2022 MBA To Watch: Riley Hawkins, Washington University (Olin)

Riley Hawkins

Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School

“I am passionate about collaborative leadership, and I am dedicated to remaining actively curious.”

Hometown: Orleans, Indiana

Fun fact about yourself: I am really into astrology, and I even have several of my MBA classmate’s birth charts memorized.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Arts in Biology, DePauw University

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I represented the United States’ State Department as a Fulbright Scholar in the Netherlands.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? I was a marketing strategy and product intern for a small subscription box startup in St. Louis called Cotton Cuts.

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Co-president, Olin Women in Business
  • Co-vice president of social programming, Graduate Business Student Association
  • Corporate Ambassador, The Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation
  • Market research consultant, Weston Career Center
  • Student consultant, St. Louis Impact Initiative

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of my work as co-president of the Olin Women in Business (OWIB) club. My co-president, Kate Hogan, and I ran for the position with the understanding that our main objective was to restore the sense of community our classmates lost thanks to the mostly virtual learning environment of our first year. When we developed this year’s programming, we asked ourselves what we wanted our classmates to take away from their Olin experience, how we could foster an inclusive community, and how we could try to solve some of the issues we had encountered along the way.

With those goals in mind, Kate and I created Olin’s first annual Men as Allies workshop. The workshop was led by Professor Seth Carnahan, a Poets and Quants Top 40 under 40 professor of strategy who has done extensive research on workplace culture. Over 70 students, staff, professors, and Olin’s Dean attended the event and left with tangible strategies for being an effective ally at Olin and in the workplace.

In addition, OWIB has been instrumental in getting students more face-to-face networking opportunities with local alumni by inviting alums to our monthly member meetings. We hosted a negotiation workshop with an emphasis on how women can become better negotiators with renowned WashU Olin Professor Hillary Anger Elfenbein. OWIB has hosted several social or networking events for our program: a back-to-school kickoff at St. Louis’s famous Food Truck Friday, sustainable holiday crafting with a local women-owned business called Perennial and a Galentine’s happy hour at an acclaimed craft brewery in St. Louis called Rockwell Beer Company. OWIB accomplished a great deal this year and was instrumental in rebuilding the Olin Community after a predominantly virtual MBA experience our first year. Leading Olin Women in Business was truly an honor and has absolutely been my favorite part of my time at WashU.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of completing Teach for America in one of the nation’s most impoverished regions, the Mississippi Delta. My experience with Teach for America and later with KIPP charter network in St. Louis afforded me the life-changing opportunity to connect with and grow from people whose life experiences are much different from my own, and I am both proud and grateful to have been able to share these experiences with my classmates throughout my time at WashU Olin.

Why did you choose this business school? Having taught with KIPP charter network in St. Louis city during the 2018–19 school year, I had familiarity with the St. Louis community. When I returned to the Midwest after fulfilling my Fulbright grant in the Netherlands, I knew I belonged at WashU Olin because of the sheer kindness I found within the community. I also felt that my personal values perfectly align with Olin’s demand for a healthier relationship between business and humanity.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Most people begin their MBAs with a clear career trajectory in mind. I was not one of those people. Therefore, I wish I had placed more of an emphasis on intentionally networking for career research and exploration purposes during my first year as opposed to networking exclusively with the intent of finding an internship. This would have helped me get a clear understanding of all the options an MBA can offer much sooner.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Olin is a small program. I’ve found the St. Louis network to be an overwhelmingly positive component of attending WashU. Not to mention how exceedingly kind and excited to help current students the Olin alumni network is.

What surprised you the most about business school? I decided to get an MBA knowing that I would be able to learn from the experience of my exceptional peers. Nevertheless, I am still blown away by how willing my classmates have been to help and support one another throughout our MBA experience. While rejection from internships and jobs is never easy, my classmates are consistently there to remind one another of our talent, work ethic and worth. This is both inspiring and heartwarming, and I feel so lucky to have made amazing and lifelong friends while at WashU Olin.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Looking back, the most important edge I had during the application process was making it unequivocally clear to WashU Olin that I really wanted to go there. I made sure to have frequent, genuine conversations throughout the admissions process; in fact, enough so that the staff and even a number of students knew me by name and story. Additionally, I did copious amounts of research on Olin and WashU, such as reading articles that were published about Olin, following all their social media accounts, and watching the YouTube videos on Olin’s channel. I even watched the live stream interview of current students when WashU was crowned Poet & Quants Program of the Year in 2020! The live stream happened about one week before my interview, and I was able to bring up some of the points current students mentioned about WashU Olin during the interview.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I am truly sorry, but I cannot choose just one peer, as I deeply admire every woman who served on the board of Olin Women in Business this year (my co-president and right-hand woman Kate Hogan; VP of Event Management Nataly Garzon; VP of Public Relations Lucy Reis; VP of Alumni Relations Clare Davies; VP of DE&I; Katherine Urquiaga; VP of Finance, Ashley Yang; board members Karen Trautman, Priscilla Stecher, Sophie Evans, Rhonda Smythe and Megha Waikar).

First-and-foremost, these women continuously demonstrated what it’s like to work on and for a highly effective team. I am certain that I will use the experience of working with them as a guidepost throughout my career.

Next, these women fearlessly facilitated difficult and necessary discussions regarding a sticky situation with another student organization’s guest speaker. I am simultaneously grateful for and in awe of their courage and tenacity when it came to fighting for what’s right.

Finally, OWIB was committed to putting on A LOT of events this year to help restore the sense of community that was lost due to the pandemic; every single one of these women took time out of their very busy schedules to plan, promote, execute and attend all these events. I am proud of everything we accomplished together, and I will forever be thankful for the opportunity to work with such a dedicated and intelligent group of women that I am certain will continue to create positive change post-MBA.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Going into business was 100% my decision, which has made business school such an empowering experience. Both my mother and grandmother are nurses, so I felt a lot of pressure to enter the medical field throughout my adolescence. During undergrad, that was the path I was on until I met a Teach For America (TFA) recruiter. After completing TFA, I knew I wanted to continue to make an impact, but I was looking to do so on a much larger scale than I felt the classroom could provide. WashU Olin’s values-based curriculum and emphasis on doing business for good was exactly what I was looking for and has helped me unlock potential within my career that I had not realized was there.

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

  • Start my own business
  • Run for public office

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic remains intent on reminding me that I cannot control every outcome and that a contingency plan is always a good idea.

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

“Riley Hawkins is standout in her leadership, her diligence and her generous spirit. She has excelled in a number of leadership positions, contributing energy, ideas and hard work to Olin Women in Business, the Graduate Business Student Association, and other organizations on and off campus. Her hard work and integrity are notable, particularly while the COVID-19 pandemic made even relatively routine tasks a challenge. Most importantly, Riley has enlivened and enriched our WashU Olin class through her generous spirit. She takes the time to really listen to others and to find ways to share the spotlight and support others. Our future business leaders need both the rigor of our data-driven approach and the values-based compass that Riley exemplifies.”

Trish Gorman, MBA, PhD
Professor of Practice in Strategy, Entrepreneurship
WashU Olin Business School


Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.