2022 MBA To Watch: Melanie Zook, Yale School of Management

Melanie Zook

Yale School of Management

“Mission-driven former educator passionate about social impact, responsible business practices, and Tex-Mex food.”

Hometown: San Antonio, TX

Fun fact about yourself: I once interned for Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, and spent a semester campaigning for Welsh independence.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Rice University – BA in Sociology and Policy Studies

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? EMERGE Fellowship, HR & Operations Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Dallas Innovation Alliance; KC Digital Drive

Where will you be working after graduation? Bain & Company, consultant (Washington, D.C. office)

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • 2nd-Year Leader – Business & Politics Club (2021-2022)
  • 2nd-Year Career Advisor (2021-2022)
  • Creativity, Fundraising Week, and Auction Chairs – SOM Internship Fund (2021)
  • Research Assistant – Chief Executive Leadership Institute (2021-2022)
  • Teaching Assistant – “America’s Future Role in the Global Economy” (2022)
  • Winner of national Small Business School Challenge, a case competition pairing top MBA students with local SMBs affected by COVID-19 (2020)
  • Social Impact Consultant on an SOM team advising ConnCAN, an education advocacy group, on Covid-19 response (2020-2021)
  • Recipient of Dean’s Scholarship and Forte MBA Fellowship (2020)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of my work co-running the Internship Fund, which is a prime example of SOM’s mission to educate leaders for business and society. The first-of-its-kind among business schools, IF financially supports students spending their summer internship in the nonprofit or social sectors. Because these organizations are often only able to provide very limited funding, IF makes these internships financially realistic. While COVID-19 deeply affected IF’s normal fundraising efforts, our team was committed and innovative, and we were still able to raise enough money to enable our classmates to pursue these opportunities. I passionately believe MBAs need to use their talents to affect positive change in this world, and I’m proud to go to a school that puts money behind that endeavor.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Prior to SOM, I spent three years overseas (in Prague and then Taipei) as a teacher and school administrator. My resume lists many of the conventional “achievements” from these experiences: building out a new blended online/offline curriculum, standardizing teacher training processes, and increasing investment in ed-tech. But the biggest achievements were always with the kids. In addition to my administrative work, I taught English to elementary schoolers. There were so many achievements during those years that I still think about all the time: the struggling student I tutored three days a week on the day he finally aced a quiz; the shyest girl in class performing in the school play; the highest-energy boy I’ve ever met winning an award for an essay he wrote for me. I’m proud to say that I helped those kids in some way, however small, and that will always be one of the brightest spots of my career.

Why did you choose this business school? An MBA wasn’t always an obvious choice for my career, but it was clear that of all the possible MBA paths, SOM was the obvious choice for a school. I’m social-impact-oriented, but I also deeply believe that the solutions to our biggest problems will come from collaboration among the public, private, and non-profit sectors. SOM lives at that intersection. I’m surrounded by people with a variety of backgrounds, perspectives, and passions. A common thread, however, is that we all have some sense of our responsibility to the broader world. No, we’re not all going into nonprofit work immediately after the MBA (myself included), but the intersection of “business & society” can manifest in a million different ways throughout our careers. I believed this during the application process, and I believe it now—SOM students will have a positive impact on this world.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor is easily Jeffrey Garten, former dean of SOM with extensive experience in both the public and private sectors. Professor Garten teaches a course called “America’s Future Role in the Global Economy,” which I took during my first year and currently TA. The course is incredibly relevant, as our seminars cover everything from China to cryptocurrencies to climate change. More importantly, however, Professor Garten’s commitment to his students is unmatched. Not only is he the best professor I’ve had at SOM, he’s also made himself readily available for career advice and overall support. An MBA in COVID times has often been strange and isolating; Professor Garten has always made it feel like I am still part of a community.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The annual Harvard-Yale game is a huge event across the university, but my favorite tradition is the HBS-SOM hockey game the night before (“the game before the game”). While the game was cancelled my first year, it happened in fall 2021 at Yale. It was the first sporting event I’d been to since the pandemic began, and I got to cheer in the stands with all my friends and classmates. There are so many traditions my class has missed out on, traditions we don’t even know about and will now never know about. But the hockey game held on, and so did we. We lost by some ridiculous amount, and it didn’t matter—what mattered was that we were all together, cheering on our friends, celebrating that we didn’t miss out on everything in the end.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? This experience went how it went, and I’m grateful for it. Most of my regrets are COVID-related, and there’s nothing anyone can do about that.

What surprised you the most about business school? I’m surprised by how integrated I feel into the rest of Yale. During my application process, I knew I wanted to take advantage of other courses offered throughout the university, but I wasn’t sure if that was realistic. This semester, I’m taking zero courses at SOM. Instead, I’m in two courses at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, one course at Yale College in the Political Science department, and one course that’s cross-listed with the Yale School of the Environment and Yale Law School. I think when people apply to business school, they tend to see it as a siloed experience—all your classes, friends, and experiences will occur within the MBA ecosystem. That hasn’t been true. So many people I know at SOM are taking courses at other schools at Yale, and there are also many dual-degree students who are natural bridges to other schools. I go to SOM, sure, but I also go to Yale, and that’s been incredible.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I think the biggest advantage I had was that I had a clear sense of what I wanted from SOM. I had to have that internal clarity; I wouldn’t have applied otherwise. I’d spent months thinking about the right next step in my career, what kind of degree I might need to get there, and what kind of program would give me the right tools. By the time I sat down and wrote my applications, that thoughtfulness came through in my essays—because it was genuine. Admissions committees can tell if you’re applying to a program because you can’t think of anything better to do. My biggest advice to prospective students is to know why an MBA, why now, and why here. If you can answer those questions, your application will shine.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are so many! If I have to choose one, I’ll vote Sarah Gannon. She’s our Student Government president this year, and she has guided us through ever-changing COVID protocols with poise and competence. Sarah is a nonstop advocate for SOM students. Without her leadership, this strange half-pandemic, half-normal year would have been much worse. I’m so grateful for lovely people like Sarah who step up to be leaders even when the job is extra-challenging.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? One dinner changed the course of my life. It sounds dramatic, but it’s not; we can all trace certain paths back to certain moments. I was living in Taipei in 2018, and having dinner with a former professor from undergrad, Dr. Steven Lewis. About two hours into our dinner, I was talking to Dr. Lewis about whether I should get an MPP. He said, “Have you ever thought of an MBA?” I said, “Of course not; I’m not trying to be a banker.” Dr. Lewis laughed and said, “Maybe you should look into it. Some of the schools have a social impact focus.” The seed was planted. A year and a half later, I applied to business school, and here we are.

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

  • Work for the federal government
  • Help a nonprofit substantially scale its impact

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? I have a lot more confidence now that I can shape a career to my life, rather than the other way around. It’s much more possible now to work remotely or hybrid, which can help establish better work-life balance. One of the reasons I had never considered consulting, for example, was because I didn’t want to live in hotels Monday through Thursday for years on end. With the pandemic, that lifestyle is much less common. COVID-19 hasn’t been the revolution in work we thought it might be, but it has changed perspectives on what’s a reasonable way to work—opening up the door for me to explore options that fit my own needs and boundaries.


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