2023 Best & Brightest MBA: Cynthia Vargas Hernández, University of Washington (Foster)

Cynthia Vargas Hernández

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

“Latina, empathetic, curious, creative, and always planning something on a spreadsheet.”

Hometown: Mexico City, Mexico

Fun fact about yourself: I love planning trips—in fact, I took 40 of my MBA classmates to my hometown last summer.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Tec de Monterrey, BS in Business Administration

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Sevenstep, Talent Acquisition Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? Microsoft, Redmond, WA

Where will you be working after graduation? Microsoft, HR Leadership Rotational Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management Fellow
  • Forté Foundation Fellow and MBA Launch Panelist
  • Michael G. Foster Students First Scholarship Recipient
  • Jeannette Coburn Endowed Scholarship Fund Recipient
  • Fritzky Leadership Fellow
  • Foster School of Business MBA Leader of the Month, February 2022
  • First Year Representative of MBA Student Affairs
  • President of the Global Business Association
  • MBA Student Ambassador
  • International Latin American Graduate Students Committee Member
  • 2021 National MBA Human Capital Case Competition sponsored by Hewlett-Packard – 3rd place winner

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Leading the Global Business Association as its president was a highlight of my MBA experience. I find joy in bringing people together, especially if it’s at cultural events where people can learn from others.

Business school is about expanding your view. Through culture, I wanted to inspire my classmates to have a global mindset. With GBA and key club partnerships, I led events, such as Holi, Lunar New Year, International Women’s Day, Multicultural Wellness Night, Allyship Training (with an international focus), Diwali, and the first Latin American carnival at Foster. As the GBA president, I started the Foster Spanish conversation group, where students with skills ranging from zero to native could come and learn or practice Spanish and learn more about Latin American culture; it was this event that inspired me to plan a class trip to Mexico City where I took 40 of my fellow MBA students. Seeing my classmates enjoying culturally rich events, learning, opening their minds, getting to know one another, and getting not only positive feedback but gratitude and requests for more, made me realize that I achieved my goal of making people curious about global and international business culture.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I immigrated to the US almost seven years ago thinking that I was going to find immediate success—after all, isn’t that what you see in American movies? As an immigrant, the reality is much different, and I soon realized that coming here meant that I had to start from scratch. But after countless rejections, I found my first job in the US back in 2017, as an entry-level recruiter for a small firm. The achievement that I’m most proud of is being promoted from Senior to Lead Talent Acquisition Partner and relocating to England on a two-year assignment.

For me, this was a huge accomplishment given that I had only been in my company for just over a year—these kinds of opportunities were not available to people of my tenure. I became an international bridge that connected our Latin American teams with our US and European partners. I also had the chance to learn best practices from the teams in our UK office and then implement those lessons upon my return to the US. Working in yet another country gave me a tremendous appreciation for diverse perspectives, and this experience inspired me to start the Diversity & Inclusion Advisory Committee, formed with representatives from all the company’s subsidiaries.

Why did you choose this business school? Authenticity. I really appreciate how Foster cares about the community they want to build and focuses on letting people in —not just scores, but people. Foster was not initially on my list, but I attended a panel with admissions representatives from multiple schools and I remember Foster’s presentation communicating a more human approach, one that didn’t feel pretentious but relaxed and caring. That was the moment I decided to apply to Foster, and my interview and interactions with alumni and faculty confirmed that Foster was the kind of school I wanted to be a part of.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Shelly Jain. I will always appreciate the energy and enthusiasm that he presented in every class. I can tell he is not only passionate about marketing but also about teaching. The tools that he gave us were instrumental for job interviews; business school needs to prepare you for real business problems, and Shelly made sure we had the toolkit to tackle interview questions from a marketing perspective.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Consumer Marketing and Brand Strategy with Professor Mark Forehand. It’s a very dynamic, accessible, practical, and creativity-oriented course. The professor shows real examples of today’s brands, and our final project involved presenting to business leaders and experts in the field. It’s a fascinating course that helps you try to make sense of the sometimes-illogical way we behave as humans and consumers.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Frosters: it’s like the MBA winter ball or prom, where you get to dress up, eat fancy hors d’oeuvres, dance to the beat of the Foster band music, and spend time with classmates. It’s a big once-a-year celebration that the Foster student leadership puts together for our community. Fosters reflect a thriving, diverse community tightly woven around the experience of grad school.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? During my MBA, I’ve taken several finance and other quantitatively driven courses. Looking back, I would have liked to make my electives align more with these disciplines, and less with my already-established interests. I would have challenged myself to take more analytic and quant heavy courses, which would have rounded out my MBA experience even more.

