my #roadtobusinessschool may seem impulsive or random because i only recently started talking about it. The truth is, I've been interested in pursuing an MBA since I was 18, but kept this to myself up until a year ago. I'm not usually secretive, but I exercise great discretion when I don't want anyone to influence my decision-making. Business school was one of those things: I didn't want my loved ones to encourage or discourage this idea because if business school was going to be part of my plan, I wanted to make sure I was pursuing it for me, and not for anyone else. 

the story begins at the university of michigan, several years ago. In undergrad, though i was always intrigued by the idea of business, specifically entrepreneurship, I felt like I wasn't good enough to pursue that interest, like I wouldn't be able to keep up, like I wasn't smart enough to excel in a "cut-throat" business program. I can't even believe I ever felt that way about anything, but part of me is grateful that I remember how I felt - how many of my students have expressed that they feel. As cliche as it sounds, my entire worldview transformed when I developed a growth mindset, when i truly began to embrace whatever challenge came my way. (And here I am today, actually having fun studying for my GMAT.)


i am pursuing a business degree so i can solve the exact problem that initially deterred me from pursuing a business degree.

(but more on that in a minute.) 

in addition to developing a growth mindset, i was able to get over my initial trepidation when I realized that i have some "business savvy" after all. in fact, all of my most impactful endeavors involved design-thinking, or "a process that seeks to understand the user, challenge assumptions, and redefine problems in an attempt to identify alternative strategies and solutions that might not be instantly apparent." In more "Ri-like" terms, design thinking is a new, creative lens used to view [and solve] old, complex problems. 

I think the best part is that this realization happened in retrospect. I had no clue what design-thinking was four years ago, when I founded michigan in color, the first column for and by students of color at the University of Michigan or when I created from scratch my nationally recognized and culturally responsive high school English curriculum, deeply impacting over 140 students in Detroit. now, i want to transform students' educational experiences across the nation. I want students to graduate high school able to own their stories, leverage their strengths and self-advocate professionally and politically. how? i don't know yet. but something tells me that design-thinking will play a big role in helping me answer that question.  


Earlier today, I attended a "Visit In Person" at the Ross School of Business, one of my top choices in schools. The day involved an admissions presentation, Q&A, building tour and the option to be a guest student in an actual business school class. I'm going to walk you through my awesome day spent at Ross by detailing three RiFlections from today's VIP.


My day started off reminding me of my truth: I will always care deeply about my relationships with others. In fact, building strong and genuine relationships is such a key component in how i've approached my work. Michigan In Color took off because I designed and re-designed it based on feedback from other student leaders. My curriculum worked because my students knew I loved and respected them above and beyond all else, that i would respond to their needs. My father's legacy lives on because, in his absence, his love remains omnipresent. Relationships matter, a lot. 

speaking of relationships, I made a friend this morning named Massa, a Japanese gentleman currently working in Sao Paulo, Brazil. Massa was also a prospective ross student, and we were both scheduled to attend a class session this morning that ended up getting canceled. Since Massa wasn't familiar with campus, I offered to give him an informal campus tour during our free time. We walked all around Michigan's campus and shared some great stories, talked about our families and expressed words of encouragement for our business school endeavors. After the tour, Massa gave me some Brazilian chocolate as a token of thanks! (see the picture i took with the chocolate above!)

On the informal tour, I was lucky enough to run into five students whom I have worked with personally this year alone. Later that day, I ran into an old friend from my undergraduate days, reconnected with one of my college mentors and, on the way out of class, ran into a dear friend also from Dearborn who is currently a ross MBA student. coincidence? i think not. All of these run-ins were not-so-subtle reminders of what really matters to me in my work: human connection. 


I was seriously so excited to attend a business school class. The class I chose was "Strategic Brand Management." honestly, If I could quit everything and sustain a livelihood being a student for the rest of my life, I might consider it. I love to learn new things, and while I have no problem learning on my own, I love and value formal academic settings. Not surprisingly, I took some serious notes in that class, and I'm excited to share with you all some of the things I have learned. 

The energetic professor batra kicked off the class session with his very own "Batra's Branding Pyramid" projected on the screen. There must have been about 100 students in this classroom, and the seats are arranged so that it is easy to have a discussion across the room. as the professor's bag of milky way chocolates circulated the classroom, he called on the students in the "Subway" group to discuss how their brand (subway) fares according to his pyramid. Immediately, these students discussed the strengths and weaknesses of Subway as a brand, its shortcomings in quality, its reputation of being a convenient but not ideal food choice. Soon enough, we were talking about other big brands like Google, Amazon and Victoria's Secret. it was so cool to watch these students apply a theoretical lens to the brands that many of us mindlessly interact with on the daily. 

The professor then discussed an acronym that he created to assess a brand's effectiveness. The acronym was D.R.U.M., according to professor batra, brands should march to the beat of their own Drum, and this stands for differentiation, relevancy, uniqueness and motivating. To achieve differentiation and uniqueness, a brand must come up with something that the competition cannot follow, and to achieve relevancy and emotional motivation, a brand must be able to invest its consumers emotionally in its work and vision. You can only imagine how quickly the wheels were turning in my head, thinking about a future for the #roadto_ brand and my other (more secretive) endeavors to come! 


Before you judge me and think that I'm basing this statement on having attended one class session, i'll have you know that today was actually the third class session i've attended at the Ross School of Business! I attended a class session on Positive Leadership and Organizing, Business Statistics and now Strategic Brand Management. While these classes were very different in terms of style, content and experience, they all taught me something I could apply in real life. 

I think this fact alone is why I feel at home in a business school classroom. When a student is able to apply their learning outside of the classroom, the learning sticks. And, not surprisingly, in this kind of classroom, students' engagement and investment in even the most seemingly boring content (i.e. Business Stats) suddenly becomes interesting. Why? Because contrary to the kind of pedagogy that Freire criticizes in his Banking Concept of education, the lessons in an "applied learning" classroom stay relevant and urgent long after the exam, project or paper.

in all three classes, i also noticed that the students did not use any technology. it was amazing to see them sit through hours without checking a phone or typing on a laptop. these were adults, many with partners and children. the students were extremely engaged and they participated often. i am a former teacher, so i know the difference between forced participation/fake interest and the real deal. and these classes were the real deal. during this experience, i got to be a prospective student, imagining what my fall 2018 could look like, and an aspiring trailblazer in education, envisioning the limitless possibilities for students' experiences in any classroom. 


well, I am currently still studying intently for my GMAT that I will be taking on December 16th. and before we talk about what happens after that, i want to share with you the story behind december 16th: 

when i was in 8th grade, two of my closest friends and i spent one winter bus-ride home discussing how high school was around the corner, and how we hoped our lives wouldn't change too much. we promised one another that we wouldn't ever forget each other, and that night, we agreed to check in every year on that day. on december 16th. we have checked in every year so far, despite my best friend now living in lebanon. as soon as i saw december 16th as an available exam date, i signed up. why? because it was another not-so-subtle reminder that relationships matter, a lot. 

soon after i take the GMAT, i will be applying through the consortium program to several full time MBA programs, Michigan included. from then until mid-march (when decisions are released), i will pray on it, let go, and let god. mid-march 2017 significantly changed my life, so I have a strong feeling that mid-march 2018 will, too. 

only love,


Rima FadlallahComment