This interview is the latest in an Accepted blog series featuring interviews with MBA students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top MBA programs. And now for a chat with Sonie Guseh a Columbia Business School….
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Sonie: I grew up in Durham, North Carolina, and attended the University of Pennsylvania for college. There, I majored in English, with a concentration in Journalism, and minored in Hispanic Studies, which was essentially a Spanish language and literature focus.
Accepted: Can you share three fun facts about yourself?
1. My family is from Liberia in West Africa.
2. My first job was at Claire’s Accessories in the local mall, where I was an ear piercing specialist.
3. I was almost a state champion in high school track and field – close, but not quite. I came close in a couple of events, but never quite made it happen! But I still love running to this day.
Accepted: Where are you currently in b-school? What year?
Sonie:I just graduated from Columbia Business School in May 2016.
Accepted: Why did you choose Columbia? How were you a good fit?
Sonie: I chose Columbia for two main reasons – first, I knew that from a career perspective, I wanted to work in the media industry and that New York is considered to be a media capital of the world, with the headquarters of many prominent media companies housed right here. I knew that from a recruiting standpoint, it would be extremely advantageous to be able to set up regular meetings throughout the week with professionals in my target industry. I also knew that the Media & Technology program at CBS brought industry executives to campus, so I would be able to interact with media professionals more easily as a student at CBS.
I also chose Columbia because of its core curriculum. Part of why I applied to business school was because I wanted the rigor that came with a mandatory set of courses that would ensure I learned and was exposed to a wide array of general management subjects and principles, from strategy to corporate finance to accounting to operations. The friends I made in my cluster, with whom I took all of my core classes, were so instrumental in the experience. Learning together was fun and challenging, and turned us into a family – there’s nothing like the professor asking a question about a particular industry and everyone knowing exactly who in the cluster came from that field who would be best positioned to reflect on the question. I loved that level of familiarity that came with the core experience.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about Columbia Business School? Is there anything you’d change?
Sonie: Coming into business school, I underestimated the value of traveling as part of the educational experience, but participating in three school trips that have taught me about doing business around the world – in Italy, Argentina, and the United Arab Emirates, in particular – has been incredibly rewarding. These school offerings have enabled me to learn more about the particular norms and customs of doing business in these regions, as well as the unique strengths and challenges in those geographical areas as part of the global economy. For instance, in Argentina, our group visited la Casa Rosada, the Argentine equivalent of the White House, where we met with the Chief of Staff of the newly minted Macri administration. Hearing from businesses and government officials there during such a pivotal time for the country was incredible, and felt as if we were observing live what would one day be written about in history books.
Accepted: How did you decide to focus on media, strategy, and marketing? What about it appeals to you the most? We would love to hear a bit about working for ABC Eyewitness News and Interning at HBO.
Sonie: In high school, I realized I loved writing and news and wanted to become a journalist, so just before college, I started a four-summer internship program through the Emma Bowen Foundation at WTVD-TV/ABC 11 Eyewitness News in my hometown of Durham, North Carolina. The four-summer experience taught me the ins and outs of the local news business, from production to reporting and more.
After college, I pursued a slightly different path from what I’d originally intended. I landed in an advertising sales role at Google, which taught me a lot about the digital marketing world. From there, I worked at a public relations agency as a communications consultant. What was consistent about my two roles before school was that I was in the broader media world, and I was interested in working at a television network again in a more corporate role. During school, I interned at HBO in its Digital Distribution and Partner Marketing group, and also worked at Condé Nast as a Digital Strategy Fellow. Those two roles were great ways for me to learn what it’s like to work in marketing and strategy roles at top media companies, which I think will be great preparation for my next role at Comcast/NBCUniversal, and for a career in media.
Accepted: Looking back at the application process, what would you say was your greatest challenge? How would you advise other applicants who may be experiencing similar challenges?
Sonie: To be honest, when I was applying to business school, I wasn’t 100% sure that the MBA was for me. I considered marketing and communications programs, and ultimately realized that the MBA would be the best way for me to achieve my long-term goals. But I knew that with my major in English and my experience in more creative aspects of my industry, it would be challenging to show that I could tackle the quantitative aspects of the curriculum. As a result, I looked for ways to demonstrate my business acumen in my past roles and in my spare time through side courses and reading on my own.
I would encourage applicants to get to know the strengths and weaknesses in their applications and own them – be self-aware and look for ways to mitigate or combat areas of development. Ultimately, with lots of hard work, I actually performed well enough to tutor in business analytics, a subject I knew very little about in my life before school, so I was very proud of that accomplishment and progress. But I felt it was important to be able to show that I could handle the curriculum in my application, since I was coming from a more non-traditional background.
Accepted: What are some of your most rewarding extracurricular activities (if any)? How have those activities helped shape your career?
Sonie: I’ve been fortunate enough to have taken on quite a few leadership roles during business school. I served as president of the Hermes Society of admissions ambassadors, co-VP of Speakers for the Media Management Association, and VP of Alumni Relations for the Black Business Students Association. I also was a teaching assistant and did some international consulting work, but perhaps what was most rewarding to me was being a Career Fellow, a career advisor to my peers. I primarily met with students interested in the media world, but the role enabled me to lead meetings and workshops about general career management, pertinent across all industries. It helped me to develop leadership and public speaking skills, but also helped me meet and connect with dozens of students, which I really enjoyed. It was immensely rewarding to see students I had worked with land wonderful summer internships and full-time jobs in their target industries, and I was proud to have been a small component of their career development process.
Thank you Sonie for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!
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