-hour long zoom sessions for team quizzes and sleepless nights were common.
I also learned there were some students who were handling the stresses of school while raising children. This seemed amazing to me, since it is often rare that we hear their stories of sacrifice and triumphs. Here are some of these stories from McDonough MBAs.
I’ll start with Ellen Shim, a second year MBA student from South Korea. She has a five-year-old daughter, Seo-yeon. Shim decided to defer a year after a month into opening term in 2019 because she felt her daughter needed more care at home and childcare services were limited in the United States. She later flew back to Seoul to take care of Seo-yeon there.
The pandemic was a blessing in disguise for Shim because it allowed her to take classes online for the first year of her MBA program while caring for her daughter. However, it also meant she was on the opposite side of the earth, attending classes at 2 or 3 a.m. and team meetings at the break of dawn.
Shim returned to the United States in May last year and barely managed to enroll Seo-yeon in a kindergarten in Virginia. Every day is a challenge because it’s just Shim and her husband taking care of their daughter while handling school and a full-time job, respectively.
“It’s hardest when my daughter becomes sick,” Shim said. “Or if anyone falls ill, really, because in our household if one link breaks, so does the entire system.”
CHILDCARE WOES, FINANCIAL BURDENS
Finding adequate childcare and the accompanying financial strain were also stressors for Sergio Garcia Moreno, also a second year MBA student, and Nina Vann, an MBA who graduated in 2020 currently working as a consultant at EY-Parthenon.
Georgetown University provides a childcare center called Hoya Kids but there is an extensive waiting list and services were closed temporarily due to the pandemic.
“Daycare is so expensive here. We decided we wouldn’t send (our daughter) to daycare until it was completely necessary because of financial constraints,” said Garcia, who was told by Georgetown he would have to wait around 18 months to enroll his daughter at the school daycare.
“There’s barely any communication for parents. There’s a website but nothing more. I feel they could have more communication for us,” Garcia suggested.
Garcia moved to Washington D.C. from Mexico and his family has been mostly dependent on his savings, some scholarship money, a loan from the Mexican central bank for study-abroad students, and a loan from his parents. He hopes to pay back the loans as quickly as he can after he begins his full-time job at the Boston Consulting Group this year.
Vann was in a similar situation.
“Daycares were very expensive, and the logistics didn’t make sense because I had to be at school until late at night,” recalled Vann, who eventually resorted to hiring nannies. Vann said she received no financial help from the school regarding childcare and 40 percent of her student loans went to rearing her two children, one of whom she had during business school.
Three nannies quit their posts during her time at Georgetown, which added to her troubles. “I felt the earth was being pulled out from under me,” she said.
The financial burden slightly lessens for those whose children attend public school, like Harish Mohan, a first year MBA student. Mohan moved from India earlier this year with his two children and his wife, who takes care of the children full time.
“Public schools here are free. I cannot imagine taking up another expense right now with me already managing the costs of my MBA,” he said.
BEING PREGNANT IN B-SCHOOL
Having a child during business school as a mother and a father are both challenging, but more so for mothers. In Vann’s case, the hardest parts included operating in an inflexible system not designed for mothers or expecting women when she became pregnant with her second child, in addition to physiological changes.
“Many teams were not empathetic, especially my study team. If I objected to meeting times, they penalized me,” said Vann. “Also after you have your child, you’re questioning your decisions, your imposter syndrome as an MBA student is at the max…I didn’t have many people I felt I could talk to.”
She eventually found an ally in Kerry Pace, associate dean of MBA Programs at Georgetown, whose compassion for students who are parents stems partly from the fact that Pace took up her current post when she was 11-1/2 weeks pregnant, Pace says.
“Navigating that balance between raising a child and having a career was hard, but it led me to think about how students navigate that,” Pace said. She went on to create a nursing room inside McDonough School of Business Rafik B. Hariri Building, to which only mothers have the key.
Jaime Brown, a part-time MBA student who will graduate this year, also received Pace’s help after she decided to relocate to her hometown in New Jersey earlier last year because she became pregnant. She is due in January 2022.
