2022 MBA To Watch: Tunde Agboke, Penn State (Smeal)

Tunde Agboke

The Pennsylvania State University, Smeal College of Business

“College football coach turned education equity advocate leaning into tech sector resources.”

 Hometown: Houston, TX

Fun fact about yourself: I have a cheesecake obsession. I eat whole cheesecakes in one sitting, and I don’t share.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Southeast Missouri State University – BA in Public Relations
  • Shippensburg University – MS in Organizational Leadership and Development

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Big Brothers Big Sisters of Greater Houston – Director of Strategic Partnerships and Community Outreach

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Hewlett Packard (HP) Inc

Where will you be working after graduation? Hewlett Packard (HP) Inc

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

* President of MBA Diversity Association (DMBAA):As president, I shifted our organizational priorities to make belonging and career development as the primary focuses of the DMBAA by championing the intersectionality of a wide array of topics that include (but are not limited to) the following: race, ableism, ageism, and socioeconomic status.

* Founder/Creator of Smeal Graduate Diversity Council: I petitioned the administration to allow me to create this organization in order to increase the cooperation and collaboration of graduate student organizations in the Smeal College of Business and to create an environment in where diversity is celebrated as a core principle to achieving success in business.

 * Graduate Student Advisor for Smeal Coalition of Multicultural organizations (COMO): Offers educational services for African/Black American, Latino/Hispanic American, Asian/Pacific Islander American, American Indian/Alaskan Native, and all other undergraduate students.

 * Member of Penn State University Black Leadership Caucus: Only graduate student serving on the leadership for the Black Caucus for the entire university. The caucus aims to promote and protect the safety and well-being of African American students, to provide, educate, bring awareness, and serve the overarching minority community through social and political means.

 * Allies for All: Successfully led organizational change to include all genders, instead of just male allies. Allies for All is an affiliate organization of the Women’s MBA Association that focuses on bringing all voices into the conversation regarding gender equity and the intersectionality of race in terms of gender discrimination. The goal of the organization is to support and amplify the voices of our fellow Women MBAs.

* Case Competition: John R. Lewis case competition participant focusing on the intersection between business and racial inequity.

* Bunton Waller Fellow:Merit-based full tuition funding with a graduate stipend.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The COVID pandemic shed a bright light on a lot of societal issues that are embedded deep within our systems. One of those was how millions of people face food insecurity. MBA students are not immune from that reality. Many students come from humble backgrounds.

Due to COVID protocol, many student spaces had to be shut down, including student kitchens. However, through a great level of COVID safety protocols, classes were still being held at campuses across the county. That meant you had students on campus for 8 hour days with no place to store the meals.

As president of the Diversity MBA Association, our team worked with the Vice Provost of Education Equity, the Vice Provost of Graduate Studies and the dean at Smeal to come up with a solution to provide a safe and COVID-free community access kitchen for students facing socioeconomic, religious, or dietary challenges.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? During my time at Big Brothers Big Sisters, we proudly served over 2,800 matches (mentor & mentee peering). However, when I started, we had over 800 children on our waiting list, without a mentor. The waiting list included children of all genders and races, but Black boys specifically accounted for 48% of the entire list.

We launched several initiatives to increase mentorship in general, but we also had to pay particular attention to the issues facing black boys. To raise awareness about mentorship and its benefits, we created the Black Men Mentoring Challenge (BMMC). The BMMC is a partnership between us, The City of Houston Mayor’s Office, Houston Health Department, My Brother’s Keeper, Love This City and The Houston Peace Coalition. Through the efforts of the coalition, we helped change the landscape of mentoring across Houston.

Why did you choose this business school? During our admissions interview, they asked me why Smeal? Why pursue my MBA? I always knew why my MBA, but I didn’t have a good reason to pick Smeal. That was until I met Ryan Hess and Biko Taylor. Ryan led the Smeal’s MBA recruiting department and was incredibly engaging. Over a series of conversations, we formed a very good rapport. He subsequently introduced me to Biko Taylor.

Biko was a Smeal alum that graduated in 2012. He subsequently went on to work at HP Inc and then earn another Masters in Education at The Broad Center. Essentially, Biko created the path I was looking to follow by pursuing my MBA. Like Ryan, he was equally as honest and authentic. They were both very transparent in our conversations. I owe them both a great deal.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Stefan Wuyts, Professor of Marketing, Director Institute for the Study of Business Markets

I came into this program with an undergraduate degree in public relations, so I saw marketers more as rivals than peers. I was fortunate enough to have Processor Wuyts for two separate classes. I had him for Marketing Strategy in my first year and Business to Business Marketing in my second year. Professor Wuyts classes help me see the role and importance of marketer in the communications ecosystem.

Both courses were organized into extremely enjoyable formats and they both covered a broad brush of issues that concern. Most importantly he forced us to tackle tough ethical dilemmas that marketers face. He helped me see how to recognize, evaluate and avoid the ethical dilemmas that arise in business. He reenforced my belief that ethics and corporate America don’t have to be mutually exclusive.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Lunar New Year!

