2022 MBA To Watch: Antonia Freire, University of Maryland (Smith)

Antonia Freire

University of Maryland, Robert H. Smith Business School

“Passionate and continuous learner, committed to fostering community and driving positive change.”

Hometown: Berkeley Heights, New Jersey

Fun fact about yourself: I was president of my collegiate A Capella group and won best soloist in 2016 during an annual ‘Battle of the A Capellas’ competition.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The George Washington University – Marketing and Health & Wellness

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I was an account executive at Wunderman Thompson Health, a global, full-service advertising agency, working on oncology accounts, specifically metastatic breast and metastatic non-small cell lung cancer (mNSCLC).

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? I worked at Ingredion Inc. as a Global MBA Marketing & Communications Innovation Intern, reporting to the Global Chief Innovation Officer in Bridgewater, New Jersey.

It was incredibly exciting to work in an environment that merged my passion for creative problem solving with my personal interests in health and wellness. I had the opportunity to work on various projects while at Ingredion: I developed a positioning strategy for the incorporation of a new Snacking campaign into the company’s website and I developed a comprehensive Thought Leadership strategy which I presented to the company’s Executive Leadership Team at the end of the summer. Following this, I was asked to extend my internship experience until January 2022 to work on revitalizing the company’s go-to-market materials and customer communications strategy.

Where will you be working after graduation? I’m currently looking for positions within the areas of Marketing, Communications, and Strategic Planning where I can optimize value for customers and exceed business objectives.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Prior to entering business school, I was awarded a Forté Fellowship from Maryland Smith for demonstrated leadership and commitment to supporting women in business. In 2020, I was elected by my classmates to serve as a First-Year Track Representative. With so much apprehension surrounding our isolating online experience, it was a huge compliment to be selected by my peers to help bring the cohort closer together. As Track Rep, I created an ongoing partnership with the Montgomery County Coalition for the Homeless, a local nonprofit organization committed to eradicating homelessness in our area. In 2021, I became a Teaching Assistant for a Business Communications course, I was appointed President of the Latin MBA Student Association as well as Vice President of the Marketing and Communications Association.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of having been elected President of the Latin MBA Student Association. Holding this position has been one of the most insightful and rewarding experiences of my MBA. It’s allowed me to share the amazing elements of Latin culture with my peers while also investing in small Latin-owned business in the community through events, such as partnering with a local salsa dance studio for an MBA dance class and hiring a local food truck for an on-campus event. It’s also provided me with the opportunity to better support the unique needs of international and Latin students through experiences, like specially curated workshops and networking opportunities.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I’m most proud of the work I accomplished within my marketing innovation internship at Ingredion. I was tasked with revitalizing and streamlining the global go-to-market customer communications materials to better address customer needs and to better communicate the company’s unique capabilities. I started with a 134-page slide deck and created a customizable 6-page template focused on delivering unique insights in a customer-centric approach. Within 10 weeks, I was able to create 4 pilot templates, receive internal stakeholder approval and launch the pilots into customer testing. The feedback to-date, from customers and colleagues, has been very positive. I’m really proud to have accomplished such a large undertaking in a short amount of time and that my project will help foster deeper relationships with customers while driving tangible results for the company.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose to apply to Maryland Smith because of its robust and active community. From the first information session I attended, I could feel the school’s emphasis on transparency and inclusivity. Following initial conversations with admissions, I was connected to several students who shared a similar background and common interests so that I could get a comprehensive view of the opportunities at Smith. I was surrounded by driven and passionate students and felt like a Terp even before attending orientation. The small cohort sizes further foster a tight-knit community and close relationships with faculty.

Who was your favorite MBA professor?  Professor Yogesh Joshi has been my favorite MBA professor. The topics of his classes are incredibly relevant to current marketing trends and technologies and they offer valuable concepts to apply across many real-world scenarios. Professor Joshi’s immersive teaching style not only reinforces course concepts, but creates a learning environment that encourages risk-taking, creativity, and fun. Through his classes, he’s taught me how to empower my creativity with data and how to think outside the box to push the boundaries of what’s possible.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? My favorite Maryland Smith MBA tradition is the yearly case competition held during orientation week. Each year, First-Year MBA students participate in an intense 48-hour case competition requiring teams to brainstorm, plan, and present strategic recommendations to professional industry stakeholders. The 2020 orientation case competition presented even greater challenges as we needed to navigate a fully virtual environment. I was extremely nervous to work with a group of peers I had never met to address challenges I had never considered. My team ultimately finished in first place, providing a great sense of confidence and accomplishment! This experience remains as one of my favorites in my MBA.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If I could do something differently from the beginning of my MBA experience, I would have encouraged myself to take on the opportunities that scared me. There are so many ways to be involved at school beyond club leadership and graduate assistantship positions, and I wish I explored these opportunities further. For example, I wish I had become involved in the Diversity & Equity Council or applied to the Maryland Global Consulting Program. Although these opportunities really interested me, I refrained from applying because I felt under-qualified. Looking back, I would put myself out there and pursue these exciting opportunities despite feeling intimidated.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think a common misconception about attending an MBA program with smaller cohort sizes is that there’d be a lack of diverse talent. Having a background in business myself, I expected most of the cohort to have backgrounds in business too. Therefore, I was blown away by the range of diverse experiences I encountered! My classmates are professional musicians, former teachers, athletes, active military, and so many other types of professions, and add their unique perspective to our MBA experience. It’s added so much value to work with such an array of backgrounds and skillsets.

