From often feeling like an outsider as a first-generation student of color to feeling a sense of pride at becoming the first Latina MBA Council president-elect at the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, Evalynn Rosado has found her stride.
Having once struggled to define her own place and role, Rosado’s now on a mission to help her classmates develop a stronger connection to Ross as a place and to make memories there. “The MBAs who experienced Ross during Covid lost some traditions and didn’t get to build community on campus,” she says. “As we began to transition out of Covid, I felt like I had a lot to bring to the table to help rebuild our collective connection to place and to bring back and create new traditions within the community.”
Also a member of The Consortium and now a summer associate at global management consulting firm Kearney, Rosado has found a place and a community in which she feels she belongs. It wasn’t all by chance, but rather part of an intentional effort to carve out a place for herself, knowing all too well what it can feel like without one.
A sense of place
Her father Puerto Rican, her mother American, Rosado was raised in Seattle until the age of 12, when her family moved to a 40-acre horse farm in Oklahoma. The experience was a culture shock for Rosado, who was used to the diverse, vibrant community and the opportunities she had grown up around.
“When my family moved across the country, it might as well have been across the world with the magnitude of difference in economic and educational opportunities,” she says. “It took a lot of time to understand where I belonged and what role I had there.”
Although challenging, the experience sparked in Rosado an interest in the concept of place, the differences between places and what contributes to or helps foster a person’s sense of connection to a place. This includes factors such as education systems, job opportunities, relationships and more.
Choosing to relocate for college, she began exploring these topics and the “systems that created the differences between urban and rural, and race and access to opportunity” at Williams College in Massachusetts, where she also struggled with feelings of being an outsider. “I ended up focusing on sociology because it gave me the freedom to study the topics I didn’t understand growing up,” says Rosado.
One class in particular, which explored people’s connection to place through public art, captivated her more than others. Little did she know this would end up being the focus of her work for the next decade.
An internship at a public art nonprofit led to a job at an architecture firm that worked on a major public art museum and, eventually, an executive-level role at a nonprofit focused on creating public spaces that help build communities. As Rosado’s career has progressed, she has found herself naturally gravitating toward equity and inclusion and how they contribute to one’s sense of place.
In one of her favorite projects — and proudest achievements — to-date, Rosado worked with Atento Capital and the George Kaiser Family Foundation to launch Build in Tulsa, an initiative to catalyze Black generational wealth through entrepreneurship and tech in the city. In addition to memorializing the past, the initiative is centered on “thinking about the future, including what the community deserves and is capable of creating,” Rosado says.
“I joined the team very early on and was responsible for bringing the vision to life in time for the centennial of the Tulsa Race Massacre last summer,” she says. “I helped build the team and generate excitement and support for the accelerator programs that are now up and running in Tulsa, making capital available to both local and national Black (mostly tech) entrepreneurs.”
What makes a place
When it comes to what makes a place, Rosado uses the terms “hardware” and “software” to describe both the tangible and intangible components.
“You have the architecture, the infrastructure around you, and that functions as the hardware of a community. Whether it’s a public square or an academic building on a campus, the built environment sets the stage for what community can be,” Rosado says. “Then, on that infrastructure, you have to have the software that brings everything to life. It’s really about programming — the events, activities and touchpoints between people and the place.”
The software, she says, can be very orchestrated — like going to class — or more open-ended. “Sometimes it’s way more intangible,” says Rosado. “It’s thinking about third places: Where do people want to hang out? Where do people want to relax? How comfortable are they in a place? All of that contributes to a sense of place and belonging.”
Even more than that, though, a person’s sense of connection to a place is about the relationships they have built there and the moments they’ve made. “You’re never going to fall in love with a place just because it’s nice,” Rosado says. “You have to build memories. You have to have relationships that got stronger in that place or people who you like seeing there.”
Her focus throughout her career has been on creating the hardware that people engage with in a place, whether it’s buildings or the informal spaces where people can have those touchpoints and make those memories. With an understanding that everyone wants to be engaged in different ways, Rosado is a proponent of “placemaking” — the idea that the people who will use a space should have a say in how it is designed.
This is the focus of the New York-based nonprofit Project for Public Spaces, where Rosado first served as director of marketing and business development, and subsequently as co-executive director of strategic partnerships, before she left in 2021 to pursue her MBA. While there, she cut her teeth on placemaking, working on corporate partnerships with clients including Southwest Airlines, Claritin, GAF and others to help create or revitalize parks and public spaces across the U.S.
For all of the opportunities she was afforded and all that she learned in her role, however, Rosado felt the pull to do more in the equity space.
Beyond the software and hardware of a space, a person’s sense of inclusion and belonging in a space is largely tied to the management of that place, Rosado says.
“It’s really about the rules, the regulations and the people who are behind the scenes doing the operations of a place that make direct or indirect decisions about how people feel in a place and what equity or inclusion looks like for them,” she says.
This includes decisions like when the lights get turned on or off in a public park — and where — choices that, whether intentional or not, send a message to different groups that they are either welcome there or they’re not.
“In a public park in New York, the lights turned off around the basketball courts, when there were lights still on around the soccer fields,” says Rosado. “That’s one very concrete example of what place management means when you’re looking at equity. If you look at the folks who play soccer versus the folks who play basketball, both would love to play at night, but there’s someone behind the scenes making decisions about who should and can play at night and who isn’t welcome in those spaces.”
An ‘active player in building community’
Feeling herself as if she no longer belonged at her current organization, and that she had a lot to learn, Rosado made the decision to get her MBA.
“I really felt like I was bouncing up against a glass ceiling,” she says. “There wasn’t really any clear line of sight as to where my career was going to take me. I felt that I had reached the highest point I could, both at my work and within my sector, without an advanced degree.”
With a desire to go in a new direction, focused more on strategy and leadership, Rosado is excited to earn her MBA while helping shape the student experience for her fellow classmates as MBA Council president — not to mention, see how she shows up as a leader in different spaces.
It may have taken her years and some time apart, but Rosado has come to appreciate her time spent in Oklahoma as a child. It took a recent trip back for her to realize what her entire career up to this point has taught her: that being part of a place — for all of its good and bad — is about taking an active role in shaping that place.
“Being an adult and knowing what I know about place and community, and how to actually cultivate that, I had a completely different experience than I did growing up,” says Rosado. “I think that I really needed that to understand that I am an active player in building community — way more than I imagined when I was a kid.”