QS Scholarship Winner: Helping Develop Minority Leaders through Sport | TopMBA.com

QS Scholarship Winner: Helping Develop Minority Leaders through Sport

By Tim Dhoul

Updated August 9, 2016 Updated August 9, 2016

The Summer Olympics in Rio de Janeiro provides proof, if ever it were needed, of sport's ability to captivate audiences around the world. Yet, sport also offers lessons for the world of business.

QS Community Scholarship winner, Piersten Gaines
Perseverance and teamwork are two attributes that sport can help imbue in its participants and that can be applied to life in the workplace, according to QS Community Scholarship winner, Piersten Gaines. A member of Harvard Business School's (HBS) incoming MBA class of 2018, Gaines has played competitive soccer (football) for two decades - during which time she played for the Varsity team at Columbia University - and is quick to highlight how the sport has helped inform her character:

"To me, perseverance is the understanding that the road to success is not easy, but takes A LOT of hard work, focus and determination. As a soccer player, it meant working hard off the pitch so that I could outperform my opponents on the pitch. It meant not giving up when the game wasn’t going the way I expected...My will to work hard and never give up, despite challenges, setbacks and unfortunate circumstances has definitely been valuable in the workplace," she says.

While the life of, say, a 100-meter sprinter demands hard work and perseverance, by nature of its status as an individual sport, it can also be a lonely experience at times. Not so, soccer, and Gaines believes competing in a team of 11 players has enabled her to work well with a wide spectrum of people:

"Being able to work with 10 different young women, with 10 different personalities, strengths and weaknesses, towards one common goal is a real challenge, but necessary for the success of any soccer player or team."

FC Harlem and leadership development
The soon-to-be HBS MBA has taken her love of soccer into volunteer work with FC Harlem, a nonprofit which works with the members of the Harlem community not only to develop strong players on the pitch, but also to help people become leaders off it. Initially, she acted as coach but soon took up a position on its junior board of directors and moved into mentoring. "Not only do I mentor the players and act as a resource for those who have questions about my experience as a student-athlete, but I also speak to them about my experience working in the fashion/retail industry and about the path that I took to get there," Gaines explained in her MBA scholarship-winning essay. Since then, she has also initiated a program of corporate visits through which mentees can learn more about potential career paths and set themselves goals that are not limited to those scored on the pitch.

Entering HBS MBA points to increasing awareness of diversity’s importance

The cause of FC Harlem is one which resonates strongly with Gaines because its members are overwhelmingly of minority origin. The underrepresentation of minority leaders in US business is something, she says, that has been apparent in her career to date, particularly at executive level. However, the HBS MBA notes that, "there is an increasing awareness by businesses around the country about the importance of diversity, including its ability to make their companies more profitable. There are many organizations such as MLT (Management Leadership for Tomorrow), Jumpstart, and The Consortium (for Graduate Study in Management), that partner with major US corporations to identify and introduce exceptional minority candidates to corporations to help resolve this problem,” she adds.

This level of optimism is matched by Gaines' pleasure in hearing about the classroom diversity that awaits her in the HBS MBA program. "I saw a report a few days ago that stated that the incoming HBS class of 2018 has students hailing from 69 countries!” she says, referencing the school’s preliminary figures. “That is incredible and says so much about the recruiting efforts of the school.” One concern she holds, however, relates to the MBA admissions process and, in particular, the GMAT:

"Research continues to show that there is a positive correlation between socioeconomic status and successful GMAT scores. Given the critical importance of the GMAT in the business school admissions process, there is an opportunity for business schools to increase exposure to the GMAT to prospective students in lower socioeconomic groups." Indeed, the wider problem afflicting the presence of those of lower socioeconomic status in higher education and, in addition, minority leaders in business, as Gaines sees it, is one of access – “access to the networks, resources and money, which act as admission tickets to these areas."

Preparing to take to the FIELD for the challenge of an MBA program 

Having worked in the fashion industry for five years, Gaines is enrolling in an MBA program to help attain her long-term goal of starting and running her own business. "Earning an MBA will provide the necessary skills such as finance, accounting, and people management that will enable me to achieve my vision." 

When you consider the importance Gaines places in hard work, perseverance and teamwork, it is perhaps no surprise to learn that she's looking forward to the rigors of an MBA program, such as that on offer at Harvard Business School: "That is really what I’m most excited about – the challenge. The challenge of living in a new city, meeting so many different people from different cultural, professional and educational backgrounds, and of course, the challenge of gaining a business foundation with some of the smartest minds in the world."  

And what course might a former student-athlete and seasoned soccer player be particularly looking forward to taking in the HBS MBA? Yes, you've guessed it. That course is FIELD. (You can read more about what two class of 2017 students of the school got up to on this portion of the MBA program at Harvard by following this link.)   

Advice for other MBA scholarship applicants:

"Start your scholarship application process as soon as your business school applications are submitted! I started my scholarship search after I made the decision of which school I would attend and I quickly became aware that most MBA scholarship applications require at least one essay and that the questions are similar to the essay questions on business school applications. They require time, thought and a lot of editing. As soon as you submit your last business school application, pat yourself on the back and be proud of yourself, but don’t get too comfortable. If you plan on securing some financial assistance, remain in essay mode!"

This article was originally published in August 2016 .

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Written by

Tim is a writer with a background in consumer journalism and charity communications. He trained as a journalist in the UK and holds degrees in history (BA) and Latin American studies (MA).

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