Meet the MBA Class of 2024: M.A. Miller, Columbia Business School

M.A. Miller

Columbia Business School

“A native Texan passionate about environmental preservation, inclusive finance, and making her friends laugh.”

Hometown: Austin, TX

Fun Fact About Yourself: I am a long-time poker player, and my most prized possession is my set of clay poker chips

Undergraduate School and Major: The George Washington University, major in International Development, minor in Arabic

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Pact, Inc., Private Sector Business Development Officer

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of Columbia Business School’s MBA curriculum programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? Throughout my school search, I prioritized schools that had strong academic and experiential programming at the intersection of business and climate. At Columbia, I found a dedicated academic space where I can engage my interest in environmental sustainability while growing my financial expertise through the courses and learning opportunities organized through the Tamer Center for Social Enterprise.

What has been your first impression of the Columbia Business School MBA students and alumni you’ve met so far. Tell us your best CBS story so far. During the application process, I joined a webinar hosted by Columbia Women in Business. While the programming they presented was very appealing, I was more struck by how CWiB’s leadership clearly enjoyed working together, and the supportive community they had built. Much of business school is based on teamwork, so seeing students who so plainly enjoy working together and really celebrate each other’s skill and accomplishments was very encouraging.

What course, club or activity excites you the most at Columbia Business School? I am really looking forward to joining the Columbia Impact Investing Initiative. I am very excited about the opportunity to leverage my own experience in design for social impact and partnership building to the benefit of their activities, while also putting the finance skills I will be learning in the classroom to practice while I’m still in school. More to the point, the initiative focuses on supporting enterprises within the environmental and social impact arena that is of such great interest to me.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: In my most recent role, I conducted research on the role of catalytic capital in promoting investment in sustainable land use businesses (agriculture, forestry, etc.), looking at four case studies under the USAID-funded Green Invest Asia project. My research focused on identifying investment barriers, which interventions most effectively broke down those barriers, and how program design could change in the future to better promote these kinds of investments. This area of research is still quite young, so it was very satisfying to be able to contribute to this nascent body of knowledge that will influence millions of dollars in spending on similar kinds of projects in the coming years. Conducting this research also positioned me within my organization to provide consultant expertise on the design of similar programs, which is considered a high-growth area for business development, and a critical area for minimizing the disproportionate impact climate change has on marginalized communities. On a more personal note, the process of doing this research is what showed me what skills I wanted to gain through an MBA and helped me identify Columbia as the best school for me.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point and what do you hope to do after graduation? Having spent my career in international development, I have a deep understanding of the ESG and sustainability challenges faced by the private sector, as well as the finance gap faced by climate-smart businesses. I am pursuing an MBA so that I can identify promising green enterprises and make investments in those businesses capable of moving the needle on mitigating climate change. After graduation I would like to work for a fund that focuses on investing in these kinds of businesses: carbon developers or sustainable agriculture companies. Long term, I would like to see my work contribute to the mainstreaming of these kinds of investments so that they become business as usual, and eventually establish my own impact investing firm.

What is one thing you have recently read, watched, or listened to that you would highly recommend to prospective MBAs? Why? My favorite podcast of all-time is Planet Money. Each episode dives into a particular phenomenon(s) or features of the economy by exploring them in very real contexts by looking at topics like how truffles are priced, or why we grow Christmas trees the way we do. This podcast has something for everyone, but my favorite episode of all time is #738: The Russian Rodeo, which dives into how American rodeo culture was exported to Russia. As a Texan, this episode was particularly fun for me.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Yale, Wharton, NYU, Darden

What advice would you give to help potential applicants gain admission into Columbia Business School’s MBA program? CBS actually has a lot more going on than having one of the best finance programs out there. When I started my search, I did not know that Columbia had cultivated such a deep and interconnected learning environment for students interested in sustainability. That first discovery, along with several others, helped me to see myself not only as a possible beneficiary of Columbia’s offerings, but also to envision how I could bring value to the Columbia Business School community. I was able to reframe my non-traditional status as an asset. If you think you want to attend CBS, take time to develop both sides of that narrative. Also, don’t be afraid to let your passion lead you. It may seem corny, but based on my experience your passion is definitely relevant to articulating your fit at Columbia.


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