MBA 2022 to watch: Melanie Zook, Yale School of Management
“Former mission-driven educator with a passion for social impact, responsible business practices, and tex-mex food.”
Hometown: San Antonio, TX
Fun fact about yourself: I once interned for Plaid Cymru, the Party of Wales, and spent a semester campaigning for Welsh independence.
Undergraduate school and degree: Rice University – BA in Sociology and Political Studies
Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? EMERGE Fellowship, Human Resources and Operations Manager
Where did you do your internship during the summer of 2021? Dallas Innovation Alliance; KC digital player
Where will you work after you graduate? Bain & Company, Consultant (Washington, DC office)
Community work and leadership roles in a business school:
- 2nd year animator – Business and Politics Club (2021-2022)
- 2nd year career advisor (2021-2022)
- Creativity, Fundraising Week and Auction Chairs – SOM Internship Fund (2021)
- Research Assistant – Chief Executive Leadership Institute (2021-2022)
- Teaching Assistant – “America’s Future Role in the Global Economy” (2022)
- Winner of the National Small Business School Challenge, a business case competition involving the best MBA students with local SMEs affected by COVID-19 (2020)
- Social Impact Consultant in a SOM team advising ConnCAN, an education advocacy group, on the response to Covid-19 (2020-2021)
- Recipient of Dean’s Scholarship and Forte MBA Scholarship (2020)
What academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of while in business school? I am most proud of my work co-managing the Internship Fund, which is a great example of SOM’s mission to educate leaders for business and society. The first of its kind among business schools, the IF financially supports students doing their summer internship in the voluntary or social sector. Because these organizations are often only able to provide very limited funding, IF makes these internships financially realistic. While COVID-19 profoundly affected the IF’s normal fundraising efforts, our team was engaged and innovative, and we were still able to raise enough money to enable our classmates to pursue these opportunities. I passionately believe that MBAs should use their talents to bring about positive change in this world, and I’m proud to go to a school that invests money in this endeavor.
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Before SOM, I spent three years abroad (in Prague then in Taipei) as a teacher and school administrator. My resume lists many of the conventional “achievements” from these experiences: creating a new blended online/offline curriculum, standardizing teacher training processes, and increasing investment in education technology. . But the greatest accomplishments were always with the children. In addition to my administrative work, I taught English to elementary school students. There were so many accomplishments in those years that I still think about all the time: the struggling student I taught three days a week the day he finally passed a quiz; the shyest girl in class performing in the school play; the most energetic boy I’ve ever met, winning an award for an essay he wrote for me. I am proud to say that I helped these children in one way or another, no matter how small, and it will always be one of the brightest moments of my career.
Why did you choose this business school? An MBA was not always an obvious choice for my career, but it was clear that of all the possible MBA paths, SOM has been the obvious choice for a school. I am focused on social impact, but I also believe deeply that the solutions to our biggest problems will come from collaboration between the public, private and non-profit sectors. SOM lives at this intersection. I am surrounded by people with varied backgrounds, perspectives and passions. A common thread, however, is that we all have some sense of our responsibility to the rest of the world. No, we don’t all go into nonprofit work immediately after the MBA (myself included), but the ‘business and society’ intersection can manifest in a million different ways throughout our careers. . I believed it during the application process, and I believe it now – SOM students will have a positive impact on this world.
Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite teacher is easily Jeffrey Garten, a former Dean of SOM with extensive experience in the public and private sectors. Professor Garten teaches a course called “America’s Future Role in the Global Economy,” which I took during my freshman year and currently as a teacher. The course is incredibly relevant, as our seminars cover everything from China to cryptocurrencies to climate change. More importantly, however, Professor Garten’s commitment to his students is unmatched. Not only is he the best teacher I’ve had at SOM, but he also made himself readily available for career advice and overall support. An MBA in the time of COVID has often been strange and isolating; Professor Garten has always made me feel like I’m still part of a community.
What has been your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The annual Harvard-Yale game is a huge event across the university, but my favorite tradition is the HBS-SOM hockey game the night before (“the game before the game”). While the game was canceled my freshman year, it happened in the fall of 2021 at Yale. It was the first sporting event I had attended since the pandemic began, and I was able to cheer in the stands with all my friends and classmates. There are so many traditions my class missed, traditions we don’t even know and never will. But the hockey game held on, and so did we. We lost a ridiculous amount, and it didn’t matter – what mattered was that we were all together, cheering on our friends, celebrating that we didn’t screw it all up in the end.
Looking back on your MBA experience, what is one thing you would do differently and why? This experience happened as it did and I am grateful to him. Most of my regrets are COVID-related, and there’s nothing anyone can do about it.
What surprised you the most about business school? I’m surprised at how integrated I feel with the rest of Yale. During my application process, I knew I wanted to take advantage of other courses offered through the university, but I wasn’t sure that was realistic. This semester, I am not taking any classes at SOM. Instead, I’m in two courses at the Jackson Institute for Global Affairs, a course at Yale College in the political science department, and a course that crosses over with the Yale School of the Environment and Yale Law School. I think when people apply to business school, they tend to view it as a siled experience – all of your classes, friends, and experiences will take place within the MBA ecosystem. It was not true. So many people I know at SOM are taking classes at other Yale schools, and there are also many dual degree students who are natural gateways to other schools. I go to SOM, of course, but I also go to Yale, and it’s been amazing.
What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an advantage at your chosen school? I think the biggest advantage I had was that I had a clear idea of what I wanted from SOM. I had to have this inner clarity; Otherwise, I would not have applied. I had spent months thinking about the right next step in my career, what kind of degree I would need to get there, and what kind of program would give me the right tools. By the time I sat down and wrote my applications, this thought popped up in my essays, because it was genuine. Admissions committees can tell if you’re applying to a program because you can’t think of anything better to do. My biggest advice to future students is to know Why an MBA, why nowand why here. If you can answer these questions, your application will shine.
Which MBA classmate do you admire the most? There are so many! If I have to pick one, I’ll vote for Sarah Gannon. She is our Student Government President this year, and she has guided us through the ever-changing COVID protocols with confidence and skill. Sarah is a tireless advocate for SOM students. Without his leadership, this strange half-pandemic, half-normal year would have been much worse. I am so grateful for lovely people like Sarah who show up to be leaders even when the job is extremely difficult.
Who most influenced your decision to do business in college? One dinner changed the course of my life. It sounds dramatic, but it’s not; we can all trace certain paths to certain times. I was living in Taipei in 2018 and having dinner with a former undergraduate professor, Dr. Steven Lewis. About two hours into our dinner, I was talking to Dr. Lewis about whether I should get an MPP. He said, “Have you ever thought of an MBA?” I said, “Of course not; I’m not trying to be a banker. Dr Lewis laughed and said, “Maybe you should find out. Some schools have a social impact. The seed has been planted. A year and a half later, I applied to business school, and here we are.
What are the top two items on your professional to-do list?
- Work for the federal government
- Help a non-profit organization dramatically increase its impact
How has the pandemic changed your outlook on a career? I have much more confidence now that I can shape a career in my life, rather than the other way around. It is now much more possible to work remotely or in hybrid mode, which can help establish a better work-life balance. One of the reasons I never considered consulting, for example, was that I didn’t want to live in hotels Monday through Thursday for years. With the pandemic, this way of life is much less common. COVID-19 hasn’t been the revolution in work we thought it might be, but it has changed perspectives on what is a reasonable way to work, which has opened the door for me to explore options that fit my own needs and limitations.