On this special season 1 finale, Priscilla talks through her Top 3 Career Gems from Season 1, synthesized from all of the amazing guests on the show. These career gems are specifically tailored for BIPOC, First-Gen folks from historically excluded groups. Also, don’t miss 2 very special announcements: 1) Priscilla is taking on private career coaching clients and 2) Priscilla will come back with a new last name for Season 2!
The ECM Podcast will return for Season 2 on October 1st, 2021.
Growing up in Echo Park within Los Angeles, Angelica Martin knew that she loved animals and dreamed of becoming a vet. After spending time teaching Special Education as a high school student, she realized her love for helping other humans and pivoted her career goal to becoming a doctor. On this episode, learn about the financial and structural obstacles that Angelica has overcome to get to where she is today, as an MD Candidate at UC Davis. Her story will inspire you to make no excuses and get stubborn about your career dreams.
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Bill & Melinda Gates Scholarship
Post-Bac Program at UC Davis
Angelica Ramirez Martin: I got accepted to medical school in November and any medical student will tell you that as soon as you get that first acceptance, it’s like brick are off of your shoulders. You are going to be a doctor somewhere, somehow. You got in somewhere. So, that’s great. So, I had that pressure lifted off my shoulders.
Podcast Introduction: Welcome to the Early Career Moves podcast, the show that highlights remarkable, young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I’m your host, Priscilla Esquivel Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Guest Introduction: Hey everyone, welcome to Episode 27 of Season One of the Early Career Moves podcast. Today, I’m so excited to welcome Angelica Ramirez Martin. Angelica is a Latina from L.A and she is currently now a third year medical student at UC Davis. On today’s episode, she’s going to break down what it took for her to get to this point, to now be an M.D. candidate, future Latina doctor at UC Davis and I love her story because it’s not a linear one. It’s one that was very… it was a winding road, it was non-linear, there were many points of time when Angelica wasn’t sure how exactly she would get to her destination but you can tell from her story how stubborn, in a good way, she was about her career goal and dream.
A little bit about Angelica: she and I crossed paths in college. She was a biology, women’s and gender studies double major. After college, she went to Boston University, where she got a Master’s in Public Health and then she worked at California Physicians Alliance, where she advoMCATed for health care reform and eventually even became an Executive Director. No big deal and after this, is when she decided to go get her post BACC which she’ll talk about what that means and how this was a really critical step to help her get to med school at UC Davis and eventually, what it was like to cross that big finish line and get her medical school acceptance. So excited to share her story with you. Before I leave you to the interview, I just want to remind you Episode 30 will be the last episode of Season One. It’s been such an amazing ride to go down Season One with you and on the last episode, I will be sharing my top five favorite nuggets that I personally got from all of the interviews that we did in Season One. So, definitely tune in for that one and I hope you enjoy today’s episode.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Hey, Angelica, so excited to have you on the show. Welcome.
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Hi. Thank you. Thank you for inviting me.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Of course. So, I’m really excited to have you on the show today to talk about your journey to med school, what it looked like. Now you’re on your way to become a doctor and so, let’s start with just you sharing a little bit about your upbringing, where you’re from and a little bit about yourself.
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Yeah. So, I grew up in Echo Park which is a small community, well, not that small, it’s pretty big in L.A. Mostly, when I was there, actually, it’s changed a lot in the recent years but when I was there, it was a mostly immigrant community. I grew up in a single parent home, so my dad died when I was three years old. So, it was always just my mom, my sister who’s older and my younger brother and I went to the local schools, very overcrowded, my high school graduating class was 5000 students but I was very lucky to live in that community. It taught me to be independent because I had to take the bus to school since middle school and everything and walk to elementary school and all that and it wasn’t the safest but you get street smart which I really value now. So, after high school, I went to Wellesley and that was definitely different.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Yeah, which is where we crossed paths and so I want to hear a little bit about how you decided to become a human doctor. I know you mentioned that you were really interested in becoming a vet and wanting to pursue that path. How did you kind of land in this place where you were like, okay, I want to go to med school?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Yeah, I’ve always really loved animals. So, apparently, my dad had these old National Geographic videos and when he died, I think we kept them for a while and we didn’t have cable or anything like that. So, I must have put them on over and over again and the power of a teacher was really evident throughout my elementary school trajectory because one teacher saw me and he was like, hey, we were talking about some other student and how he thought that she was
going to get a scholarship for her softball skills or something like that and I looked at him and, wanting validation as well, I was like, “Oh, what do you think I’ll get a scholarship in?” And he’s like, “I think you’re going to get a scholarship for Biology.” and ever since then, I’m just like, “Oh, okay. I think I’m good at biology.”
