Learn how real students and recent grads have navigated their way through the business school admissions process and b-school itself with our What is Business School Really Like? series.
Meet Harmonie, a second-year MBA student with a background in engineering, future career aspirations in the field of healthcare, and a passion for promoting women and underrepresented groups in business and STEM professions.
Harmonie, thank you for sharing your story with us!
Your undergraduate degree is in industrial engineering. What prompted you to pursue an MBA?
Harmonie: I chose industrial engineering because I was torn between my interests in both math and business, and the degree was a great way to satisfy both interests while at the same time providing a diverse set of postgraduate options, as the degree is very industry and even function agnostic.
After my junior year, I interned at Goldman Sachs. It was during this summer that my eyes were opened to a number of different career opportunities that aren’t traditionally taken by engineers, and I was also introduced to the Forte Foundation. A couple of years into my career, I realized that I really enjoyed working with and leading teams of people and an MBA could help me round out some of the leadership skills that I would need to progress in an organization.
I also wanted to learn more about other industries surrounding entrepreneurship, such as venture capital. After filing the Forte newsletters away for a long time, I decided to finally apply for the Forte MBALaunch Program, and the rest is history!
Can you tell us about your experience as a member of the executive council of the Society of Women Engineers? What are the society’s goals, and what did you personally hope to achieve as a council member?
Harmonie: It’s actually a funny story how I initially got involved. As a freshman pursuing engineering, we were required to go to a general body meeting for one of the engineering societies as part of the Introduction to Engineering course. The meeting that I ended up joining was not just any Society of Women Engineers (SWE) meeting, but the one in which elections for the incoming leaders were being held. There were six open positions, and the last one, Inter-Club Council (ICC) Representative, was uncontested, so I decided to raise my hand and volunteer for the role. The following year, I was the only sophomore on the leadership team (everyone else was either a junior or a senior). I ended up learning so much from the upperclassmen about how to effectively run a student organization, and I had the opportunity to interface with all of the other ICC Representatives from other clubs on campus.
The mission of Society of Women Engineers is to empower women to achieve full potential in careers as engineers and leaders, expand the image of the engineering and technology professions as a positive force in improving the quality of life, and demonstrate the value of diversity and inclusion. Over the course of the year, we held various professional development events and also conducted outreach with younger females to inspire them to pursue degrees in STEM. I also had the opportunity to attend the International SWE Conference, where I landed my first internship at Toyota. I ended up serving as President of the student SWE organization during both my sophomore and junior years.
Upon graduating, I sent an email to the San Diego Professional Section with an interest in getting involved. I was thrown directly into the role of Member Services Director where I was responsible for all social and developmental events for the 300 female engineer strong organization. It was after that year that I was elected to the Executive Council, and I served as the Vice President for two years.
During my time on the Executive Council of the San Diego Professional Section of SWE, I had the opportunity to better understand the challenges that females face while progressing in organizations, and it was empowering to be able to provide resources and developmental opportunities to engineers at all stages of their career. I also continued to mentor younger females via various outreach events.
It was my experience at SWE that inspired me to pursue leadership opportunities with Carolina Women in Business. There are many parallels and common goals between SWE and CWIB despite the difference in career focus amongst members.
How did you determine which business schools to apply to? What excited you about Kenan-Flagler’s MBA program?
Harmonie: The Forte MBALaunch Program was an incredible opportunity that helped me with all aspects of the application process, including school selection. I attended MBA fairs, including the Forte Forum in Los Angeles. The MBALaunch webinars and access to current students and alumni across the Forte partner schools provided great insights that helped me start to differentiate schools based on culture, course offerings, and other factors.
Beyond that, I knew that I wanted to hopefully go somewhere new and the decision of schools was also a team decision. My husband had also made the decision to pursue business school. The Healthcare Concentration was what initially drew me to UNC Kenan-Flagler. Upon visiting, I really felt the close-knit community right away. The students were so welcoming during the tour, lunch, and class visit. I even kept in touch with my tour guide and a couple of students that I had lunch with. For my husband who was looking to pursue investment banking, Kenan-Flagler was also a great fit due to their high banking placements and alumni network.
So you and your husband both applied to Kenan-Flagler? How did having a spouse going through the MBA application process at the same time you were help or complicate the process for you?
Harmonie: Yes, we did! We applied to mostly the same schools. Having a significant other going through the MBA application process was incredibly helpful. We kept each other motivated during GMAT prep and applications, and we served as each other’s second pair of eyes. We also went through the process of evaluating schools together prior to applying, so it was definitely one more element that went into the application process since we wanted to ensure that the schools we applied to were a fit for both of us. I will say that even after we were both fortunate enough to get into UNC Kenan-Flagler, many other parts of the b-school experience have been a puzzle, including the challenge of trying to land internships/full-time offers in the same city.
Did you experience any bumps along the road to MBA admission? How did you identify and deal with the issues?
Harmonie: Absolutely! First off, the whole process is just so time-intensive and frankly exhausting. I was often working 50 or 60 hour weeks, planning a wedding, trying to stay healthy, traveling internationally AND working through GMAT/application prep all at the same time. Something had to give each week, and unfortunately that was typically social life. It was extremely hard turning down happy hour with friends and coworkers, especially when I felt like I really deserved it. My husband and I even brought our GMAT prep books on our honeymoon (although I can’t say we were too disciplined with studying during that time…but we definitely tried).
As with many prospective MBA students, I also dealt with the struggle of not being 100% happy with my GMAT score and dealing with rejection at the application stage. At the end of the day, I determined that all I could do was try my hardest and allow my passions and intentions to shine through in my application, and the rest would play out how it was supposed to.
