Harvard MBA Alum Melissa Martin Advises Women Not To Self-Select Out Of MBA Programs
“I was an outlier,” says Melissa as she introduces herself. Originally from Oregon, Melissa attended Georgetown University where she studied International Relations with a focus on African studies. Her senior year of undergrad, she began dating Kevin Martin, the man who would become her husband. After graduating in 1996 and completing a 14-month Fulbright Fellowship in Cote D’Ivoire, Melissa returned to the DC metro area and found a job with Population Services International working as an Operations Manager on a global AIDS prevention program. At the time, Melissa was engaged to Kevin and he was completing his law degree. They got married and lived in DC for two years. The deal was that Melissa would go wherever Kevin wanted for a judicial clerkship after he completed law school, and then he would go wherever she wanted for graduate school.
“Marriage is all about compromise and negotiation.”
After considering applying for a Master’s degree in Theological Studies, Melissa decided that an MBA would bolster her global non-profit experience by helping her hone business skills that would help her advance her career and help nonprofit organizations thrive and be sustainable. With Harvard Business School at the top of her list, Melissa applied to business school. Simultaneously, Kevin and Melissa decided they wanted to have a baby.
“Kevin and I found out I was pregnant with our first child the day before my HBS interview. I was thrilled but it’s a little distracting to nail your grad school interview when you just got life-changing news.”
Melissa was accepted to HBS. Her acceptance letter emphasized that deferrals were very rare. Melissa called the admissions office and said: “I am very excited to come to HBS and join the class. I’m pregnant. My baby is due September 15th. How will Harvard accommodate me?” HBS offered Melissa a one year deferral, and she accepted. She recalls 4–5 people on the admissions committee calling her to tell her how excited they were that she would still be accepting her admission. She began business school when her daughter, Kiera, was 10 months old.
During business school, Melissa was focused and disciplined. She was what the team at MBA Mama likes to call a time management queen. Although she was selective in how she chose to spend her time, Melissa was her section rep for the Women’s Student Association and she recruited for consulting landing a summer internship with Deloitte. While Melissa did not go out with her section mates all the time, she made time for networking and social events. Melissa had the luxury of having a husband who worked full-time as an attorney while she was in business school. They utilized an au pair to care for Kiera full-time. Melissa told us she was blessed and privileged to have the financial flexibility afforded by a working spouse.
When we talk about Kevin’s role in her journey, Melissa starts to get choked up. “I have the world’s most supportive husband,” she says. “Kevin has always been behind me 100%.”
Melissa and her husband, Kevin, decided to have another child while she was in school Melissa admits that many people in her inner circle thought her decision to have kids during that time period was a bit peculiar but it made perfect sense for her.
“To be honest, being a mom in graduate school is easier than when working. I was due over winter break of my 2nd year at HBS. My second daughter, Audrey, decided to wait. She was born one week into my final semester of school. When Audrey was born, Kevin took paternity leave to help care for her while I was in school. He has always been amazingly supportive of my career goals and interests. Choosing your life partner is the most important decision you will ever make.”
While Kevin’s support was critical to her continued success, the assistance from HBS administrators made a major difference in Melissa’s ability to be successful.
“After I had Audrey, they recorded all the classes I missed, and allowed me to set up one-on-one appointments to catch up with my professors. They set up a lactation room for me. I remember the room had wifi available so I could pump and do work at the same time. I even had teachers who said I could bring my baby to class.”
When Melissa graduated from HBS in 2004, she walked across the stage with her two daughters, Kiera and Audrey (pictured here). Out of approximately 300 women who graduated from HBS that year, only two moms — less than 1% of the graduating women — had started the program and made it all the way through. This stark underrepresentation continues to be the case at top business schools like Harvard more than 10 years later. This is why Melissa supports the mission of MBA Mama.
“I see so many talented women self-select out of the MBA program mainly because they don’t think graduate school and a family are compatible. This drives me nuts.”
She continues: “Sometimes, as women, we spend too much time trying to hyper plan our lives. The truth is that we need to stop trying to plot everything into a tiny little box. Make a decision. If you want the MBA, get it. If you want a child, have a child. Stay open to opportunities. When I left the international public health world while pregnant and to start my MBA, I thought it wasn’t feasible to get back into that sector. Years later, I’ve found myself back in that realm and I now have four children: Audrey, Kiera, Gary and Andrew. Recently, I travelled to West Africa again. I am working in the industry I love and helping to improve the health of people around the world. My advice for the women in the MBA Mama community is this: don’t plan life so precisely that you miss out on opportunities.”
Melissa’s first post-MBA job was with Harvard University in the Office of Budgets and Financial Planning as a Financial Analyst. She has returned to her first love: international public health. She currently works as an Associate Director of Grants Management and Compliance with an international non-profit organization.
Originally published at www.mbamama.com.