Interview with our Sustainability Cup Winner and Joint Degree MBA, Rachel Mak!
Vanessa: Hey Rachel! Thanks for sitting down with me and telling all these prospective students about your experience before and after F&ES. How about you tell us what you did before F&ES and how you chose to come here?
Rachel: Sure! I graduated from Harvard in 2010 and was an environmental science and public policy major. I knew when I graduated I wanted to go into the sustainability field, but as I was interviewing for jobs, it became really apparent I didn’t have the skillset I needed to get my dream job. So, I decided I wanted to go to grad school, but I wanted a bit of life experience first. I always wanted to go abroad, so after I graduated, I moved to Shanghai and worked in mergers and acquisitions.
Vanessa: Who did you work for in Shanghai?
Rachel: A company called EJ McKay. I thought it was a rewarding experience – I got exactly what I wanted out of that one year experience and I got to live abroad, which was great. I learned a lot about the finance industry and that experience definitely helped me figure out what I wanted to do. So after China, I applied to school and got into F&ES. Yale was my top choice but I didn’t know about the Joint Degree program at that time. I started F&ES in 2011. I got here and was still grappling with this finance mentality and realized I wanted to incorporate this background with what I wanted to do with sustainability. I realized it was important to have the ability to speak business to create sustainability change. For instance, you can tell the company how much carbon they are emitting – maybe that will make them change some of their operations, but if you can’t put it into business language and in terms of finances, you’re not as convincing.
I applied to the School of Management in 2011 and got in. I absolutely love the Joint Degree program. I got exactly what I wanted to out of the program. I’m also happy with the route I took – in terms of starting at F&ES first, because sustainability is my main focus still, and so gaining that sustainable skill set with LCA (life cycle assessment) and Industrial Ecology was really important to me to learn this first.
Vanessa: What did you do for your first internship?
Rachel: The first summer, I worked for RecyclingBin.com. I calculated the carbon footprint for their products and created a sustainability website for them to brand their sustainability endeavors. The second summer, I worked for Dunkin’ Brands in Boston, which owns Dunkin’ Donuts and Baskin-Robbins, in their corporate social responsibility department. I calculated their carbon footprint, came up with carbon reduction projects for the company, and calculated the cost savings associated with them.
Vanessa: And what is in your future? What do you want to do after F&ES?
Rachel: Now that’s the million dollar question! I would ideally like to work in corporate sustainability and I’m looking for jobs in corporate sustainability right now! I’m pretty confident with the network that we have and where other recent alums have ended up that I’ll be able to get into that field.
Vanessa: That’s great, I’m sure you will with your experience! I know a lot of prospective students are curious about the Joint Degree with SOM. What are some positives and negatives?
Rachel: Some positives – it’s a really small community. We call each other the “joint degree family” and we treat each other like family! We have events every year like potlucks, retreats, and gift exchanges during holidays. We have these small traditions that bring everyone together. It’s so great to be a part of that. You do have amazing resources from both schools – but you also have to split your time between the schools, so sometimes you have to pick between them, which is a negative. On the bright side, you get two groups of really, really awesome friends and two sets of alumni and career resources. There’s definitely more positives than negatives.
Vanessa: And what are your favorite parts about F&ES?
Rachel: F&ES is so spirited and everyone has great personalities. It’s a lot of work but I have always enjoyed all the group projects I have ever been on. I think the professors are a lot more accessible and take the time to get to know you. If anything, it’s just the community at F&ES. I mean you go there and Sage Boy is decorated – it’s whimsical. If you visit you’ll see.
Vanessa: Finally, any advice to prospective students!
Rachel: Hit the ground running when you get here. Have a vision of what you want to get out of this school and try to accomplish it because two years goes by very fast. Take the time to relax and enjoy other people – you don’t have to get a perfect grade on your economics problem set and it’s probably better to do it with a group of 10 others. Even if it’s takes longer, you’re going to get to know some amazing people.
Vanessa: Any advice for prospective students interested in the Joint Degree?
Rachel: When people ask me for advice, I always ask “What do you want to get out of the Joint Degree program?” And I tell them to write their essay and talk about that during their interviews. If you write what you think the admissions committee wants to hear but then you have a different vision from what the Joint Degree program can offer, the program may not be the best fit. Knowing what you want is really important.
Vanessa: Thanks so much Rachel, I’m sure prospective students will get a lot out of hearing about your background and path.
For more information on the Joint Degrees or for Admissions advice, feel free to contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org.