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
And I really liked it. Yeah. He had such an impact on my life and so I wanted to be a vet growing up and I’m a really stubborn person. So, I just kept wanting to be a vet and no one said anything to me about how difficult it is, how competitive it is to get into vet school until I got to high school and I was just like, “Oh, okay, cool. That’s fine.” and I just kept at it until I… because I was being raised by a single mother, I had to provide a lot of my own stuff, just provide for myself, take care of myself and also money was very tight, we completely relied on the social services of L.A county to survive and my band teacher because I was in high school, marching band and jazz band, my band teacher knew my older sister. My sister was in color guard and so he gave her a job during our vaMCATion time as a teacher’s aide and when she graduated because she is three years older than me, I was a freshman and he’s like “Hey Angelica. I was wondering if you wanted to take over your sister shop so that you can have a little bit of money. You’re here all the time anyway, so you can get paid for this.”
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
So, he put me in charge of the music writing class and running that class, there was a group of special ED kids and for one period and I just… my interactions with them completely changed my career trajectory. I’m just like, wait, why am I wanting to help animals feel better when there are people, especially people in my own community, that I can help? And I immediately thought that I was going to research and find a cure for Down Syndrome but then I spoke to a couple of people and they’re just like “You know that going into research and trying to find a cure for something means that you are going to be in a lab and you are not a lab personality. You’re little too…”
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
You need people interaction and I was just like, “Oh, yeah, that’s true. Thank you for pointing that out.” and I’m like, great, I’ll be a doctor and then ever since, then switched over to wanting to be a human doctor.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Very cool. So, you were pre-med at Wellesley. What was it like getting through the coursework? I know it’s really rigorous. Like what was that like for you?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Yeah. So, going to Wellesley, I didn’t meet anyone that told me, “Hey, you’re not supposed to be in the science classes and you’re not supposed to want to become a physician.” and everything like that. So, I honestly was just keeping up with everyone else, you know? Everyone is doing the work, okay, I’m going to do more to. So, it wasn’t… I was just checking off boxes. It just felt like, okay, well I have this amount of homework to do, let me go ahead and do the homework. More than anything, what helped me get through the first couple years of Wellesley was making friends and just feeling at home over there, feeling like I was becoming the person that I went there to become, this confident, quick thinking individual and that was just by being surrounded by people and being surrounded by other students and trying to mimic what they were doing. So, a lot of my peers, yeah, they went to really good high schools and have been prepped since probably birth and everything like that. So, by trying to imitate them in the way that they spoke, the way that they were approaching the problems and everything in class was great for my schoolwork but then outside of that, I think a lot of my growth and confidence came from interacting with the students, my friends, on a personal level and that led into having confidence in class.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Yeah, totally agree. So, I know then, after Wellesley, you decided to go to get your MPH, your Master’s in Public Health because you are a Bill and Melinda Gates scholar and so you had all this funding that you needed to use and so you decided to get your MPH. How did you use those two years of your MPH to get ready for med school? What was that like?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Yeah. So, I had my full schedule for my MPH which I believe was four classes and then I had a fifth class which was at the undergrad campus, just Organic Chemistry A and then the second semester of my first year, I had that second Organic Chemistry class and then, during my second year at my MPH, I tried to start studying for the MCAT, at least towards the end so, that the second semester of my second year and because I thought that I wanted to go straight from my MPH into medical school which a couple of students did and it just didn’t end up working for me, I had to push back my MCAT just because it was too much, taking a full course load and studying for the MCAT at the same time and then trying to move back home and everything. It was a mess.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Okay. So, tell us about the MCAT process. Like how intense was it? How many hours do you need to prepare for it?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
I learned some great lessons from preparing for the MCAT. It should be pretty intense. It definitely depends on your foundation, how strong your basic science foundation is but it should definitely be pretty intense. There was a moment in time where I was studying like it was my full-time job, eight hours a day, especially during the weekends, taking practice exams and everything because the exam itself is eight hours. So, you have to simulate that during your practice exams. When I actually did well on the MCAT, it was because I was following a very strict schedule of like waking up at seven A.M. and then studying for a couple hours, taking a break at noon for lunch and I would eat the same lunch every single day and then I would also, eat the same breakfast every single day and reviewing afterwards and blah, blah, blah. So, it’s a pretty intense process and it’s also scary. No one talks about what it takes to prepare for the MCAT and for me, when I did score well, I actually took two months off of work, completely off without pay to study for the MCAT and what does that mean? That means that I had to be smart and either save up for two months worth of rent because I’ve always only relied on myself.
