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Real Humans of the Michigan Ross MBA Class of 2023

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Melissa Gibson, Michigan Ross MBA Class of 2023

Age: 28
Hometown: Los Angeles, CA
Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Michigan, Ann Arbor; International Studies (global health emphasis), dual minors in Science, Technology, & Society and African Studies
Pre-MBA Work Experience (years, industry): 6 years across the public and private sector (UN World Food Programme – Johannesburg, South Africa; BCG – New York, NY; The Clinton Health Access Initiative – remote)

Why did you make the decision to attend business school? Why now?
I always knew I wanted to go to grad school – I love being a student and really believe in the power of higher education – but I was also considering MPP and MPH programs. After a stint in the private sector, I realized the value that foundational business skills could give me and the impact it would allow me to make in my future career. I decided that now was the time because I’d had three distinct roles in three distinct companies/organizations that allowed me to see the ins/outs of both public and private sector organizations. I wanted to take everything I’d learned and seen – the good and the bad – and put it all together against the backdrop of a core curriculum that would solidify my skillset.

Why did you choose Michigan Ross? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend?
Although I went to Michigan for undergrad, and used to live across the street from Ross (fun fact!), I really didn’t know too much about the school. When I began my general business school research, I made a list of criteria that were important to me: small-to-medium-sized class, non-city campus, impact-focused curriculum (see Ross’ Business+Impact program), emphasis on hands-on-learning to supplement case-based discussions, and the ability to create a balance between the core curriculum and electives. Ross quickly checked all these boxes, and I felt extremely supported through every step of the application and decision-making process. The conversations I had with current students and alum that really told me that coming back “home” was the right decision.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2023?
I’m driven by the desire to make an impact. Usually, that impact falls under the category of “social impact” – working to make a significant, positive change to a pressing social challenge. It’s my hope for everyone, regardless of industry/function they’re interested in, to find ways to create social impact.

Tell us a fun fact that didn’t get included on your application:
When I lived in NYC, I became friends’ “dinner concierge” by creating a database of 200+ restaurants (most of which I had been to) that allowed them to search by neighborhood, cuisine, difficulty of reservation, and price.

Advice for Current Prospective Applicants:

– What is one thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process?
You need to stay true to yourself. I had friends, and even complete strangers, ask me why I wasn’t applying to X or Y school because wasn’t that one “the best.” But that “best” wasn’t the best for me. I sometimes think of the application/admissions process like dating…both parties need to show interest, and everyone has different perceptions about what’s attractive. Would you date someone because your friend thinks they’re cute? No, right? So why would you apply – and potentially attend – a business school because someone else tells you to?

– What is one thing you would change or do differently?
This might be a “hot take,” but don’t over index on the GMAT/GRE. You are more than your test score(s) and you will not think about standardized exams as soon as you start classes. Instead, focus on your story, on why you’re getting an MBA, etc. These are the pieces of my application I’ve come back to again.

– What is one part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it?
Applying during COVID was tough. Logistically tough, to be sure, but also mentally taxing/draining. We had been in lockdown for months, we had no idea if/when vaccines might become available, and even if we got into school, we didn’t know what the academic year might look like. I really credit my family, friends, and partner to helping me stay focused and positive.

What is your initial impression of Michigan Ross’s students/culture/community?
The first couple words that come to mind are inclusive, accepting, energized, and optimistic. Coming out of prolonged COVID lockdowns, the energy and sense of optimism among the students, staff, and faculty is omnipresent. Every Tuesday and Thursday when I walk into my Statistics class, it quite literally feels as if my professor is jumping up and down in anticipation of that day’s lecture.

What is one thing you have learned about Michigan Ross that has surprised you?
A lot of schools boast about diversity, but Ross really delivers in this department. Women make up almost one half of the class and international students, from 42 countries, make up almost 30 percent. Dozens of my classmates are pursuing dual degrees in fields like medicine, public policy, and the environment/sustainability. Having worked abroad and on international teams prior to Ross, this kind of diversity is extremely important to me and is one of my core values.

Has the COVID-19 pandemic affected your personal application or admissions process in any way?
If so, how? COVID certainly made the application process more stressful since there were so many unknown variables and requirements kept changing. I feel lucky that I was familiar with the Michigan campus and broader Ann Arbor community, so I wasn’t nervous about the fact that I didn’t get an in-person visit. (This was not the case with other schools…I was quite anxious about not being able to see the campus!) I think one of the most difficult aspects of COVID was that I didn’t feel like I was using my time productively because every day was like Groundhog Day. But now looking back, it feels good to be able to say I entered COVID/quarantine a prospective business school student and left an enrolled business school student.

What is one thing you are most anxious about in your first year?
I thought I would be most anxious about accounting, but I’m actually enjoying that class. I suppose I’m most anxious about what I personally will be like at the end of my first year. I put in a lot of time and effort to make sure I’m growing personally and adding skills that will translate to my professional life. When I walk into my internship on the first day, I want to feel that change.

What is one thing you are most excited about in your first year?
Wow, there are so many things. I’m excited to re-explore Ann Arbor (it’s really such a wonderful city, even in the cold), to get started on my MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Project), and to be able to explore my academic interests both in and out of the classroom. For example, I’ve added on a certificate in Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) and am an active member in clubs focused on the food/beverage space and on promoting women in business.

Lani Panico
Lani Panico joined Clear Admit as the Content Lead in 2021. Since graduating from Albright College in Reading, PA with a BA in English & Communications (Journalism Track) in 2017, she has gained experience in various areas of content and Digital Marketing. Her specialties include content editing, copy creation, and social media management.