2023 MBA To Watch: Mónica Hicks, Rice University (Jones)

Mónica Hicks

Rice University, Jones Graduate School of Business

“First-generation Latina with a passion for equity, and a love for food, travel, and people.”

Hometown: Houston, Texas

Fun fact about yourself: I met my now husband, and the president of Chile, while studying abroad in the fall of 2014 during my junior year of college.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Rice University, History and Latin American Studies

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Program Manager at EMERGE Fellowship

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? EY-Parthenon, Houston office

Where will you be working after graduation? EY-Parthenon, Consultant

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Leadership: Vice President, Rice Business Student Association; First Year Representative, Rice Business Student Association; Chief Development Officer, Rice Business Board Fellows; Board Fellow, Houston reVision; Admissions Ambassador, Jones Graduate School of Business

Awards: The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management Membership; Forté Fellowship; Rice Business Scholars Award; George and Kathryn Martinez Scholarship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?

One of my long-term professional goals is leveraging my education, work, and lived experiences to effect greater change within Houston’s social impact sector. As the Rice Business Board Fellows Chief Development Officer, I managed our 46 board partners — all of whom serve various social missions within Houston’s nonprofit community — onboarded eight new partners, reviewed 180 fellow applications, conducted 60+ interviews, and selected 46 fellows to join our 2023-2024 cohort. Rice Business Board Fellows is a flagship program aimed at developing the next generation of civically engaged leaders. The number of boards who have shared with me the continued engagement and impact our program and their original board fellow has had on their organizations makes it all worth it, and I am incredibly proud to be a part of that legacy.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The most rewarding accomplishment of my career thus far was playing a small part in shaping the course of my students’ and their families’ lives by helping them navigate the selective college application process as an EMERGE program manager. I am incredibly grateful for the trust that many of my families placed in me to open doors that my students may have otherwise not known existed, and I always beam with joy when students reach out to update me on their lives and the opportunities they have obtained as a result of their education.

Why did you choose this business school? Rice Business is only one of a handful of top business schools with an intentionally small class and a Consortium cohort. As someone who values genuine connection with others, I was looking for a smaller class size, individualized support, and a diverse class. Rice checked all the boxes.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Professor Al Danto was my favorite professor at Rice Business. His Enterprise Acquisition class is a perfect combination of lectures, guest speakers and practical application combining topics I had previously learned in finance, accounting, financial statement analysis and new enterprise to value small businesses. At the start of my second year, I told myself I was not going to sign up for any 8 a.m. classes when given the choice, but I am so glad I chose his! Al’s infectious attitude can only be described as a genuine love for teaching. I appreciated the thoughtfulness behind every speaker and assignment, and the intentionality and timeliness of his feedback. I came out of Al’s class more confident in my valuation technique, more curious of entrepreneurship as a potential pathway, and better equipped to apply what I have learned to the small family businesses in my life

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Aside from Enterprise Acquisition, one of my favorite courses was Environmental, Social, and Governance (ESG) Issues in Strategy taught by Professor Anastasiya Zavyalova. I believe ESG issues are at the nexus of business and society, and future business leaders, we have a moral responsibility to address them strategically. The former teacher in me always appreciated our beginning of class Kahoot! refreshers, and I enjoyed hearing from guest speakers following case discussions. On one occasion, after reading about Walmart’s aid response to Hurricane Katrina, our professor surprised us by having Jason Jackson, Walmart’s Senior Director of Emergency Management at the time, speak with us. Experiential learning experiences like these moved the needle from theoretical to practical and made the material stick more.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? One of the highlights of my MBA experience was attending Rice Business’s 23rd annual Women in Leadership Conference — an empowering conference organized by some of our amazing MBA student leaders — which brought together over 500 women from all backgrounds and experiences for a day of panel discussions and interactive workshops. The conference energized me with conversations on personal branding, battling burnout, power and influence, and uplifting one another. Whether you find yourself at Rice Business or not, this is an experience you do not want to miss.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If I had a do-over, I would practice more self-care by setting more boundaries for myself earlier. One of the highlights of my MBA experience has been the friendships I have made with many of the women in this program. Together, we have gone on international trips, hosted multiple book clubs, worked out together, and just enjoyed each other’s company. It is these experiences—not spending x additional hours perfecting a case or PowerPoint deck—that I will take with me long after graduation, and I only wish I had made more time to connect sooner.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think the biggest myth about Rice Business is that it is a regional school (i.e., most people stay in Texas after graduation because that is where the opportunities are). Yes, there are students like me who came to Rice with the intent of staying in Houston, but there are also plenty of students who seek and get employment across the country.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? Houston has always been home. It is where so many of my core memories were made and where everyone I love lives. The food is amazing, and the diversity is unmatched. It is culturally rich, relatively inexpensive, and ripe with opportunity and activity regardless of what stage in your life you are in. If you can get past the unbearably hot summers, traffic congestion, and random potholes, you are in for a real treat!