I can ask my family for money and no one really talks about that, students in my situation where it’s just like it’s scary to prepare for the MCAT because of the financial implications of it. So, I always try to also find free resources. I was at the library a lot and they have these books and that code that’s in the book, hey, it still works. So, I would use that as well but it’s still difficult to get all of the MCAT studying in place and to get all of your life in place that’s needed to study for the MCAT. I think it’s important to point out that I took them MCAT three times. You usually only want to take it once and score well but I took the old MCAT and I scored okay in that one and then I took the new MCAT as soon as it came out. I was part of that first group on the first day to take it. I did not score well on that one and then I actually had to retake the new one because your score is only good for three years. So, my old score which was good, was expiring. So, I took it and I did well on that one. So, yeah, I took it three times.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
And is it really expensive to sign up for it?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Oh yeah. I completely forgot about that, yes. So, every time you sign up for it, I think it’s $300 or $200. There is a fee assistance program that brings it down to, I think, $100 or $150 but it’s still $100 or $150. So, it’s still a lot of money when you have none but yeah and then if you have to move your date, there’s a penalty, you have to pay for that as well and that happened a couple of times for me.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Ok and so tell us a little bit about your decision to enroll in a post BACC program and like, tell us a little bit about like what is that? Why do people choose to do that and why did you decide to do that for your path to get into med school?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
So, I applied to medical school a year after getting out of MPH so, I started working immediately after my MPH and I applied with the first two MCAT scores that I had and I went on one interview and I got waitlisted and I was hoping and praying that I would get off the waitlist but that didn’t happen. I ended up getting rejected. So, that’s when I started studying again for the MCAT and I took it that third time. The thing is that applying to medical school is a year-long process, it is so grueling and demanding. I mean, you submit 20 essays plus just waiting to hear anything from the schools and, of course, every essay that you submit is a $100 fee application. So, it’s just grueling mentally, economically, physically. So, I wanted to make sure that I only applied for one more time and I looked at my application and I was asking myself, how could I make this as strong as possible? Like, what is my weakness here? What are they seeing to make them think that I shouldn’t be accepted into their med school? And I was very honest with myself and I was like, well, my MCAT score is okay, it’s not bad and what else could it be in terms of my extracurriculars and everything? I mean, that’s more than okay. It has to be my grades.
So, even though I did really well in my graduate school program, medical schools really like to see a strong undergrad science grade profile. So, I looked at my grades from Wellesley and Wellesley actually sent out a letter with our transcript saying due to grade deflation, we have lower than national average science GPA. I hope you take that into consideration when you’re looking at our alumni and it’s like, okay, well, that letter is great and all but when I’m being compared to individuals that have a higher GPA, it’s really difficult for the admissions person to be like, oh, no, there’s this letter here that’s saying that they have lower GPA. So, we need to take that into consideration. I mean, I don’t know how that works. So, anyways, I was like, I need to get my science GPA up and show them that I really can do science. I know that I’ve been out of school for, at that point it had been five years, but I still can do science and I can excel at that. So… and the way that you can show schools to do this is either through a formal post BACC program. So, certain schools have these programs set up or you take upper-level science division classes as a cohort of… my program was 20 people or you can just go on your own and start taking random upper division science courses and you just stack up probably like 8 or 6 and you show the school that, hey, look, I took these classes and I scored really well, my GPA as high.
