One of the most difficult things about the MBA is how quickly it goes by. Before you know it, you’ve got classes, coffee chats, club events, speaker events, and meetings of all kinds, If you aren’t careful, your two years are over before you’ve managed to make an impact in all the ways you’d planned as an MBA applicant.
As we round out the semester and head into the holidays, I’m feeling grateful for all the agents of change who’ve attended Yale SOM and other business schools before me. One way I can thank them is to pay it forward with some advice for future agents of change in business schools.
Tip 1: Before school starts, think about what matters to you, and how you can pour yourself into it.
The SOM mission—to educate leaders for business and society—attracts a lot of students who are passionate about society’s most pressing challenges, including environmental issues, equity in education, advancing women’s rights, access to healthcare, and advocating for greater economic equality. If these or other concerns are deeply important to you, think about how you might be a champion for them during your two years of school. Ask yourself: Are there relevant clubs on campus? From your first days on campus, there will be opportunities to join clubs at student government as leaders, or to work with existing club leadership to advance your cause of choice.
For me, advancing the cause of racial equity was one of the top priorities for my time on campus. In June of 2020, about two months after I committed to Yale SOM, that priority was magnified by the murder of George Floyd and the subsequent protests around the world. Many of us who had committed to business school wanted to hear about what resources were available on campus to combat racial inequity broadly and discuss issues like police brutality.
Many of us were fully locked down, since this was also the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, and we felt even more isolated from our communities. Dozens of my future classmates gathered on Zoom to process our experience with race and privilege, and how we hoped to further the conversation while on campus. The call ended up running hours longer than planned. It was the first moment after accepting my admissions offer that I felt truly validated in my choice not just to attend business school, but to come to Yale SOM in particular.
Tip 2: Identify key areas where you can make change in your two years and beyond.
Nearly as important as dreaming big is being realistic. In two years, you’re unlikely to make a serious dent in, say, systemic racism or the climate crisis. By identifying key, actionable areas, you can avoid burnout and ensure that you spend your best energy in places where it can have the highest impact.
The Zoom conversation we held before coming into SOM eventually morphed into a club on campus, Business Students for Racial Equity. Much of our time so far has focused on developing a mission and key impact areas for the club. In early 2021, a call went out for business schools to partner with Emory University on the second annual John R. Lewis Racial Equity Case Competition and I jumped at the opportunity. Because I knew that advancing racial equity was a priority for me, signing up to figure out how to host the competition was an easy choice. The competition is open to all students, undergraduate and graduate, from any university. More than that, the competition welcomes students from any field of study, as racial justice is a wide-ranging issue that affects and can be informed by any academic discipline.
By the time Yale SOM hosts the competition in January 2022, I’ll have spent almost an entire calendar year working to make the competition a reality, alongside classmates Penelope Williams, Laura Brennan, and Christy Meyer. While it has been a tremendous amount of work, it has also been incredibly rewarding. I recently had the experience of watching our semifinalist teams meet with a representative from our corporate sponsor, and was delighted to see the creativity, intelligence, and rigor with which the contestants approached the problem statement. Wherever our careers take us after school, the experience of considering all stakeholders in solving a real corporate issue related to racial equity will serve us well.
Tip 3: You don’t need to start a new club to make an impact on campus.
Whether or not you want to be a leader on campus for your cause of choice, there are ways to make considerable impact. It’s incredibly valuable for clubs to get turnout for events, so showing up in the first place is wonderful. Beyond that, you can contribute by asking thoughtful questions, engaging with difficult topics, and pushing back on topics that come up in class.
In one of our first weeks on campus, a professor discussed the use of modeling algorithms to decide who should be given leniency in parole hearings. Before we moved on, I nervously raised my hand and pointed out that the algorithms have been shown to have incredible bias along lines of race. The professor responded better than I could have hoped, acknowledging that it was true and pointing out to the class that—given redlining and ongoing structural racism—zip codes in the United States are an almost perfect proxy for race. The whole class learned that models that use zip codes in their analysis are effectively using race as an indicator.
I’m incredibly grateful that the mission of Yale SOM has bought so many diversely passionate people together in Evans Hall. I have learned so much from conversations with classmates both in and out of the classroom, and I can’t wait to see what other changes students are able to make on campus, next year and beyond.
Claire Masters is a second-year student at the Yale School of Management from Nyack, New York. Prior to SOM, she worked at Moody’s and the Council on Foreign Relations, and she interned with Hillhouse Capital. At SOM, she is involved in racial equity efforts, investment management, and admissions.