The Rice Report: Breaking the “Non-Traditional” Label


Non-traditional: new and different from an established standard, custom or method.

It sounds like an advantage. But why did I feel this label – Non-traditional MBA – held me back?

Let’s go back. Three years ago – and it’s crazy how the world has changed since then –

I was starting the recruitment process for the business school. I was a woman with a BFA who had danced across New York City. I was also a woman ready to be challenged in a different way. With my degree, there was no clear transition path to another career. I couldn’t see where I could go. And honestly, few recruiters could either.

I knew I could learn quickly, work really hard, and ultimately be good at whatever was offered to me. But it soon became clear: without more formal business training, I would probably spend all of my day proving myself to my team. I knew I needed more education and a bit of credibility. So, I did an MBA.

Katie, 3 years old. Ballet level 1.

As I started the recruiting process, I already knew that I was different from most other candidates. I’m a woman. I am half Asian. I am an entertainer who took an undergraduate Econ course. I was taking a risk. Even though I knew I had done what I used to do, I found myself asking others to take a risk on me. In so many conversations I have heard the exact same phrases: “You will bring such original ideas to the table” or “You would think it’s the finance people who go this far, but it’s always the artists who go so far. surprise everyone. Before I even started my studies, slight justifications were already given for my differences, as if I had to be the exception to the rule to be successful. From the first day of recruiting, a small crutch was being built under me.

I was inspired to think about this after reading a recent quote from Elon Musk. Many of you may be familiar with the quote, but here’s a recap if you aren’t. Elon said, “I think there may be too many MBAs running companies.” My first thought was, YES! We are future business leaders. But then I thought about it a bit more. What does he mean? The article goes on to explain how Elon wants more business leaders out of the boardroom and into factories. It made me think of the MBA I was receiving. What did I get from my education?

I can’t speak to what an MBA was. As a recent graduate, I can attest to the well-rounded education I received. I learned the importance and necessity of customer engagement. I was trained to think like an entrepreneur and the steps involved in acquiring a business. I was immersed in the history of ESG and how companies move forward positively and actively in our ever-changing world. I also learned the importance of a balance sheet, how to calculate the WACC (even though it was almost two years ago), and the history of major financial crises. As someone who entered the MBA program knowing that my path was going to be a little different from the norm, I came away with an education that will provide me with the tools I need, whatever direction of my projects. future.

First day of class, fall 2020

Most importantly – and I can only speak for myself here – I learned not only from teachers, but also from my classmates. I learned from my finance-focused classmates, veteran classmates, and artist classmates. I honed some technical skills (thanks to my classmates who gave private lessons during the basic finals)! I also practiced soft skills. And I didn’t classify my classmates in traditional and non-traditional boxes either.

One of the biggest lessons I learned was from my main teammate, Yiming. He was an engineer before b-school. Yiming taught me the importance of asking questions. It can be difficult in a room full of really smart people to crane your head and ask your question, especially if it’s a topic that’s new to you. But Yiming was never afraid to ask and keep asking. He wasn’t afraid to speak up or take a step back, to really understand what was being taught. As the main teammate, this quality has kept our team on our toes. I learned so much from his questions and sometimes I was even able to answer one – which helped me learn even more!

Once we entered the classroom, the teachers didn’t divide us either. They didn’t know our background and they didn’t have our resumes. We all entered on an equal footing. Our tough finance teacher showed no mercy towards those who had no background in finance. He just expected us to study harder. We went through the same tests and wrote the same case reports – some of us only had to study a few dozen hours longer. In my class alone, we have future tech leaders, future human resource managers, financial wizards, and clean energy experts, all with “non-traditional” backgrounds.

So who is this “non-traditional” label for? In the classroom, we were all students – students taking the time to grow and learn. Outside of the classroom, I always consistently defended my background. In interviews, discussions over coffee and conversations with former students, I found myself defending my diverse origins. But why?

Just look at some MBA class profile statistics to get a glimpse of what’s really going on. 44% of Stanford’s class of 2022 have undergraduate degrees in the humanities and social sciences. The Kenan-Flagler class has 57% non-commercial experience in their class. At Rice, about 40% of my promotion came from non-business backgrounds.

Katie Chung, Rice Business Class of 2021

In other words, being a non-traditional student is the norm in business school, not the exception.

So here is my request for 2021 and beyond: let’s drop the labels. We’re all business students, period. We all bring unique experiences and stories to the table. The “non-traditional” label only says, “You did a good job… for an artist or a non-entrepreneur”. In fact, it says the same as everyone else: “You worked really hard and succeeded with the work, time and commitment you put into it.” As classes continue to diversify and more people are introduced to the business world, let’s welcome them. Let’s welcome our newcomers with open arms and just start by finding out who they are and what inspired them to come to the table. Let’s show MBA opponents like Elon Musk what an MBA really is.

For me, the MBA has helped me look at the world in a new way: eyes wide open, 360 degrees, open mind. It is with this in mind that we will grow with our teams, innovate, continue to learn and become the leaders of tomorrow.


Katie Chung graduated from Rice business, class of 2021. She is honored to represent Rice Business in this forum. Katie spent the first half of her career in the theater industry performing in New York City and across the country in some shows you may be familiar with, such as Guys and Dolls and Cats and others you don’t. may not know, like Bunty Berman Presents… and Capone. After graduation, Katie will move on to NRG full-time as part of her MBA rotation program. Rice Business has been an experience filled with many new and exciting challenges. Just like this one! Here we are!





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