Born in California, but raised in Colombia, Ann Marie Steffa decided to return to the US to pursue her MBA after 5 years in the nonprofit sector. She spoke with The MBA Tour about her Unconventional MBA experience. Read part one of our conversation with Ann Marie!
ANN MARIE STEFFA
Full-Time MBA '16: The Paul Merage School of Business, University of California, Irvine
Career: Soon to be Leadership Development Program Fellow at Niagara Bottling
WHY AN MBA?
Q: Why did you decide to pursue your MBA? What did you hope to get out of the experience?
A: After working for 5 years in the nonprofit sector, learning and growing professionally, I was ready to refresh my academic knowledge and initiate new challenges. Born and raised in California, I moved to Colombia, South America at age six, where I lived 24 years, and it always my dream to return to California to study, work, and live. And I am happy to share that my MBA has served my two purposes: to return to the US and begin a new profession. Getting an MBA seemed like the best way to adjust to a different surrounding, build a professional network, and continue my professional growth.
My hopes for my MBA were to update my knowledge on US and world business and technological trends, improve my people and team management skills, and step outside of my comfort zone by taking a course such as business law that will without a doubt be useful to advance my career. I also wanted to meet individuals with similar professional interests and dreams, so that together we could help each other grow.
CHOOSING A SCHOOL
Q: When choosing a program, what did you look for? How did you arrive at your decision?
A: There were two elements most relevant when I was looking for an MBA program. First, it was important to find a program that would help me achieve my goals to succeed professionally in the US. Second, I wanted to find a school that would offer me a personalized experience, where the program staff and professors would make it a priority to get to know their students and seek to create a long-lasting MBA community. To achieve my first professional goal, I searched for programs that had a career center or a team that would support and prepare me for my internship and a full-time job search. I read about how Merage’s Career Center offered hands-on services; and even before entering the program, the center organized career fairs and company site visits. I also found good statistics that showed most graduating students having a job or offer upon graduation, even during the recent financial crisis.
As for my second goal, I interacted with as many people as I could from Merage to understand its culture. I am a people’s person, and for this reason, I like to get to know the people that surround me; I enjoy having a sense of belonging to the organizations where I study, work, and/or live. Merage, from the first interactions via email and Skype with students, staff, and alumni, showed to have a sense of community and belonging. I am happy to say the school is now my family, especially living away from home.
APPLYING FROM ABROAD
Q: What were the challenges you faced applying internationally? How did you research programs from far away?
A: Because I applied from, South America, I depended on the information provided online and the responses from students, the admissions team, and alumni shared to my emailed questions. As I value human connections and communicating with individuals, my interest in certain programs increased when I received quick, honest, and insightful responses to my inquiries.
My advice is to define the goals for wanting to get an MBA, interacting with the school to find out if the program will help you achieve these goals, and get a feel for the culture of the school because you will be a part of that culture for the rest of your life, as it will be a large part of your professional network.
MAKING YOUR APPLICATION STANDOUT
Q: For your application, how did you position yourself?
A: I positioned myself based on my work experience in the nonprofit sector where I held 3 positions that evidenced growth in responsibilities. I also highlighted my Latino background and my clearly defined and explained my reasons for wanting to get an MBA. I shared with the admissions team how I would add value to the program through the following: Interaction via email and Skype with current students and staff, clearly stating in my application essays how my experience would add value to the program, and demonstrating leadership and commitment. I remember that in one of my essays I shared my experience of transporting a donated industrial stove to an ecotourism community, located in one of Colombia’s most areas, where the only way to reach the lodge where the community works is by boat on the Pacific Ocean’s choppy waters. Through this example, I communicated my experience and passion for working with individuals with diverse backgrounds, solving logistical problem, and achieving my goals to improve the working conditions of employees.
ADVICE FOR APPLICANTS
Q: How should candidates with non-traditional backgrounds highlight their experiences and tell their story?
A: I would suggest that candidates with non-traditional backgrounds speak with current MBA students to understand the different backgrounds that so many students have, so they know they are not alone. Then I would suggest the candidate tell a story in the application essay where he or she communicates his or her experience managing teams/ projects, working with people, and achieving goals. I highly encourage the candidate to be specific about why he or she wants to get an MBA and talk about short and long term goals, including the type of role and company he or she would like to join upon graduating.
Keep an eye out for Part Two of our conversation with Ann Marie!