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 Jessica Bixby, a student at MIT Sloan and Harvard Kennedy School of Government.
Accepted: We’d like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?
Jessica: I grew up in Oakland, CA. I completed my undergraduate degree at the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA), studying International Development Studies and Public Policy.
Accepted: Can you share 3 fun facts about yourself?
1. I played in the National Women’s Softball Championships in Nicaragua.
2. My life goal is to see a narwhal.
3. I was a terrible biker before business school, and decided to conquer my fear as part of my graduate studies.
Accepted: Can you tell us about the joint program you’re in? How does it work and why did you decide to pursue this dual degree?
Jessica: I am pursuing a concurrent degree with the Harvard Kennedy School and the MIT Sloan School of Management. Through Harvard Kennedy, I will receive a Master in Public Administration and an MBA degree through MIT Sloan. Harvard Kennedy offers the concurrent option with five partner institutions – MIT Sloan, Harvard Business School, Stanford GSB, Tuck and Wharton. We study at our MBA school for 3 semesters and Harvard Kennedy for 3 semesters. However, due to the proximity of MIT Sloan and Harvard (~2 miles) I have taken classes at MIT while I have been in official residence at Harvard.
I chose to pursue the concurrent degree because of my strong interest in public policy. Furthermore, the addition of a policy degree allows me to better understand the interactions of business and policy and learn how to encourage meaningful actions by the private sector to induce public good (through social enterprise, non-profits or governments). I have found the Kennedy degree to be a strong complement and supplement to my MBA experience. Moreover, I have the chance to meet students from the policy school but also other business and law schools, thereby making the experience even richer.
Accepted: What year are you at MIT Sloan/Harvard Kennedy? How would you say you are a good fit at these programs?
Jessica: I’m in my second of three years – class of 2017. I began at Sloan and am now spending a year at Harvard Kennedy. I chose the MIT Management Program for the people and the encouragement I received from current students to apply. When deciding to apply to business school I was a Peace Corps Volunteer living in rural Nicaragua, I had a cell phone, but no internet access. I reached out to a few students at Sloan asking about the program who then called me on their own dime. These were people who had never met me, but took the time to tell me about their experience and why they loved Sloan. I learned how much people valued their experience at MIT and how great a community of students I could be a part of; I chose to apply. Almost two years later, my experience at MIT has provided the assumptions I made in Nicaragua to be true.
Accepted: What is your favorite thing about that program? Is there anything you’d change about the program?
Jessica: At present, our country is having many conversations about the importance of diversity. My MBA has been a case study in the importance of diversity in experience and background contributing to a better whole. After graduating, I will sorely miss sitting in a classroom (or group study room) with individuals from Colombia, Pakistan, Singapore and Oklahoma and hearing their perspectives. Sloan makes these experiences rewarding by bringing together a truly collaborative student body. This extends to the teaching faculty as well; I have been a teaching assistant and joined a research study for two female faculty members.
With flexibility, comes the need for self-discipline. Sloan offers a one-semester core and with a dual-degree at Harvard, I have wide access to courses across two institutions. Outside of the classroom, MIT offers countless extracurricular activities (scholastic, career-oriented and otherwise) to choose from thereby leaving students with the challenge of navigating and defining the experience for themselves. If I could re-chart my experience, I would focus on a few skills and topic areas I wanted to get out of the MBA and ensure that I dove deep in those areas.
Accepted: Looking back at the b-school admissions process, what would you say was your greatest challenge? How did you overcome that challenge and how would you advise others who may be facing similar hurdles?
Jessica: Questioning if this was the right time for me to go to business school was an internal debate when I applied. I didn’t know if I should get more years and more diverse work experience before applying to business school. In hindsight, I can’t be sure if more experience would have been beneficial, but I am positive that the decision to apply to the MBA was highly beneficial and I have absolutely no regrets. I am confident that the MBA experience has been a huge catalyst for pushing me up the learning curve, for professional development and my career.
Accepted: What are some of your most rewarding extracurricular activities? How have those activities helped shape your career?
Jessica: I am extremely grateful for my Peace Corps experience and the chance to be part of a different resource and cultural reality before jumping into the business school and private sector landscape. At times during my MBA, I worried that my experience placed me at a disadvantage to many of my peers; however, the lessons learned during that time (e.g. empathy, flexibility, cultural competence) are imperatives that must be experienced and not taught.
This has led me to pursue the Harvard Kennedy School dual-degree and continues to remind me of the great challenge we face today as a nation – growing inequality – and how that can best be addressed at a system level.
Accepted: Is there anything else you’d like to share?
Jessica: I have been in a leadership role for Sloan Women in Management (SWIM) and am fortunate enough to speak with women considering applying to business school. Reflecting on my own experience, I believe the most useful advice I can give is “business school is your own experience and what you make of it.” With the academic, extracurricular group, career and social options available – the focus and balance of each individual is different. Accepting that your priorities and experience will look different from your other classmates is a great thing to recognize and accept early on.
You can find out more about Jessica by checking out her LinkedIn profile. Thank you Jessica for sharing your story with us – we wish you loads of luck!
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