Several weeks prior to the celebration I worked with a group called ASCEND, which is a student group for undergraduate students from the Asian community at Smeal. Through my role as graduate advisor to Smeal Coalition of Multicultural organizations (COMO), I connected with their leaders. We discussed their plans to raise awareness about the increase in violence and discrimination amongst the Smeal community. The Diversity MBA Association (DMBAA) subsequently helped advocate for and cascade information about their events throughout the Smeal community.

So once the DMBAA decided to host a Lunar New Year event for the graduate students, it made perfect sense to engage with our undergraduate colleagues at ASCEND once again. Through their guidance and help from our fellow classmates like Lu Lu, Chun-Po Lee, Tuyen Huynh and John Weber, we were able to have an amazing celebration. We have a very diverse culture at Smeal, and I learned a lot about the stories and history behind many different festivals and celebrations.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I had more opportunities to connect with the MBA class directly ahead of mine. Although I have been very involved with a variety of extracurricular activities across Smeal and Penn State, the pandemic limited my interaction with that class. They were technically the first class to navigate all hurdles caused by the pandemic, so they had a host of priorities to ensure their post-MBA success during the pandemic era.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The class is too small and the experience won’t compare to those of much larger programs is by far the biggest myth. This is clearly false because Penn State consistently ranks in the top 3 for producing Fortune 500 CEOs. Our small cohort size gives us more one-on-one attention from the professors. Alternatively, it also allows the professors to tailor their instruction to us as individuals. Our growth as students is probably double that of an MBA student in a larger program.

What surprised you the most about business school?

I was very surprised by how much Smeal emphasized ethics. Coming into business school, I had a preconceived belief that ethics in business was secondary and sometime tertiary. Smeal definitely disabused me of that belief from the start by doing the following three things:

  • Encouraged all students to sign the Smeal Honor Code
  • Included the Smeal Honor Code statement and reminder on every syllabus of every class
  • Business ethics course was mandatory for every student

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I created a roadmap that clearly outlined my career portfolio and ambitions. It showed a direct correlation between an MBA from Smeal and my goal to leverage education technology to serve marginalized communities.

I already had a background working with those communities, so I knew a major hurdle would always be financing. With an MBA from Smeal, which is known for creating CEOs, I could put myself in position to control educational funding and resources at a firm within the tech sector. On the roadmap, I also showed how I planned to utilize Smeal’s alumni network of likeminded individuals.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Hands down it was my classmate, Lu Lu. She came into the MBA program with a very successful career and a PhD already in hand. From day 1 she showed that she would be a force within our community. She easily won her race to become President of the Consulting Association and helped create brand-new program called “PGP Badge Program” for all the Smeal graduate communities. The program was designed to further cement an ethical culture in the Smeal community, as well as to empower our graduates to positively contribute their various communities. She then created a case competition around the program that was supported by the Dean.

Aside from all her amazing advocacy work and leadership with the consulting association, Lu is just a genuinely kind human being. We formed a great friendship and I am honored to have been her classmate.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? One of my former students, Eric R. challenged me in May 2019 to step outside of my comfort zone of working with college students and to work with students at a much earlier age. He had a compelling point and one month later, I resigned my job working with college students. I took a position working for a non-profit focused on young people under the age of 18 and simultaneously began researching the best strategies to champion them, which led me to my MBA journey.

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

1. Serve as the Managing Director, Development Policy and Partnerships for the World Bank. This position will allow me to steer international resources, programming and partnerships in a direction that serves the most underserved individuals across the globe.

2. Establish a consulting firm specializing in social impact to accelerate educational equity for young people from underserved communities and continuing learners across the globe with education technology.

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

“Tunde stood out as one of the most participative and involved students in the Marketing Strategy elective that I offered in the spring of 2021. He has shown an excellent capability to connect classroom learnings with marketing in practice. I continue to observe that skill today as he takes my Business Marketing elective and regularly connects concepts and theories with his professional experiences. At Smeal, we would like our graduate students to engage in lifelong learning, also after completing their studies and earning their degrees. I believe that Tunde will prove exemplary in that regard, as already today he manages to combine his professional development with study and self-enrichment.

Importantly, Tunde also involves others in the learning process—not just in the classroom but also beyond. As President of the Diversity MBA Association, he not only managed to mobilize other MBA students but he also created a direct bridge to faculty. Concretely, Tunde visited the Marketing Department in the fall of 2021 and, in front of all marketing faculty, he delivered a captivating and memorable presentation on inclusion. For many of us, his presentation was an eye-opener. For me, his discussion of the stages of growth toward an inclusive classroom (from gaining an understanding, to creating a welcoming environment, to encouraging an “opt in” mentality) was a key takeaway that altered the way I approach teaching. His professionalism, personality, and smile enable him to mobilize others and realize incremental, positive change. In all, Tunde has indeed be invaluable to the Class of 2022.”

Stefan Wuyts
Professor of Marketing, Director Institute for the Study of Business Markets


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