What surprised you the most about business school? One of my biggest regrets in undergrad was not truly understanding the value of my network — especially as a first-generation college student — and that (in more cases than not) relationships can trump academic excellence. Before starting business school, I had set a goal for myself to be more intentional in building my network but was apprehensive of the seemingly transactional nature of it all. What I found was a community of powerfully resilient, kind, empowering women who consistently support one another, no strings attached. I have been so grateful to have found a true community of friends among such brilliant peers to challenge me, celebrate me, and call on in my time of need.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? As a former Program Manager at EMERGE, I am well-versed in the components of undergraduate school applications. My advice: be unapologetically yourself. As someone who has read hundreds of applications, it is obvious, time-consuming, and frankly unoriginal, to write what you believe someone wants to hear about you. Instead, simply be yourself, determine whether your respective schools are a good fit, and whether they reciprocate the feeling.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I have so much respect and admiration for my classmate and dear friend Dildora Ahmedova—entrepreneur, compassionate leader, curious learner, and mother of three.

During our time in the program, Dildora actively worked with Rice’s Liu Idea Lab for Innovation and Entrepreneurship or Lilie Lab and launched her business Tabiiy. Tabiiy (which means “natural” from my native language) is an all-natural, vegan, hypoallergenic, oil based and detergent free cleansers for makeup brushes and sponges.

In the classroom, she approaches material with a growth mindset and is not afraid to ask the questions others may be too timid to. In doing so, she amplifies the voices and learning experiences of her more introverted peers. In the face of microaggressions, she models compassionate accountability and is a fierce advocate for others.

Dildora is an active member of the Rice Women’s Business Organization and served as a marketing chair on the Women in Leadership Conference committee—which plans and executes one of our school’s largest flagship programs.

While some students are still living in the theoretical, Dildora is constantly using the material we are taught and applying it to her venture.

Additionally, as a mom of three, she is an excellent example of a powerful woman and mother in business, balancing her classwork, her leadership roles, her business, and her personal life. For these reasons, and more, I admire her deeply!

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

For me, higher education was more than a ticket to economic stability. It was my pathway towards independent thought, my introduction to the world beyond my bubble, and my call to democratize information and opportunity for other underrepresented persons.

On my professional bucket list: (1) driving DEI programming as a Chief Diversity Officer by creating more pathways for greater representation at every level of business, and (2) establishing a scholarship in my name with the intent of funding more first-generation college students.

It is because of the generosity of donors at Rice that I have been able to pursue higher education. I look forward to paying it forward with my time and money and enabling small and systemic changes wherever I go.

What made Mónica such an invaluable member of the Class of 2023?

“I knew Mónica was a special student before I knew why she was a special student.

Mónica stood out in my class as a unique student from day one. Like all top-performing students, she was always well-prepared, ready and eager to engage in class discussions and was at the top of my class in all assessments. However, what made Mónica unique, and such an asset, was her true passion and thirst for learning.

Early on, it was very evident that she had a gift in her desire and ability to learn and understand the frameworks and lessons in my class. Mónica always asked thoughtful questions and wanted to thoroughly understand the “how” and the “why.”

She had a unique ability to boil down the lessons and explain them in easily understandable terms. I often called on Mónica to share her thoughts and insights and encouraged her to “shout them out to the class!” Indirectly, she helped me teach her fellow classmates through her ability to understand, boil down and communicate often complex lessons to the class.

During the class, I learned that Mónica had been a TFA teacher before coming back to Rice for her MBA. She worked for EMERGE and other programs that often focused on underserved communities. This gave me an insight into her innate desire to learn, the value she places on education, and why helping her classmates was so important to her.

Mónica clearly sees education as an opportunity to improve herself so she can help others in a future servant leader position. Her gift of serving others comes naturally due to her true passion for learning and teaching.”

Al Danto
Senior Lecturer in Entrepreneurship
Jones Graduate School of Business
Rice University


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