Author’s note: This article is adapted from my book, Network Beyond Bias.
I just returned from the Reaching Out MBA (ROMBA) conference. It was an incredible event, and so valuable for me. If you were in any way affiliated with this conference, or if you have ever included someone who felt they didn’t belong, thank you.
My Humble (and Uninformed) Beginnings
I grew up in Southern Indiana. The only people I knew with college degrees were my teachers and my doctor. Even as I was graduating from high school, I had no idea what options were available to me in college. I literally thought business school was where people went to learn to type. I never even considered it as an option.
My first undergrad degree was in Criminal Justice with minors in Sociology and Spanish (and one credit shy of an African American Studies major). I wanted to be a civil rights attorney because I had read about the ACLU somewhere. When I found out how much law school would cost and what “pro bono” meant, I abandoned that dream and took a publishing job that paid just above minimum wage.
I quickly tired of my limited job prospects and was unsure what to do next. A coworker suggested I go back to school for Computer Science. Not knowing anything about the field other than “companies are hiring and even giving sign-on bonuses,” I registered for classes and completed my second Bachelor’s degree. Over time, my understanding of business school evolved, but only very slightly.
I have worked in IT and the insurance industry for a combined 17 years. I recently decided that the best way to expand my horizons would be to pursue my MBA. Without a formal business education, I began to feel I lacked not only the competency, but even the vocabulary, to move forward in my career. My first class at SNHU started in September, and I can’t believe how much I have to learn.
What Wowed Me about ROMBA
I spent three and a half days with people who understand the opportunities available in the world. It was eye-opening. I heard from people who are using their MBAs and business connections to make positive changes in the world. They’re not just here to make money. While I may be late to the party, I am so glad to finally begin to understand where I can go from here. And I am empowered by seeing smart, relatable people I admire.
You have no idea what it means for a little girl from Southern Indiana to hear from people like these.
Martine Rothblatt – Lunch Interview
United Therapeutics CEO Martine Rothblatt, who not only invented satellite radio, but then researched, developed, and launched a new drug that has already saved the lives of 32,000 children, including her own daughter
Michaela Mendelsohn – Panel Participant
Pollo West CEO Michaela Mendelsohn, who founded TransCanWork.org, a nonprofit to help Fortune 100 companies hire trans women and help them escape extreme poverty
Amit Paley – Short-form Talk
Former McKinsey consultant and ROMBA alumnus Amit Paley, who now heads The Trevor Project, which is daily saving the lives of suicidal and at-risk LGBTQ+ youth across the country
Emily Miller – Short-form Talk
Rumi Spice co-founder and ROMBA alumnus Emily Miller, who bridged the gap between her military service and international MBA program to help curb the production of opium and provide lucrative distribution channels for saffron farmers in Afghanistan
JD Schramm – Educational Session
Stanford Graduate Business School professor JD Schramm, who thanked me for my engagement in his amazing session on executive presence, and who looked me in the eye and made me feel like I belonged in the company of these amazing people
Literally, Everyone Else That Attended
At least 1,795 other presenters, sponsors, professionals, students, and other attendees. Everyone truly brought their A-game with honesty, compassion, insight, questions, experiences, handshakes, and (in some cases at least) business cards.
Anderson Cooper – Gala Keynote Speech
My own brush with fame was offering Anderson Cooper a glass of water during the ROMBA Gala keynote address. It was a moment I’m sure he’ll never forget.
I am humbled and honored to have had this experience. Thank you for this amazing opportunity. I’ll be working to find or create an LGBTQ+ MBA group at SNHU. I am now inspired to leave a legacy of my own!
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