So, I ended up choosing the formal way of doing it because I knew that I also needed connections to the health care field here in California because being in Massachusetts for undergrad and graduate school, I didn’t make the connections in terms of mentors that could read over my essays or tell me that I should change this aspect of my application or speak to this person who can advocate for me because of the connections that they know or whatever. So, that’s why I chose to apply to the UC post BACC programs and so it was honestly a very, looking back on it, it was exactly what my application needed to show that, hey, I took all the science courses and at a UC and you can compare me to other students and I scored as good, if not better, in the same classes as they are. So, ignore my undergrad scores.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
And was it scary to have to go the post BACC route after you were already working, already making money and have to maybe take out loans to go this direction? Like, how did you think of it like in terms of finances?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
There’s this thread in my life about having to make decisions based on my finances. So, once again, for the post BACC program, it was very scary. It wasn’t like, oh, I need to take classes, let me go ahead and take classes. It was actually very scary to think that I had to step away for a year from actually bringing in income and being able to take care of myself and how am I going to pay for the classes. So, a lot of people don’t talk about that either. They think that it’s just very easy to say, well, you want to go to medical school, you have to get… you have to take these extra classes and I wish that it was like that and I wish that’s all I had to focus on but I had to basically build myself up and prep myself to step away from earning an income and just solely becoming a student again and that was very scary.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
That is so scary. So, how did you make that work? Did you have to just save up for personal living expenses and take out loans?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Yeah, that’s basically it. I was very smart about my money and how it was spent and I saved up leading to the post BACC program and I know a couple other people in my program had to take out loans and just trying to make ends meet that way but it’s… that was part of the reason why I didn’t do a post BACC earlier because I didn’t want to have to take that scary step of not making money and not being able to take care of myself in that way. So, if any other student feels that, way which I actually spoke to the student last week who was having the same trouble making the decision, it’s perfectly normal and it’s something that each person has to find a way to navigate through and for me, it was saying… it was reassuring to myself that you’ll be fine, just save up for it. This is an investment in yourself and this is something that has to be done in order for you to get to the next step and get to where you want to be but it was very much an internal process of like, you’ll be fine.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
And did you have to spend the year after that applying? Was that like a separate year after that year?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Mhm. Exactly. So, I’m leaving my job and I’m going to school and then I’m supposed to find some job for one year. So, like what’s going to do it? Where am I going to do that? Who’s going to hire me? So, that was also another panic inducing thought.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Mhm. So, how… what did you end up doing in that case?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
The universe ended up working out in my favor in that I was working at a nonprofit before starting in the post BACC program and I told them, they were very supportive, it was a health advocacy nonprofit, I told them that I was going to leave because I got accepted to the program. They were extremely happy for me. So, I was… during the post BACC program, finishing it up and the Executive Director of the nonprofit was stepping down as I was finishing the post BACC program. So, the President of the nonprofit called me and he was like, “Hey, we know you’re finishing up, we know you’re going to be applying to med school and starting next year, probably so, we would love for you to be our Executive Director if that is possible.” and I was really hesitant to say yes. I mean, I… so, I had already moved up through the ranks at this organization, I was Associate Director before I left and I loved it, I loved the work and everything but I wasn’t sure if I was ready to take on the Executive Director role. Once again, it was a very scary decision that I had to make; whether I take this role and possibly grow and learn and do some really amazing things with my one year or I try to play it safe and try to find something else because I’m just not comfortable taking the ED role but I ended up once again talking to myself and being like, you know what? Sink or swim. You sink or swim in every situation and you can take this position and just remind yourself, sink or swim, just go for it. So, I ended up being an Executive Director for this organization for a year and once again, it was a great decision and I look back on it fondly.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Yeah, I’m sure you grew so much as an Executive Director, being so young and being in charge of so much at the time and I’m curious, when you were thinking about how to set the agenda for your year as an Executive Director, what did you… how did you choose what you would focus on?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
So, I looked at the organization and I was like, well, there needs to be some foundational work here so that anyone who comes after me can build on it. So, I focused on that during my year and I’m like, if I do a good job during this year that I have, I will feel comfortable saying that I was an Executive Director who contributed to this organization, to longevity of it and to the mission of it. So, that’s how I approach that one-year timeline.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
And all during this time, you’re also applying to med school and I’m assuming like interviewing and getting all of that complete.
