2023 MBA To Watch: Janyiah Olawale, Duke University (Fuqua)

Janyiah Olawale

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

“A socially conscious city girl out to bridge the gap between underserved communities and business.”

Hometown: Miami, FL

Fun fact about yourself: Every single day, I have my own personal R&B concert and no… I can’t hold a single note but it’s my favorite concert to attend aside from Beyoncé.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Florida Agricultural and Mechanical University (FAMU), B.S. Psychology– HEYYY RATTLERS!

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Breakthrough Miami | Associate Site Director

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022? U.S. Bank | Corporate Social Responsibility- Minneapolis, MN

Where will you be working after graduation? This is to be determined—I am still actively recruiting but committed to finding something that makes me happy!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:
Forte Fellow
Black & Latino MBA Organization, Admissions Cabinet (FY), VP of Student Affairs (SY)
Orientation Co-Chair
Coach K Center on Leadership & Ethics (COLE) Fellow
Admissions Fellow

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I had the pleasure of co-chairing orientation for the Class of 2024 with Christen Baskerville. Besides getting to spend countless hours with my B-school best, I took the mainstage in front of more than 400 people and spoke candidly about my experience navigating Imposter Syndrome during my first year of business school. Sending the imposter to speak about Imposter Syndrome—what a concept! But this was one of the most transformational experiences. I am proud of this moment because I was honest about B-school being hard and vulnerable in a room full of people that I had just met. It afforded me the opportunity to be an example/reference point to others that although it may be hard, it’s more than doable!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I think I am most proud of not being complacent in my professional career. As a first-generation college graduate, sometimes my priority is security—I have not allowed the fear of instability to stop me from taking professional risks. After I completed my Teach for America commitment, I stayed one additional year and then decided to leave the classroom. I had no job, but was determined to make the switch. I transitioned into the education nonprofit space and was there for three years, only to pivot to business school, something I never thought I would do.

Why did you choose this business school? I always like to say Fuqua chose me! As a student transitioning with no business experience and an education background, it was important to attend a school that would have a supportive community for me to navigate a new normal. Fuqua has a very close-knit community and they were invested in me as an individual. I felt that I was seen not just as a number in the class but for my unique experiences. Team Fuqua was showing up for me long before I ever arrived in Durham which made all the difference.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Another tough question—I am seeing a trend here! If I had to select one course, it would be Negotiation taught by Grainne Fitzsimons. Negotiation was an opportunity for me to practice the art in real-time! I loved the chance to be able to prepare the case and reach a deal with my opponent. It has given me the confidence and expertise to be able to effectively negotiate which will serve me personally and professionally for years to come.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Minority Workshop Weekend is my favorite MBA event! Our Admissions office partners with the affinity clubs to welcome back alum and show prospective students what Team Fuqua is all about. I was in leadership roles that allowed me to be involved in the planning process– F-U-N!  In 2022, it was the workshop’s 40th anniversary and the first in-person workshop since before the pandemic. WHAT A TIME! I was overwhelmed with joy to meet prospective students, connect with alums, and create more memories with my classmates. It is an invigorating experience— it shows how much Fuqua has invested in Black & Latinx students and is a preview of what is to come for current students as we approach alum-hood.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth is that everyone is the best of friends. There are more than 800 people in the Daytime MBA program. Being friends with everyone is just not possible or realistic. I think some people are disappointed if they are not best friends with their C-LEAD teams or people in their section, BUT it’s okay! We definitely all are supportive of our goals and aspirations but we also all have our tribes!

What did you love most about your business school’s town?  What I love most about Durham are the trails and parks! I love to go for walks and had so many options to explore.

What surprised you the most about business school? I think what surprised me most about Fuqua was the accessibility to our faculty and staff. The deans, professors, staff—everyone is at your disposal! I was shocked that they were a present force for me inside and outside of the classroom. I love that I have personal relationships with individuals at all levels of the school. Team Fuqua is real for every single person in the building!

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I will speak specifically here about my time on the waitlist at Fuqua. I think what gave me the edge is that I played to my strengths and not to what I thought admissions wanted. I would consider myself a creative person and tried to display that. As a waitlist candidate, for my update, I created a newspaper that detailed how I was working to improve called the “Waitlist Gazette!” I knew when I was creating it that there was no way they could turn me away. I played MY game and showed my personality which is what I feel Fuqua regards highly.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire so many of my classmates! But I will go with my C-LEAD teammate, Margaret Crawford. She is smart, kind, funny and so hard-working! Margaret was a great teammate and friend. She served as the Tech Club Co-President and was a support for so many people as they navigated the uncertainty of recruiting. She also was a great accountability buddy and not to mention a fabulous cook! DREAM team member!

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? This was interesting to think about, I think the first item on my professional bucket list is to lead a Black Employee Resource Group! The next— hire one of my former students. I think it would be such a full circle moment to be able to support one of them in their next phase of life.

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

“Janyiah exemplifies Team Fuqua. After facing challenges and feelings of uncertainty in her first year, she trusted herself, and with incredible resilience and grit, she grew into a pillar of our community.

Janyiah, alongside her co-chair Christen Baskerville, became the driving force behind orientation for the Class of 2024. She translated her first-year struggles into a passion for helping other students find their way. Orientation in any given year is always a herculean effort with a myriad of moving parts and last-minute issues to address, but the leadership duo of Janyiah and Christen fostered an environment anchored by support, understanding, high expectations, and accountability.

At each stage of the orientation planning process, Janyiah and Christen not only excelled but left a blueprint for future generations of Fuqua leaders to follow. They crafted a compelling and inclusive vision for orientation where all members of Team Fuqua could see themselves as an integral part of our community, regardless of background or identity. Their most creative innovation was developing a “Fuqua-chella” theme. Recognizing that music is a connector across cultures and nationalities, they weaved music into all elements of the programming and events, generating palpable excitement in the incoming class and creating unique ways for diverse members of their class to add a special touch to Orientation through playlists, activities, or events. With their vision and enthusiasm, they built and energized a talented team of 40+ peers to serve on the Orientation team and bring the experience to life.

Janyiah and Christen found a natural balance as leaders throughout the process—each taking a different approach to holding their peers accountable and meeting expectations. They collaborated effectively with a broad range of stakeholders, each with a vested interest in orientation but often different ideas or approaches for how best to engage students during the three days. They leaned into these conversations, meaningfully engaging faculty, staff, alumni, and students in the planning process and managed any competing priorities artfully, always with the end goal of ensuring an inclusive and engaging experience for the Class of 2024.

Through orientation, Janyiah helped to create a sense of belonging and highlighted the path to success for the Class of 2024, no matter what they go on to accomplish at Fuqua and beyond. In all of my experience, I have never seen a team so bought into the experience or excited to contribute to our community—and now, thanks in part to Janyiah’s contributions and creativity, our next class of orientation leaders is starting with an advantage. She is an active part of our transition to the next group of orientation leaders, and it’s clear she’s made a lasting impact on the process.

Janyiah is an amazing problem-solver with a natural authenticity that allows her to connect with everyone. Outside of orientation, she is the Vice President of Student Affairs for the Black and Latino MBA Organization, and she serves her fellow students as a leadership mentor. For me, students like Janyiah are the reason why we do the work we do. I am truly grateful to know her.”

Sara Wakefield
Director of Student Life, Daytime MBA Program

DON’T MISS: THE ENTIRE LIST OF MBAS TO WATCH IN 2023

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