National Hispanic Heritage Month is an opportunity to celebrate the contributions of those whose ancestors come from Spain, Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. September 15th marks the anniversary of independence of Costa Rica, El Salvador, Guatemala, Honduras, and Nicaragua, while Mexico and Chile celebrate their independence on September 16 and September 18. Although people of color make up a growing proportion of U.S. society, students of Hispanic background are underrepresented in MBA programs, accounting for 9.4% of MBA enrollment. Our students share their perspectives on what it’s like to be Hispanic in The Wharton MBA Program for Executives.
Erika Godinez, WG’23 (Philadelphia)
Background: I’m from Chico, California. My parents emigrated to the United States from Mexico and went through a lot to give me and my siblings a better life. My mom didn’t finish junior high, and my dad never graduated from high school, so it was important to them that their children pursued an education. I joined the Marine Corps when I was 18 and later earned my bachelor’s degree in Psychology and Sociology from the University of Illinois.
Why Wharton?: A few years ago, one of my Marines asked me to write him a letter of recommendation for the full-time Wharton MBA program. As I was researching Wharton to help me write the letter, I was really impressed with what I saw. I was getting ready to transition out of the Marine Corps and although I had developed strong leadership, management, and operations skills, there was more that I wanted to learn.
Impactful Experience in the Program: The first week of the program reminded me of military boot camp! It was intense! There were moments that I thought, did they pick the right person? What really grounded me was bonding with the members of my learning team. The very first day of Orientation Week, Wharton assigns each student in the program to a small group that works on core coursework and projects together in the first year. The program staff does a really good job of formulating well-distributed teams where each member brings a unique strength to the table. It was humbling to be among the ranks of such impressive people, and our team dynamic showed me just how much value I brought to the program. The connection with my learning team made me feel like I truly belonged at Wharton, and I’m still close with them today.
Perspective as a Hispanic student: Growing up as the child of immigrants, I oftentimes had to fend for myself. My parents left for work before the sun went up and didn’t get home until after dark, so my siblings and I cooked, cleaned, and looked after ourselves. Our parents weren’t sitting at the kitchen table helping us with math homework. That “fend for yourself” mentality is very much a part of Hispanic culture, in my experience. When things aren’t easy, we will still find a way to succeed. For a long time, I shied away from talking about my background because I didn’t want to be pitied. But I’ve learned that it’s the source of my strength, grit, and determination. I can offer a different perspective in classroom discussions and force others to think outside their comfort zone. This is valuable not just to the students in the classroom, but also to the program, and Wharton as a whole. My advice to prospective Hispanic and Latinx students is – Don’t count yourself out. It’s easy to look at the program and think you can’t do it, but you can, and you and the program will be better for it.
Christian Elebiary, WG’22 (San Francisco)
Background: I’m a first-generation American. My mother and grandmother emigrated from their home country of Nicaragua to San Francisco, where I was born. When I was growing up in the inner-city, my mom worked long hours and I assumed a paternal role in the family by supporting my younger siblings. I was a first-generation college student and now am the first person in my family to pursue a Master’s degree.
Why Wharton?: About ten years ago, I began researching full-time MBA programs as a fellow through an organization called Management Leadership for Tomorrow, which empowers high-achieving individuals from underrepresented communities to realize their full potential as effective leaders. At the time, I could not afford to pursue an MBA program. However, in my research, I came across the Wharton MBA Program for Executives and had the opportunity to connect with Wharton alumni. I decided to continue to work and apply to the program in the future when I was a more seasoned professional.
Impactful Experience in the Program: I’ve found a lot of value in both the entrepreneurship and “soft skill” sharpening opportunities available in the Wharton MBA Program for Executives. The McNulty Leadership Program offers a program called P3: Purpose, Passion, and Principles, which allowed me to gain a deeper understanding of my own definition of success and happiness. The group work we did in the program helped me dive into the introspective process of discovering my purpose. I also participated in the Wharton Leadership 360 Assessment, a self and peer appraisal process available through the Executive Coaching and Feedback Program. This enabled me to better understand the gap between my self-image and how others perceive me and helped me more effectively manage situations involving implicit bias and microaggressions. I worked one-on-one with an executive coach and Career Advancement Director Steve Hernandez to create my own leadership development action plan based on the feedback I received. In addition to the soft skills, I gained a great deal from the operations, venture capital, and entrepreneurship courses that empowered me to launch my startup while continuing to work full-time.
