2024 Best & Brightest MBA: Cherise Brookes, Washington University (Olin)

Cherise Brookes

Washington University in St. Louis, Olin Business School

“Proud Antiguan and Barbudan woman redefining campus safety for college females across America.”

Hometown: St. John’s, Antigua

Fun fact about yourself: I am currently writing my first science fiction novel. In this trilogy, I aim to transport readers to the enchanting world of Gemisle, a place hidden in the Caribbean region. My book is centered on a young girl from Antigua and Barbuda, who will unravel the threads of her identity and discover a lineage steeped in mystery and power. Her journey is not just a quest for truth but a symphony of exploration, friendship, and the boundless potential within. In my book, I plan to take readers on a journey where the ordinary is shattered by the extraordinary, and the unimaginable becomes reality.

Undergraduate School and Degree: The University of the West Indies (UWI), St. Augustine Campus, Bachelor of Psychology and Sociology (double major)

Indiana University Purdue University Indianapolis (IUPUI), IU School of Social Work, Master of Social Work (school’s concentration)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? I worked part-time at RMB Sales and Services as an assistant manager. This is a CPG business run by my family. I also worked part-time as a counselor at Bubbles Beyond Borders Antigua. I provided therapy services to young women in the Sunshine Home for Girls in Antigua.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2023? I was a summer associate at CCS Fundraising in Philadelphia. This was a hybrid internship.

Where will you be working after graduation? (List Company and Role)

I will be working in my startup, For Womanhood LLC, as founder & CEO.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Member: Catholic Student Center at WashU
Co-President: Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Association
Vice President: Olin Black MBA Association
Board Member: Olin Women in Business
Member: Olin Africa Business Club
Member: National Black MBA Association
Volunteer: AWS University Scout, 1 of 2 scouts on WashU’s campus
Volunteer: St. Louis Area Food Bank
Volunteer: AKA Sorority, Incorporated, Gamma Omega Chapter and Ivy Alliance Foundation Community Canvassing

Scholarships & Awards:

WashU Olin Business School Entrepreneurship Fellowship
WashU Olin Business School Forte Fellow
WashU Skandalaris Center IdeaBounce winner, Fall 2022
WashU Skandalaris Center Innovation Fund
WashU Summer Customer Discovery Program

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During my time at Olin, one achievement stands out above the rest: my role as co-president of Olin’s Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Association (EVCA). What makes this experience particularly meaningful to me is the opportunity it provided to champion diversity and inclusion within the entrepreneurial landscape. In EVCA, we didn’t just aim to foster entrepreneurship; we aimed to break barriers and empower underrepresented voices. As co-president, I spearheaded initiatives to create an inclusive environment where entrepreneurs could thrive. Two of my proudest accomplishments were organizing a successful startup fair on WashU’s campus and an all-female panel collaboration with Olin Woman in Business specifically tailored to highlight the ventures of female entrepreneurs. These events weren’t just about showcasing ideas, but about fostering connections, sparking collaborations, and opening doors to opportunities that may have previously felt out of reach.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My proudest achievement in my professional career has been founding and leading For Womanhood, a company dedicated to empowering and protecting young women, particularly on college campuses. As a female founder, I am deeply passionate about addressing the pervasive issue of intimate partner violence that plagues our society, especially among Gen-Z college females aged 18 to 24 years. This demographic is not just our target market; they are the heartbeat of our mission. Creating a safety app explicitly tailored to their needs was not merely a business endeavor for me; it was a calling. Knowing that our technology has the potential to save lives and empower women to navigate their world with confidence and security fills me with an unparalleled sense of pride and purpose.

But beyond the technology itself, what truly inspires me is the ripple effect our work will create. When we launch, every time a young woman downloads our app, she will be making a statement. She will be saying, “I refuse to be a victim.” She will be standing up against the pervasive culture of fear and violence that has silenced too many voices for too long on college campuses. With For Womanhood, I am breaking barriers, challenging norms, and paving the way for a safer, more inclusive future for women everywhere. In the end, my greatest achievement is not just the creation of a successful business; it is the impact we are making in the lives of countless young women who refuse to settle for anything less than the respect, dignity, and safety they deserve. And that, to me, is the true measure of success.

Why did you choose this business school? I chose WashU Olin Business School for its unparalleled commitment to fostering innovation and social impact. At the core of For Womanhood’s mission is the desire to address a pressing societal issue—intimate partner violence on college campuses—through technology, advocacy, and bystander intervention. When searching for a business school to support my entrepreneurial journey, I sought an environment that provided rigorous business education and nurtured a culture of social responsibility and innovation. WashU Olin’s emphasis on entrepreneurship and its robust ecosystem for startups stood out to me. From the Skandalaris Center for Interdisciplinary Innovation and Entrepreneurship to courses like the League and the Hatchery, WashU Olin offers myriad resources tailored to aspiring entrepreneurs. These resources were invaluable in shaping my startup, For Womanhood, from ideation to execution.