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Yeah, I had to be very scheduled during that first summer. So, I would work and then immediately I would just go over. I like working at coffee shops, so I would just go over to a coffee shop, buy myself a drink as like a bribe basically to myself to work on my applications and I would take my dinner with me and just not leave until I got some work done. So, it was a very stressful first couple of months but it gets done if your organized.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Yeah. So, tell us about the big moment, like when you finally got your acceptance and you decided to go to UC Davis, like, what was that like?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
So, I was actually very lucky in that I got an early acceptance to a different medical school. So, I got accepted to medical school in November and any medical student will tell you that as soon as you get that first acceptance, it’s like bricks are off of your shoulders. You are going to be a doctor somewhere, somehow. You got in somewhere so that’s great. So, I had that pressure lifted off my shoulders. So, I actually interviewed a little bit later at Davis and I didn’t give my acceptance to Davis until either March or April. Yeah. So, anyways, I was having a really rough day at the office that morning and I like going grocery shopping, I just like looking at the different aisles and just walking around, I really like cooking as well, so I just like doing that. So, there was a grocery store around the corner from my office. I was having a rough day, so I ended up going to the grocery store to walk around and get myself a treat and I was in the chip aisle and I receive a phone call because Davis actually calls you and I ended up crying, of course, in the chip, I was just like, okay, well, this is definitely memorable but yeah, it was just great to hear from your dream school that you’re accepted and that they want you to be a part of their class and it was like, okay, my plans are solidified because before then, it was like, well, I’m not really sure, I’m still waiting to hear back from a couple of different schools and I don’t know when I’ll move but as soon as Davis called, it was like, okay, well, I’m going to do this and their orientation starts this day and it was very beautiful to finally have a plan for the next year. So, it was great. It was amazing.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
That’s amazing and now you’re in med school. Now, you’re finally doing the thing. If you could go back in time and tell your younger self, someone who’s trying to go down your path, what would you tell yourself?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Well, I would definitely repeat what someone else told me earlier in my career. He knew that I didn’t get accepted to medical school the first time and we were talking about it and he’s like You know Angelica…” he’s was an older gentleman. He was like, “You know, I’m old and I have been through so many different phases of my life and looking back now, I see each phase of that and I honestly believe that I was where I was supposed to be. I was supposed to learn something from that situation at some point and that is the reason why I didn’t get to this or get to that and so you should try thinking about it that way.” and ever since he told me that, I completely agree. If I would have gotten into med school that first time, I never would have done the health policy work that I’ve done, I never would have been ED and learned so many lessons from that, I wouldn’t have met my husband during the post BACC and everything like that. So, I would tell myself that it’s frustrating but try to think of it as you’re here to learn something. There’s something here that you’re supposed to take from this and then also, I think the biggest lesson that I’ve learned is that you need friends that are in similar situations. So, I would try to make more friends that are on the pre-med path specifically because even just in a science class and being like, “Hey, we have homework due tomorrow, I got these answers. Did you get the same answers?” Being able to do that completely changes everything and that’s what I had with the post BACC. 20 of us were in the same classes and we were able to run our ideas past each other, we are able to study together for the same exact exam and everything and that completely changed everything. So, I think that’s the biggest thing that I would tell myself; find friends who are on the same path as you and make sure that you lean on them and that they lean on you.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Those are awesome pieces of advice. Thank you so much Angelica for being here with us today, sharing your story. I’m excited for people to, like, learn from your path and not be afraid to like take some pauses and steps back and reassess and plan to succeed, you know?
