The importance of education to achieving success was something Al Dea learned at a young age. It was an idea cultivated in him by his parents around the dinner table, where he learned about their own journeys to success and the role that education played.
Dea’s knowledge and appreciation for learning were also coupled with an understanding that not everyone has the same access to educational opportunity. “As a result, I have always been deeply motivated to not only take advantage of the resources and opportunities that I have been given but to also inspire others by sharing my resources and privilege and opening access to others as much as I can,” he says.
A Consortium alum and graduate of the University of North Carolina (UNC) at Chapel Hill’s Kenan-Flagler Business School, Dea is now senior manager of product marketing at Salesforce. But on the side, he finds fulfillment serving as a leadership and career coach, especially for youth from underrepresented groups.
Additionally, over the last five years, Dea’s passion for helping others has taken the form of an online resource for MBA candidates, called MBASchooled, a blog where he shares stories and advice from diverse MBAs on how to make the most of business school. Dea recently went one step further, leveraging this resource to write and self-publish a book.
“I’m a big believer in making sure I’m using my talents and skills to benefit and impact others; it was why I started the blog to begin with,” he says. “But I began asking myself, ‘How could I figure out a way to make an impact with this on a much bigger scale? How can I do something that makes a difference for others in a meaningful way?’”
“Time and time again, I had conversations with students and alums about how there was a lot they learned in business school, that if they only learned it sooner, they’d be able to get even more value out of their experience,” Dea adds. “Furthermore, I often heard that one of the ways they often learned or got access to knowledge was through hearing from older students or alums, but that there wasn’t an easily accessible or central place to [find] this information.”
MBA Insider: How to Make the Most of Your MBA Experience, which was released in January, features tons of interviews with current and past MBAs, including several Consortium alums, and offers practical advice for navigating business school. It is designed for both prospective MBA students who are interested in learning more about the b-school experience and current MBAs who are looking for best practices and tips to help them make the most of their time there.
“The book is meant to be a how-to guide for prospective and current students to help them get the most value from their MBA experience and achieve their career goals,” Dea says.
The experience of researching and writing MBA Insider was an education in itself for Dea, who says he learned much about what actions, attributes and attitudes lead to the greatest success in business school.
“The students I talked to who were most satisfied and got the most value out of their experience spent time on self-reflection and building self-awareness,” he explains. “Business school gave them the space and time to actually ask themselves important questions like, ‘What do I want to do?’ ‘What impact do I want to have?’ ‘What does success mean to me?’ It also gave them time to get feedback from peers and colleagues and to synthesize that to drive improvement.”
Committing to and working toward your own vision of success, regardless of what others may think, was another defining characteristic of many of the MBAs featured in the book. However, one of the most significant themes of these interviews was around building skills for the future. The majority of MBAs, Dea discovered, went to business school to not just learn the skills that would enable them to immediately pivot or advance in their careers but those that would also aid them farther down their path.
“For most MBA graduates, the first job after business school will not be the last, which forced many of them to focus on skills and experiences they could take with them for the rest of their career,” he says. “They were also building critical skills, such as career development, empathy, cross-cultural collaboration and learning agility, which will allow them to evolve and pivot jobs and careers for years to come.”
More than anything, though, Dea says, MBAs come to business school to learn, but leave having made an impact. This was particularly the case with Consortium students.
“MBA students come in with a desire to build the skills and competencies they need for the next stage of their career. That said, many successful ones find ways to do this … by making an impact for their school and community,” Dea notes, citing as an example Christina Chavez. A 2019 Consortium alum of the University of California (UC), Berkeley Haas School of Business, she co-led the Gender Equity Initiative career pillar at Haas to empower her classmates with the tools and resources to negotiate equitable pay.
Dea’s own commitment to “opening access” to education aligns with The Consortium’s focus on increasing the representation of underrepresented minorities in graduate management education and leadership. He believes the organization’s members, like those mentioned in the book, represent this important work in action.
“In addition to serving as an extension of The Consortium, the fellows are out on the front lines each and every day serving as role models at companies and in their communities,” Dea says. “It was important to me to share their stories, lessons learned, challenges overcome and guidance in this book to amplify the work that they are already doing, because more people need to see and hear it.”
Dea shared with us some of the stories and learnings he collected from Consortium MBA alums for MBA Insider, which he hopes will inspire others to follow in their footsteps.
“As a former teacher, I watched as professors dealt with the challenge of covering a wide range of content in a compressed manner. As a student, this meant being thrown multiple new concepts or topics at once and figuring out how to make sense of them, and then apply them to an assignment, test or project. This was challenging at times, and during those moments, I reminded myself that I couldn’t learn everything in a short three months. Instead, I broke down concepts into smaller steps and reinforced what I learned by working through practice problems.”
— Najee Johnson, 2015 alum, UNC Kenan-Flagler Business School
“I think most people view business school as a time to reflect and think about the direction of their careers. It’s certainly a time for reflection, but I found that some of the most successful students have clear direction before classes start. A pre-MBA internship can help since it offers another data point to figure out if the path you are on is the right fit.”
— Nate Jones, class of 2020, The University of Texas at Austin McCombs School of Business
“I have learned a lot through my extracurricular experiences at Haas about working on high-performing teams and motivating others to get behind causes they are passionate about. These experiences will help me be successful in the professional world. [And], working on these initiatives has helped me make an impact in the Haas community.”
— Christina Chavez, 2019 alum, UC Berkeley Haas School of Business
“Don’t get distracted by what ‘looks good’ on a résumé. Think about what type of leader you want to become. What communities and organizations share your passions?” What experiences and/or skills do you need to achieve your five- or 10-year goals? Then narrow it down and dive in because you don’t want to spread yourself too thin.”
— Loretta Richardson, class of 2020, Georgetown University McDonough School of Business
“I learned the importance of staying true to yourself and very intentionally following your passions and interests, which helped quell the imposter syndrome that I felt when I first started business school. The situations where I thrived the most were when I pursued electives, extracurricular activities and career opportunities that clearly resonated with my values and just felt right.”
— Jasmine Ako, 2019 alum, Yale School of Management