 What is the biggest myth about your school? “Only the M7 elite business schools get their students the best jobs”. This simply isn’t true: Foster has high academic standards, and I didn’t find the small size class to be a limitation at all: in fact, Foster has a great regional network, and UW as a whole is a tremendous academic powerhouse. I put my trust in it and it did not disappoint. My dream was to work for Microsoft, and that’s where I’ll be going. It was my Foster network that helped me achieve this goal.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? I come from a huge city, so my preference when deciding where to go for business school was always city over college town. Seattle is a vibrant place with lots of things to do; and while I’m not an outdoors person, I do appreciate the nature that surrounds Seattle and all the greenery and beautiful Pacific Northwest summers. I live in Seattle’s Capitol Hill neighborhood, a hip and quirky part of town where people express themselves freely; there’s good coffee, and events happening all the time.

What surprised you the most about business school? People’s kindness. I think that inevitably business school made me think about the stereotype of cutthroat competitiveness, a place where people would do anything to advance their own careers and not think about others. The reality is far from this misconception: at Foster I met incredibly kind classmates who are ready to jump in and help with whatever you need. People are always willing to lend you a hand, whether it’s for something academically related or just everyday life, such as helping you move or plan a social event.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Fanny Tavera. Have you ever met a person that makes you smile just by seeing them? That’s Fanny, a woman whom I admire tremendously for her leadership and her warm personality.

Fanny is a source of kindness; she is fearless but is not shy about being vulnerable; she is energetic, and a risk-taker. Fanny is a first-year who is president of her class and involved in multiple extracurriculars. She cares deeply about the student experience and fights for diversity in business. There is something about seeing Fanny, a fellow Latina, thrive, live fully, get educated, advance, and lead, that deeply inspires me. I can’t wait to see all the impressive things Fanny will do in the future.

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

1)  In my past experiences, I found meaning in being the person who connects Latin America to other markets. I want to one day lead the LATAM region at Microsoft at an executive level.

2) Connected to the above, I want an international assignment in Brazil. LATAM includes more than Spanish-speaking countries—Brazil is also an important market of LATAM that I would love to learn more from.

What made Cynthia such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Cynthia is someone you meet and it is immediately apparent that she is the most sincere and empathetic individual, that you will have the good fortune to get to know in your life. She is always positive, always caring and seeks to be an advocate for every individual, especially those who have been marginalized in their lives.

Cynthia is a member of what we refer to in our School as the Fritzky Fellows program. At the end of the second year, we select only 12 MBAs who are going into the second year, to participate in this endowed program. The 12 MBAs spend a year working with the incoming class of MBAs to help them adjust to graduate school and other challenges they face making this transition. They also learn a lot about their own leadership development and how to be an effective coach, not just mentor or advice giver.

During this time, each Fellow learns how to use inquiry-based coaching for developing the individuals assigned to them, and the teams they work in, during their first year.

Cynthia was an exemplary member of our group this year, and was an excellent advocate not only for her fellow “Fritskies’, but also for the 1st year MBA class.

For one of her quarter breaks, Cynthia and her husband planned a trip to Mexico, which is where they are both from.  Their goal was to help the group that went with them, to acquire a deeper understanding of Mexican history, culture, business, and of course food! They invested a lot of time in this one-week trip, and when they offered it to the class, not just a few went, but upwards in the high 30s of MBA students went on this amazing experience that was paid by each student’s own resources for travel expenses.

That’s just one example of Cynthia.”

Bruce Avolio , Ph.D.
Executive Director, CLST
Mark Pigott Chair, in Business Strategic Leadership

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