Brown was frustrated by the school’s policy that she had to take classes and exams in-person when she did not feel safe there due to the pandemic.
“There are less COVID cases at the graduate level, but still our classes are 60 to 65 people and that’s a lot of people to be next to,” said Brown.
Since Georgetown University opted to be fully in-person last fall, it has been up to the individual professors to provide Zoom links to class for synchronous, online participation and both teachers and students alike have struggled with the hybrid format.
As a workaround, Brown takes transfer credits at Saint Joseph’s University which are all virtual, and Georgetown faculty and staff worked together to allow her to take a final exam for a core class virtually.
“I hope that professors are willing to be more flexible, or the program is allowing people to take courses virtually if they want to,” said Brown, one of many parents interviewed for this column who asked for class format flexibility.
“Being able to Zoom into a class is huge. A hybrid option would give me a lot of peace of mind,” said Kate Bodner, a mom of two young children. Bodner said she had to risk her participation grade this past semester for needing to stay at home with sick children or when her family chose to quarantine due to possible COVID exposure.
SUPER PARTNERS, SUPPORT NETWORKS
All the students and alumni interviewed for this story stressed their MBA journeys would not have been possible without support from their partners and spouses.
“I am lucky that I have a supportive partner who’s bending over backwards for me,” says Bodner. “Some of it feels selfish but he enables me do what I want to do.” Ryan, her husband, told me it “takes planning and revisiting said plans” to help them balance work, school, and family life.
“I’ll do everything in my power to rearrange my schedule if necessary,” he said regarding unexpected changes.
Khadijah Brydson-Van, a first year MBA student with two young twin sons, says her husband supports her attending MBA social events.
“He asks, ‘Why are you home?’ if I come home early. He understands how important this is for me,” Brydson-Van said. “Today I’m going out with my study team.”
Matt Pershe, another second-year MBA, recalls his wife being instrumental for his summer internship recruitment despite the fact she had just given birth to their first child, Eleanor.
“Caitlin was so self-sacrificial. She took the full shifts, and when I didn’t get those internships I felt really bad. We want to strike more of a balance down the road,” said Pershe, who will also be joining BCG this year after an internship at Rios Partners.
Student-parents have also found support in other like-minded people on and off campus. Brydson-Van has tapped into local mom groups for support, while both she and Bodner are fans of Georgetown Partners and Families, a club at the MBA program for spouses, significant others, and families of graduate students at McDonough.
“Having the club is great,” Bodner says. “I’m so proud of them and what they’ve done for the group. It’s been very mentally helpful.”
Adam Kuebler, the club’s co-president, says the club has worked to become a place where partners can come together and find other people. The club has hosted events like a virtual scavenger hunt as well as visits to the zoo and parks in the Washington D.C. area.
“People love being part of your kids’ and family’s life if you invite them. It makes me feel better knowing people know Caitlin’s and Eleanor’s names and they ask about them. These people are part of our lives,” says Pershe.
As for parents who are thinking of going to business school, they should have a strong support network, says Vann. “Setting your support system is so important, emotionally and financially. But also remember to bring your whole self to the table.”
Garcia, the student from Mexico, says, “Don’t be discouraged about taking this adventure because you have a kid. The experience is going to be different but still very valuable and you can create very good bonds at school.”
Shim agrees, saying she would like to encourage other mothers to apply to MBA programs, adding being a parent can give you an advantage.
“Through parenting, you gain so many great skills. I want to tell the future generation there are many possibilities for parents like us out there,” Shim said.
Christine Kim (McDonough ’22) is a former Reuters correspondent and communications specialist from Seoul, South Korea. As a journalist, Christine covered issues like North Korea, global financial markets, and central bank rates. She also handled global communications for Samsung Electronics prior to business school and plans to focus on strategy and crisis management post-graduation. In this monthly column, Christine will highlight lesser heard voices and diverse experiences at Georgetown’s MBA program.
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