What surprised you the most about business school? When applying to business school, I constantly heard about the cutthroat, competitive environment that comes with getting an MBA. However, that hasn’t been my experience in the slightest at Smith! I was really surprised to feel as connected and to find such a strong support system in my cohort. We genuinely want to see each other succeed and to help each other realize our goals both inside and outside the classroom.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? My objective was to be fully present and to remain actively involved with the school throughout the application process. The University of Maryland was the only school I was applying to for my MBA, and I think that really stood out during my conversations and interview with Admissions. I was undecided between the full-time and the part-time program, so I attended information sessions and met with the admissions teams from both programs to get their perspectives on the benefits and trade-offs of each. Once I decided on the full-time program, I continued to do my research and reached out often with questions.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? AK Makkar is one of the most positive, hardworking, and helpful members of our cohort. As an Econ TA, the President of the Consulting Club, and a Leadership Fellow in the Office of Career Services, AK consistently seeks opportunities to support his classmates. Despite facing unique challenges to overcome in the job search as an international student, he continues to prioritize the academic and professional development of his peers. I’ve seen AK go above and beyond to help classmates understand difficult course concepts and feel confident in their interview and case prep. AK has made a positive impact not only on our MBA classmates, but across the Smith community!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mom is my biggest inspiration for pursuing business and earning my MBA. My family dynamics growing up were a bit unconventional – my mom worked as the vice president of her company and my dad held down the fort as a stay-at-home dad. I grew up accompanying my mom annually to her company’s Bring your Child to Work day and I volunteered at philanthropy and corporate-sponsored events as often as possible so that I could watch my mom in action. I watched her deliver presentations to hundreds of people; I watched her travel the world; and most importantly, I watched her make an impact on the employees and customers around her. Despite often being the only woman in the room, she remained strong-willed and self-assured, teaching me to find my own voice and to advocate for issues I believe in.

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

  1. Use a product or service I create.
  2. Become a trusted mentor and advocate for women throughout every stage of my career.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic greatly shifted my priorities when assessing the different companies and types of roles I want to pursue for my career. After transitioning to working remotely, I realized the importance of bringing my authentic self to work and feeling connected to my company and co-workers. Prior to the pandemic, I sought positions that gave me a great sense of responsibility and fast upward mobility. However, I now place much greater emphasis on working for a company that fosters a positive, inclusive environment and that encourages learning and a continuous improvement mindset. I no longer see my career as simply a way to make a living, but as a means to make a positive impact on the world and those around me.

What made Antonia such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Antonia has been a standout in her class since she began the Full-Time MBA program at Maryland Smith. She demonstrated her ability to navigate challenging and complex situations during Orientation when her team won first place in the Smith Orientation Case Competition – a 3-day competition – all held virtually over Zoom in August 2020.

During her first semester, she was elected as a Track Representative by her classmates and has been an active member of the community ever since. In her second year, she was elected as President of the Latin MBA Student Association and VP of Marketing and Communications of the Marketing and Communications Association. Under her leadership as President of LAMBASA, the club has held several events this year – from networking workshops to Smith’s annual “Baila con LAMBASA” showcasing Latin dances and music for all MBAs to experience. Antonia has also used these events to support and highlight small Latin-owned businesses in the community.

In addition, her 1st year summer internship hired her to continue working part-time during her 2nd year; which Antonia balanced along with classes, her leadership roles, and graduate assistant work at Smith. Antonia also led a project in her last semester consulting class that led to a potential partnership with Total Wine & More that will benefit future students. Antonia’s upbeat and approachable personality makes it easy for her to connect with her classmates and colleagues, and her presence has a positive impact on all those around her. We know she will continue to excel post-MBA and look forward to watching her grow in her career.”

Dr. Nicole Coomber
Assistant Dean, Full-Time MBA Program


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