2021 MBAs To Watch: Gabriela Arismendi, University of Chicago (Booth) – Poets&Quants

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“Bilingual, bicultural leader making social impact through relationship building, creative problem-solving, and data-driven continuous improvement.”

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Fun fact about yourself: I have traveled to at least one new country each year for the past 10 years.  I hope to continue to do this for as long as I can!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • BA in Teaching of English (in Secondary Schools) from the University of Illinois at Chicago
  • AM/MSW from the University of Chicago Crown Family School of Social Work, Policy, and Practice

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Chicago Public Schools as a Data Strategist

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? N/A

Where will you be working after graduation? Chicago Public Schools.  I am actually currently awaiting a formal offer letter for a new position.  If necessary, I can provide an update in the near future.

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Neubauer Family Foundation Civic Scholars – Fellow
  • Dean’s Honor List
  • Student Advisory Council – Founding DEI Board Member
  • Coalition of Minorities in Business – Co-Chair
  • Dean’s Diversity Advisory Council – Student Representative
  • Booth Social Impact Nonprofit Consulting – Student consultant for five projects
  • Polsky Small Business Growth Program – Team Lead for two projects
  • Group Philanthropy Initiative – Due Diligence Committee Member
  • Social Entrepreneurship and Innovation (Booth course for undergraduate students) – Teaching Assistant
  • Clinton Global Initiative University – UChicago Representative
  • Net Impact – Racial Equity Fellow
  • LAUNCH – Mentor and Diversity Lunch presenter
  • Booth Student Ambassador

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Last year, I volunteered to lead the University of Chicago’s campus-wide Latinx Heritage Month (LHM) Planning Committee. I brought together a committee of staff, students, and alumni from 13 different schools and departments across the University. My leadership role included: developing and managing sub-committees, grant management, budget management, and creating an informational website and campus-wide calendar. While it was quite a bit of work to manage all of this, the results were well worth it. As a group, we were able leverage and combine funds from multiple sources to provide a comprehensive offering of Latinx Heritage Month programming, including: poetry, politics, music, film, and networking.  We were able to bring together people from across the campus – who would normally not have a chance to come together – and engage individuals from outside the University community, as well.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Out of college, my first professional role was working at a community based organization. My role was helping high school juniors and seniors develop and implement post-secondary plans.  Our organization was committed to providing these services for students facing challenges such as low-income, first-generation going to college, and being immigrants or undocumented.  The achievement that I am most proud of is, over time, having been able to see these young people grow up, go to and graduate from college, become young professionals or enter graduate school, and just generally live great, productive, happy lives.

Why did you choose this business school? The main reason why I chose Booth was because I knew that it would allow me to meet and work with a broad range of new people. I know how important it is to build relationships. At Booth, you have opportunities to interact with students from the Evening, Weekend, Full Time, and Executive programs.  People from different backgrounds and industries come from all over the country and the world to be at Booth.  Alumni are also regularly engaged back into the Booth community and are eager to keep connecting with current students, as well. This has been an invaluable part of coming to Booth.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Most classes at Booth require some amount of group work. It’s easy, then, to split up the work based on individual strengths, and then as a whole group, submit a strong assignment. If I could go back, I would try to challenge myself to take on parts of the work (such as financial modeling) that might have taken me longer to do, but through which I would have learned more earlier on.

What is the biggest myth about your school?  I think the general belief about Booth is that it is very quant heavy school. While there are definitely lots of quantitatively-focused classes to take while at Booth, there are also numerous great classes that help students develop their leadership and some of the “softer” skills. For example, I was able to complete a concentration in Econometrics & Statistics, and was also able to complete a concentration in Behavioral Science. At Booth, it’s not an either or – students can (and do) challenge themselves to do both.

What surprised you the most about business school? How nice people are! I thought that everyone would be super self-focused and competitive, but that’s not at all how it is. Students at Booth are kind to and generous with one another. Whenever a student needs people for surveys, focus groups, or one-on-one calls for a class or professional project, other students always step up to help. Students celebrate one another’s successes and just genuinely enjoy spending time together. It’s rare to see anyone standing quietly, alone at an event, or even in the hallway because students are so open to engaging in conversations with everyone they meet.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I embraced my diversity and was open about my strengths and areas of growth. As a woman of color from a non-business background, I am certainly not the traditional MBA candidate. However, I knew it would make no sense to try to “stretch” my history and experiences to try to fit the mold. Instead, I made it clear why I wanted to get an MBA and what I would contribute to the Booth community.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I am so happy that I had the opportunity to learn and work alongside Tim Turner during my time at Booth. While, surprisingly we never took a single class together, our paths overlapped through serving together as Coalition of Minorities in Business Co-Chairs and Student Advisory Council Board members.  Tim was able to be both a quiet and reserved student group leader, and at the same time the fun, outgoing mentor that got all of the newest Boothies to get on stage and sing karaoke during LAUNCH.  He also demonstrated his honest and vulnerable strength by writing and publishing an op-ed in the UChicago Maroon newspaper this past summer titled: “Booth, Harvard, and Racism – A personal reflection on racism and potential activism at Booth.”

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Why? From an academic perspective, most professors did a great job at transitioning over to an online environment – using break out rooms, polls, etc. as a way to actually increase the learning experience.  Having lectures recorded was also a great aspect of online instruction, as it allowed students to be able to revisit topics that they may not have mastered the first time around. For me, this was definitely the case for Big Data which relied on coding in R.

The social aspect was more difficult to replicate in the virtual environment. After spending all day on Zoom for work and school, it was tough to get students to want to spend more time sitting in front of the screen.  However, Student Life and student groups were able to find fun and creative ways for students to stay connected, such as the “Watercooler” chat on our Slack and virtually eating dinner with other students through Boothies Breaking Bread.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? When I first started working at a nonprofit organization out of college, the organization was very small and almost exclusively focused on one Chicago neighborhood. However, during my time there, I was fortunate to see the Executive Director – Juan Salgado – grow the organization from a roughly $1 million annual budget to an over $8 million annual budget. He was able to expand programming, obtain new funding, and establish key partnerships. Through this growth, he was able to greatly increase the number individuals, families, and communities being positively impacted. By witnessing the real reasons why it is so important to be able to grow and manage organizations, I saw how, like leaders in the for-profit sector, nonprofit leaders also need to be adept at skills such as: strategic planning, new product development, marketing, and financial management, among others. This is what drove me to want to pursue an MBA – to be able to bring those skills and abilities to the nonprofit and government sectors.

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

  • To be asked to speak/present at a professional conference
  • To join a nonprofit board

DON’T MISS: THE FULL LIST OF MBAS TO WATCH IN 2021