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Real Humans of Washington University Olin’s MBA Class of 2022

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Antonio Rivera, Olin MBA Class of 2022

Age: 28
Hometown: Guaynabo, Puerto Rico
Undergraduate Institution and Major: American University in Washington DC, International Studies & Economics
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 6 years; Venture Capital & Entrepreneurship

Why business school? Why now? 
Through my life experiences and the support of my mentors, I have learned to overcome challenging circumstances to reach my goals. The combination of my personal values, my passion for impact investing, and my experiences working with innovative companies cemented my desire to pursue my MBA. My ultimate goal is to help develop innovative business models and companies, especially for historically underrepresented and socioeconomically disadvantaged communities.

My desire to better serve the entrepreneurial community in Puerto Rico (PR) also influenced my decision to obtain an MBA. In my last position, I had the privilege to manage Puerto Rico’s first seed fund (IDEA Seed Fund) and first Angel Network (Aurora Angel Network). Despite the passing of Hurricane Maria, political turmoil, and earthquakes during the last 3 years, we were able to successfully deploy over $1M to 11 early-stage companies. However, after three years I felt I could do more for the startup companies if I only had the tools, connections, and knowledge that an MBA provides. That’s when I realized that this was the ideal moment to pursue my MBA.

Why Olin? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
At Olin, I knew that I would be among classmates, faculty, and administration focused not only on optimizing business results but also committed to promoting the values of diversity, integrity, and collaboration. Another pillar at Olin is discussing business problems through a data-driven and value-based lens, and the importance of utilizing both frameworks to drive business decisions in today’s interconnected world. By choosing Olin, I realized that I would not be alone in the pursuit of my moral imperative to help others through my work and example. Last but not least, I wanted to experience living in St. Louis’ growing and distinct entrepreneurial ecosystem.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2022?
I have definitely contributed many memes in the class WhatsApp group chat. Seriously though, I believe that my best contribution to the class is my ability to work effectively and push through solutions under situations of high stress and uncertainty. Professionally, I have been thrown into situations where my supervisor asked me to represent him at a convention in Mexico and give a presentation to 30 individuals, then to realize that it was an audience of 300 individuals. He was off by a “0”.

I am also a burn survivor. Due to an undesirable accident, I suffered second and third-degree burns in over 25% of my body. My doctors and therapists estimated a full year would be required for me to be able to write and walk again. I went from being on an artificial ventilator to walking with a cane and back to work in 6 months. These experiences have put both my mental and physical abilities through extreme stress and pain. As a result, I have simply developed the ability to remain relaxed, yet incredibly resilient, especially in moments of high stress.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application?
I consider myself an introvert and a shy person, but if I want to become a successful business leader, I need to learn to overcome uncomfortable situations. Hence, for the last couple of years, I’ve decided to pick new hobbies or learn new things to get me out of my comfort zone. In 2019 I learned to longboard and took Salsa classes so I could dance properly. This year I’ve decided to pick up steel mace training and have been recording my progress.

Post-MBA career interests?
Post-MBA I hope to enter a general management or leadership development role that exposes me to strategic innovation and operations. Professionally, I want to become a leader that is able to see the big picture but also understand the mechanics and basic economics of a business. Lastly, it is important to me that the organization I join has an inclusive, cooperative, and growth-oriented culture.

Advice to current prospective applicants:
–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?

The essays, I know these are painful for many people and they were for me too. But the process of crafting the ideal answer for each question was very introspective and helped me understand myself even more. When you think about it, the essays are really the first human aspect of your application that admission officials receive. Making sure those words contain your essence as a person is difficult but important and necessary.

–One thing you would change or do differently?
My approach to the standardized test. It’s definitely cliché to say, especially when you are already in business school, but the standardized test is just one part of your entire application. I insisted that a good score had to be an above-average score. I ended up with an average score and definitely stressed too much about it. In the end, really, it’s just a test. Communicate with your graduate recruiters and with current students to ask them what strategies they recommend or what are the expectations of a prospective student. You would be surprised how far you can get by simply asking questions directly and politely. Just study for it, do your best, and make sure that your entire application shines.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
The waiting processes. Honestly, 2020 has been a pretty nerve-wracking year in general, so I was pleasantly surprised when a current Olin student gave me a call to tell me I had been accepted. What helped me get through it honestly was the fact that I did the best application possible. I felt proud of my application. I had done the work and submitted it, which is the toughest part.

What is your initial impression of Olin’s students/culture/community?
I was surprised by how warm, accommodating, and friendly everyone was. I must say that the administration went above and beyond with the COVID-19 precautions also. I have been taking both virtual and in-person classes with masks and social distancing measures. The faculty has made sure we receive the same or more academic instruction despite the pandemic.

One thing you have learned about Olin that has surprised you?
Despite the entire class coming from many different academic, professional, and personal backgrounds, I was surprised how quickly we became close and everyone was willing to help each other.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
Imposter syndrome is very real. When applying to top MBA programs you always have that little voice in the back of your head saying that you might not be good enough. Once you are there though, you quickly realize everyone else is also a person with their own strengths and weaknesses. Everyone is here to learn.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Honestly, getting to know my classmates and explore as many opportunities as possible. COVID-19 makes this a bit more difficult, but I am willing to get creative and rise to the challenge.

Christina Griffith
Christina Griffith is a writer and editor based in Philadelphia. She specializes in covering education, science, and history, and has experience in research and interviews, magazine content, and web content writing.