Congratulations on being selected as a Consortium fellow! Can you share a bit about the Consortium, it’s mission, and what it means to be a fellow?
Harmonie: Thank you! I’m really honored to be a part of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management. It’s an amazing organization that provides phenomenal opportunities and resources for underrepresented minorities and allies pursuing careers in business and leadership. The mission of CGSM is to enhance diversity and inclusion in global business education and leadership by striving to reduce the underrepresentation of African Americans, Hispanic Americans, and Native Americans in member schools and management.
As a fellow, I feel like I have had the opportunity to further develop myself as an ally for underrepresented groups and am well-equipped to further serve the mission during my remaining time at Kenan-Flagler and once I enter back into the workforce.
As someone who worked for several years after undergrad, was it difficult to return to life as a student? Any tips for balancing school and personal life?
Harmonie: It definitely was a bit difficult to switch gears back to student life, especially because I didn’t give myself much time between ending work and starting the program. If possible, my advice to incoming MBAs is to take some time off prior to starting class!
In terms of balancing school and personal life, my key recommendation would be to learn very quickly how to say no, figure out what works for you to effectively manage time, and when possible, leave some time to do what you enjoy. For me, my current non-negotiables are to allocate time for riding my (new!) Peloton bike during the week and playing tennis on the weekends. When possible, I also try to mix school and personal life to maximize my time. For example, some of the members of my Carolina Women in Business Board are also some of my best friends here, and I’ve tried to get off campus to have meetings over wine or food when possible!
What do you wish you had known about your MBA program before starting out?
Harmonie: That’s a great question… I think perhaps I wish I had known how supportive and willing the faculty were to get involved with student organizations. It’s easy to assume that outside of class, their only focus is research. However, we’ve integrated faculty more recently (as part of Carolina Women in Business) into small group dinners with students, into Lean In Circles, and they will also be helping with our annual CWIB Leadership Conference.
What extracurricular activities are you currently involved in, on or off campus?
Harmonie: My main extracurricular as a 2Y is my role as President of Carolina Women in Business. I’m also a first-year Career Mentor for Technology/Healthcare and a Dean’s Fellows Connections Committee Chair. I recently joined a Forte Student Leadership Steering Committee with other Women in Business and Men as Allies leaders at other Forte sponsor schools. I’m an active member of the Ambassadors Club (with a key role as a Digital Ambassador, so prospective students can reach out to chat about Kenan-Flagler), Healthcare Club, and the Entrepreneurship & Venture Capital Club.
Can you share a bit about your recent experience as a summer intern at Google? What did a typical day look like?
Harmonie: I was an MBA Intern in Google’s gTech Global Customer Care team in New York City. I worked on the 4th floor right above the Chelsea Market building – what a fun location! My key project over the summer was focused around conducting research and making recommendations to optimize one of the main workflows between Google’s Sales and Support teams. The project itself involved many stakeholders across different organizations, and so there really wasn’t a typical day. The project required me to be a self-starter and I definitely enjoyed/embraced the challenge. Additionally, I had a fantastic manager and team that supported me along the way… they were just great/fun people to work with!
Some of my other highlights during my summer at Google were joining the Bubble Tea Club, siting in the second row of a Google Talk on Sea Wall/A Life (with Jake Gyllenhaal), and reviewing veteran resumes during a Google Serve event!
On the weekends, you could find me trying all of the food and roaming around on the Citi bikes!
What is the process for applying to internships? How does Kenan-Flagler support students who are going through this process?
Harmonie: The internship application process can vary greatly depending on the company and also whether you’re participating in on vs. off-campus recruiting (or a combination of both). I had the opportunity to attend Consortium’s Orientation Program (OP), and ended up interviewing with several companies in June (before I even started my first year of b-school). Forte, ROMBA, NBMBAA, and the MBA Veterans Network also provide early recruiting opportunities with companies prior to the regular on-campus recruiting process.
Through the fall semester, I took the opportunity to attend company presentations and network with recruiters/alumni to learn more about different opportunities before deciding to accept my offer with Google!
I understand your goal is to combine healthcare, technology, and business in your future career. What do you find attractive about these fields? How do you hope to integrate them?
Harmonie: I found a true affinity for healthcare while working in biotechnology (and genomics specifically) prior to school. I think it’s so important that everyone has access to affordable and high-quality healthcare, regardless of socioeconomic or other factors.
After getting my whole genome sequenced while working at Illumina, one of my significant findings was that I have a predisposition for colorectal cancer based on my genetics (which isn’t surprising, as my grandma had colon cancer in her 70s). Having this information is so valuable, because now I know that I should be screened earlier and more frequently than others.
I know we are far way away from it, but I think technology companies and business leaders are a huge part of the equation for society to get closer to more proactive and precision medicine. I look forward to working my way into a healthcare-related/focused role in technology and eventually finding an opportunity to get intimately involved in healthcare product or service innovation.
Do you have questions for Harmonie? Questions for us? Do you want to be featured in our next What is Business School Really Like? post? Know someone else who you’d love to see featured? Are there questions you’d like us to ask our students in this series? LET US KNOW!
You can learn more about Harmonie by connecting with her on LinkedIn.
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• Fitting In and Standing Out: The Paradox at the Heart of Admissions, a free guide
• How Forté Helps Women Get into Business and Stay in Business, a podcast episode
• UNC Kenan-Flagler MBA Essay Tips & Deadlines [2019 – 2020]