CMU Tepper MBA Student Interview

Courtney Keene

Courtney Keene at Tepper's International Day celebration is continuing a blog series featuring interviews with current MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. We hope to offer you a candid picture of student life, and what you should consider as you prepare your MBA application.

Here’s a talk with Courtney Keene, a student at CMU’s Tepper and Heinz who will be working at Deloitte Consulting next year. Thank you Courtney for sharing your thoughts with us!

Accepted: First, can you tell us a little about yourself – where are you from? What and where did you study as an undergraduate and when did you graduate?

Courtney: I’m originally from Washington, D.C., but I can’t really claim it as my ‘hometown’ as I spent most of my childhood and teenage years overseas in West Africa and South East Asia due to my parents’ careers. If anywhere, I’d say my real hometown is Dakar, Senegal, where I’ve spent the most time in any single place and where my husband is from. Although I would go to D.C. and New York during summers to visit family and friends, moving to New York to attend Barnard College in 2003 was my first time actually living in the U.S. since the age of two. At Barnard, which is a small liberal arts college for women at Columbia University, I majored in Political Science and did a minor in Environmental Science. I graduated in 2007.

Accepted: Why did you decide to pursue a combined MBA/MPP? How will these degrees contribute to your career goals?

Courtney: I’m a bit of an atypical MBA candidate, although I think the path I’ve taken is becoming increasingly popular. Before coming back to school I worked in the non-profit world and focused on social innovation and international education. My overarching passion, in line with my upbringing, is the challenge of economic development in emerging markets. I decided to ‘switch sides’ so to speak to address this challenge from the private sector. I figured the best way to obtain the requisite analytical skills and experience would be to pursue an MBA while enriching my knowledge and policy skills with a Master in Public Policy and Management (MSPPM). The two programs complement each other very well and I expect the two perspectives to be useful, especially considering the growing prevalence of public and private sector collaboration in the overlapping fields of economic development and social innovation.

Accepted: Which other programs were you considering in addition to CMU? What tipped the scales to favor Tepper/Heinz?

Courtney: I applied to a short list of schools via the Consortium’s common application. My goal was to either find an MBA program that was very interdisciplinary with strong social entrepreneurship and international development programs and opportunities, or to find a university with a dual degree option with two highly ranked programs featuring these elements. Ultimately I decided on CMU’s Tepper and Heinz schools for several reasons: they are both highly ranked; Tepper has a small and quantitatively-rigorous program, which is what I was looking for; every interaction with admissions staff, students and alumni was positive; their financial aid support is outstanding; and culturally they were the best fit.

Accepted: What are some of your favorite things about living in Pittsburgh? Least favorite?

Courtney: Pittsburgh has a special energy and pride that has pleasantly surprised me since my arrival. It’s a town known for its great decline from the steel empire it once was, but it is in the process of remaking itself, which I’ve found fascinating to witness and be a part of. I’ve enjoyed learning about the economic development efforts here through my Heinz coursework as well as my volunteer internship with a local community development non-profit, GTECH. I’ve also really grown to enjoy the charm of Pittsburgh as an old post-industrial city, home of the Steelers, and a place where most people say hi on the street. Two things I won’t miss: the long waits for the bus and the unpredictable weather.

Accepted: What’s your favorite class so far?

Courtney: Last fall for my Tepper Capstone requirement I took a class called ‘Managing the Enterprises of the Future.’ The course consisted of a series of lectures by very distinguished C-Suite guest speakers and a real-life semester long consulting project with corporate clients. I had the opportunity to work with Walgreens on creating a spin-off non-profit web platform for helping corporate clients, like Walgreens, hire people with disabilities. It was an invaluable learning experience to have an actual client, a real project and an interdisciplinary team of eight to work with over a period of four months to deliver tangible results.

Accepted: Do you have a job lined up for next year? If so, what role did CMU play in helping you secure that position?

Courtney: Next fall I will start at Deloitte Consulting full-time in the Federal Practice in Washington, D.C. I had the great opportunity to intern there last summer, a position I got through CMU’s on-campus recruiting and networking. Both Tepper and Heinz were great resources in the internship search and preparation process.

Accepted: Do you have any advice for some of our applicants who will be applying to CMU’s MBA and/or MPP programs?

Courtney: I found that the application process for graduate school elicited a lot more authentic soul searching than what I remember from college application essays. This time I was sincerely asking myself ‘why do I want to do this?” and trying to answer as honestly as possible both to myself and to the schools to which I was applying. Looking back, I think this helped me a lot not only in terms of the quality of my applications, but also in the quality of my experience in both graduate programs. My words of advice: be flexible, but have some internal compass guiding your decisions.

Accepted: As someone who majored in Political Science and Environmental Studies, rather than something more “business-y” like Economics or Accounting, did you find it hard to adapt or keep up with the quant classes at first? And what about your GMAT — did you find the quant sections much more challenging than the verbal parts?

Courtney: One of the features that tipped the scales in favor of both Tepper and Heinz is their focus on quantitative analysis, a skill-set lacking from my political science liberal arts background. I found the verbal part of the GMAT pretty easy, but was intimidated by the quant section. So yes, the first semester of core classes at Tepper was pretty brutal, but it was a welcomed challenge that I sought out for myself. Fortunately, Tepper has a very supportive and collaborative culture and all of my more experienced peers were willing to help.

Accepted: What attracted you to the Consortium? How have you benefited from the program?

Courtney: I first heard about the Consortium from my aunt, who is a Consortium alumna. Once I knew about it, the value proposition was a no-brainer. It’s an organization with a mission to increase diversity in MBA programs and the business world in general, a mission that aligns well with my own values and goals. I’ve benefited from my affiliation with the Consortium in so many ways: I saved money applying to schools via the common application; I’ve saved a lot of money attending business school due to the Consortium’s financial support; I networked and interviewed with companies at the Consortium’s Orientation Program in June before even beginning my program; I bonded with a network of fellow Consortium students at school; I’ve taken advantage of the extensive alumni network; and I’ve gained on-campus leadership experience as a Tepper Consortium Liaison. ~ Helping You Write Your Best

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