WashU Olin’s emphasis on experiential learning through real-world projects and case studies allowed me to apply theoretical knowledge to practical challenges faced by my startup. This hands-on approach was instrumental in refining our business model and strategy. The collaborative and supportive community provided me with a network of mentors, peers, and faculty who believed in the vision of For Womanhood and offered guidance every step of the way. This sense of community is vital, especially when tackling complex societal issues like intimate partner violence.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This is probably the toughest question because every professor has helped me in some way, and I am beyond grateful. For me, though, my favorite MBA professor undoubtedly has to be Professor Doug Villhard. From the very inception of my entrepreneurial aspirations, Professor Villhard believed in my vision. It wasn’t just about teaching me business theories or strategies; it was about nurturing my passion and fostering an environment where dreams could thrive. When Professor Villhard awarded me WashU Olin Business School’s first Entrepreneurship Fellowship, it wasn’t just a scholarship. As a Black, West Indian, Antiguan and Barbudan immigrant, I was embarking on a journey that many deemed improbable. But Professor Villhard saw beyond the surface; he saw talent, determination, and resilience. He didn’t just open doors for me; he tore down walls. His mentorship goes beyond the classroom. It’s about instilling confidence, nurturing creativity, and fostering a spirit of innovation. Professor Villhard doesn’t just teach entrepreneurship; he embodies it. His passion for empowering others to pursue their dreams is infectious, which sets him apart as a truly exceptional educator. For his belief in me, for his unwavering support, and for being a guiding light on my entrepreneurial journey, I am forever grateful to Professor Villhard. He taught me more than how to succeed in business; he taught me how to make a difference in the world.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Reflecting on my MBA journey, each step, each lecture, each collaboration has woven together to craft the very fabric of my entrepreneurial endeavor for For Womanhood. If I were to gaze back upon this path strewn with opportunities and challenges alike, I find no desire for alteration, no yearning for a different course. In the hallowed halls of WashU Olin Business School, amidst the echoes of academic discourse and the camaraderie of like-minded peers, the seed of For Womanhood was sown. Every interaction and late-night brainstorming session was needed to develop my business plan and vision—an unwavering commitment to safeguarding the sanctity of womanhood and empowering a generation of young women to reclaim their agency. The experiences, the friendships, the mentorship—all have coalesced into the very essence of For Womanhood. My MBA is a testament to the boundless potential within each of us, waiting to be unleashed. In the end, I stand not as a product of my MBA experience, but as a steward of its teachings—a torchbearer igniting the flames of empowerment and advocacy. And for that, I wouldn’t change a single thing—for in embracing the journey wholeheartedly, I have found my purpose, my passion, and my calling.

What is the biggest myth about your school?  There is a myth that all who walk the halls of WashU Olin hail from affluent backgrounds. Yet, reality couldn’t be further from the truth. Raised on the humble Caribbean shores of Antigua and Barbuda, — a speck on the map of the world – I was nurtured by working-class parents.

Our WashU Olin community is a tapestry woven from diverse threads, each representing a unique story, a distinct journey. We are not defined by the weight of our wallets but rather by the richness of our experiences and the depth of our ambitions. At WashU Olin, we are a global family, spanning borders and bridging cultures. Our student body represents 18 countries and myriad backgrounds, from bustling metropolises to the serene shores of distant islands like my own. What binds us together is not the similarity of our bank accounts, but the shared pursuit of knowledge and our collective aspiration to make a difference in the world of business and beyond.

What surprised you the most about business school? What truly surprised me most about business school is that everyone is just trying to figure it out. We are all just students who were lucky to be admitted to an exceptionally amazing school, but that is where it ends. We are no different from each other or from other individuals who are not in business school. I think that coming into business school, I had imposter syndrome. Now that I am here, I firmly believe anyone can “win” in business school. You just need to begin that application and never give up until you get admitted to your desired school.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Within my MBA program, I would have to say that I admire Justin Hampton the most. We have been through thick and thin, and I don’t say this lightly. I remember we took a course together and decided to work on a group project. To be honest, we underestimated the workload of this project because the instructions were to create teams of three (Heads-up, if you take Professor Michael Wall’s legendary Digital Marketing course, you need a team of three). We submitted our final project on time with nine minutes to spare before it was due. We still laugh about this because we didn’t know what we were getting ourselves into. This course’s final project pushed us to our limits, and we achieved a high pass for the course (top 20% grade). Professor Wall was really excited about our final project and even commented, “I was impressed at how well you each worked together as a team of two and the quality of your work. Well done!”. Justin and I don’t know how we pulled this off, but we did and will carry this achievement with us forever.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I would love to do a TED Talk, and I know it will happen. I just need to be at a particular career milestone, and this will definitely happen organically. I am excited and nervous about this, but this is what makes life interesting. You must go after things that make you nervous because only then will you grow and discover your higher self. I honestly believe that the people who are crazy enough to think they can change the world are the ones who do. I truly believe everything a woman wants in life is on the opposite side of fear. So, do I think a Caribbean woman like me can do a TED Talk? Absolutely yes! My story is only just beginning. I would also love to win an Arch Grant. Beyond the funding, I am excited to be a part of a community of founders who are doing their part to change the world right here in St. Louis.

What made Cherise such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2024?

“Cherise consistently demonstrates exceptional passion for learning, entrepreneurial drive, and dedication to self-improvement. She excelled as a student in my courses, actively engaging, asking insightful questions, and constantly seeking to expand her knowledge. Her initiative and capabilities are further evident in her successful women’s safety startup. Not only did For Womanhood qualify for an on-campus accelerator program but it has also been selected as a finalist in multiple post-graduation accelerators, highlighting its potential and traction. Cherise stands out not just as a diligent student but as a rising star in the entrepreneurial world. Her intelligence, enthusiasm, resourcefulness, and unwavering determination position her for remarkable success as a future leader in the entrepreneurial landscape.”

Doug Villhard
WashU Olin Business School
Academic Director for Entrepreneurship
Professor of Practice in Entrepreneurship


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