Perspective as a Hispanic student: Latino culture is truly a “culture of cultures.” There’s a lot of diversity in our customs, cuisines, languages, and ways of life, which is why it’s important to honor the individual experiences and contributions of Hispanic people. I had the opportunity to take a Global Modular Course called “Overcoming Racial and Gender Inequality Around the World”, which continued to develop my critical thinking on topics like identity, relationships across difference and bias, and equality of opportunity in organizations. Many of the students in the class had been personally affected by racial and gender inequality, and being able to share our lived experiences with each other was powerful.
Kristin Molano, WG’21 (San Francisco)
Background: I grew up in the Bay Area. My dad emigrated from Colombia to the United States to pursue a college education, and eventually became a U.S. citizen. He saw education as the key to upward social mobility and always emphasized the importance of education, seeing it as a “golden ticket” to better opportunities. My mom is Caucasian and grew up on the East Coast, so I had the experience of growing up in a multiethnic, multicultural household.
Why Wharton? I’ve worked in commercial real estate my entire career, and eventually found myself wanting a role which allowed me to essentially run my own business within a company. To do that successfully, you need to be well-versed in multiple skill sets, and I knew Wharton would give me the tools I needed to pursue this type of role. I’m now the Director of Investments at Swift Real Estate Partners and I absolutely love it.
Impactful Experience in the Program: Watching my classmates pursue their passions during the program was so rewarding. I had classmates who started companies during the program, who started families, who switched industries and functions, and more. Being among such accomplished professionals was really humbling. Another reason Wharton appealed to me was its commitment to admitting students with diverse backgrounds. My industry is very homogenous and that’s something I’m actively trying to change. The two years I spent in the program were invaluable because I got to be part of a diverse cohort of people I never would have met otherwise. Being in the classroom and collaborating on coursework with doctors, Microsoft engineers, gaming developers, lawyers, fintech entrepreneurs – just to name a few– showed me how differently people think and learn.
Perspective as a Hispanic student: Hispanic culture is so dynamic and means many different things. My dad emigrated to the U.S. from Colombia, and his mom emigrated to Colombia from Nicaragua, so we have multiple generations of immigrants in our family. One of my friends from The Wharton MBA Program for Executives is from Mexico and although we are both Hispanic, we don’t share all the same customs. As a Hispanic student in the program, I was able to share with others about the complexities of Hispanic culture and demonstrate that Hispanic identities are not homogenous. At the same time, I benefited from learning about other cultures from my classmates. We celebrated Diwali and Chinese New Year during the program, and exchanging these customs and experiences with each other helped to deepen our friendships and strengthen our bonds.
Jimmy Alvarez, WG’23 (Philadelphia)
Background: I’m a Philadelphia native and first-generation American citizen. My parents emigrated to the United States from Guatemala looking for a better life. Growing up in inner-city Philadelphia, I didn’t know what it felt like to be a minority because I was surrounded by people who shared my background. It wasn’t until I got to college that I had the experience of being the only person of color in a room.
Why Wharton?: After I received my Master’s degree in Organic Chemistry from The Ohio State University, I started working for DuPont as a research scientist. Over time I became more interested in a customer facing role, and now I’m an Account and Business Development Manager. I want to accelerate my professional growth opportunities and hope to one day become a transformational leader for DuPont. I knew Wharton would give me the top-tier business and leadership education that I needed to achieve my goals.
Impactful Experience in the Program: Earlier this year, the Office of Career Advancement offered an Interview Logic Workshop facilitated by David Ohrvall which has directly impacted my professional life. The workshop is designed to help students strategically answer questions using an established “Answer First” framework. Structured thinking and communication is crucial when you have a limited amount of time to deliver an impactful, memorable idea. Now when I speak with leaders at my company, I know how to answer their questions in a way that shows them exactly who I am and how I bring value to the company. Learning about a concept on Saturday and then immediately applying it to my career really helps drive the concept home, while at the same time making me a stronger asset at work.
Perspective as a Hispanic student: Before I even enrolled in the program, I attended an admissions event on campus where I met Edgardo Jimenez, WG’20. Seeing someone who looked like me that was successful and thriving in the program really sealed the deal for me. I realized that I could do this, too. Now that I’m in the program, I’ve seen for myself how Wharton fosters an environment in which all students feel seen and heard. I can offer unique and valuable contributions to class discussions as a Hispanic student that not everyone else can. For example, in one class we were discussing pay day loans, which are small-dollar loans often characterized by high interest rates. I’ve seen the impact of these types of loans first-hand because they disproportionately affect low-income and minority populations. Not only are they a bad practice but they perpetuate the racial wealth gap, and I helped deepen my classmates’ understanding of this topic.
— Kendra King
Posted: September 16, 2022