Angelica Ramirez Martin:
Yeah, yeah. It’s definitely a winding path but I think that being stubborn and keeping your eyes on the prize definitely works out. I mean, if you stick to that, if you’re willing to take chances, beautiful things can come from it.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger:
Thanks for tuning into the Early Career Moves podcast. Be sure to visit ECM podcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes and become a part of our newsletter community and if you love this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate and leave a review. Talk to you next week.
When Jessica Leon was growing up in rural Idaho, she couldn’t imagine that one day she’d be working in New York City at Goldman Sachs. But fast forward to life post-college, and Jessica was doing just that. Everything seemed to be going great until a 5 billion dollar company-wide “mistake” led to her team becoming disbanded and getting laid off. As painful as this moment was for Jessica, she turned that moment into a catalyst for growth, and came out stronger on the other side. On today’s interview, Jessica talks about getting to MIT Sloan/Harvard Kennedy School and what it takes to break into venture capital – as a first generation, unapologetic BIPOC.
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Seizing Every Opportunity
Venture Deals – “the Bible” of VC
Arlan Hamilton’s It’s About Damn Time
Breaking Into VC Resource Doc
Jessica Leon: But never give up. You need to be very persistent, ask to meet, be bold and reach out, like I think for like venture capital, you either know how to do diligence and know whether or not an investment is good, but the other part is just networking to either get new deal flow or also to get someone to invest in your fund. So, if you can really prove that you have those skills, you would be great in the venture capital setting.
Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger: Welcome to The Early Career Moves podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color, killing it on their career journeys. I am your host Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones and lessons learned.
If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration. You’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Hey, everyone, welcome to episode 26 of season one of The Early Career Moves podcast. I’m so excited to introduce to you Jessica Leon. She’s today’s guest, and she is amazing. She talks about what it’s been like to be first generation Mexican American who was the first in her family to go to college and somehow was able to come across these amazing opportunities that landed her in New York City working at Goldman Sachs, and she talks about what it was like to go through a sudden layoff that had nothing to do with her, but had pretty big implications for her career, how she thought about what she really wanted, and I really think it’s a really great story that she tells about how to be resilient during times of immense challenge, especially when you’re financially responsible for not only yourself but your parents – you support them in some way and suddenly something like a layoff happens and you have to sort of figure out where to go next.
So, she talks about that amazing experience. I say amazing because it really sounded like it was a big catalyst for growth, and then lastly, she’ll talk about what it’s been like to discover venture capital as a career, what it means to work in VC, how she’s been able to break into the industry without having the experience of being an investment banker or a consultant, so she’ll go into depth about this and her interview. Currently, Jessica is an MBA and MPP candidate at MIT Sloan School of Management and also at Harvard Kennedy school at Harvard, so she’s making moves. She’s amazing, she’s such a cool, down to earth Mexicana, loved chatting with her, and I know you’re going to feel the same way too.
Okay, everyone. I’m so excited to have Jessica Leon on today’s episode. Welcome, Jessica.
Jessica: Hi, everyone. Thank you, Priscilla, for having me. I’m really excited to hear about your podcast and also to share my experience.
Priscilla: Of course. So, I would love to get started with just hearing a little bit about your own personal background before we get into your career story just so that we can get a sense of who you are and where you come from.
Jessica: Sure, as you said, my name is Jessica Leon. My parents, they are Mexican and my dad is from Durango and my mom is from Los Mochis, Sinaloa, and they immigrated early on in their lives to the United States, both legally and illegally, and I want to tell the story mostly because I feel that my story is a reflection of theirs and if it weren’t for them, I wouldn’t be here today.
So my dad started working in Arizona picking oranges and then was recruited to go to Idaho to go pick rocks from the fields. I, and as well as my siblings, were born and raised in Idaho and we always get questions as to why Idaho, how did you get there? And there’s a reason, is because of that, like my parents worked in the farms and there was a lot of opportunities for them to work there. Growing up, I went to the public high school available there. I didn’t really realize that there were applications and other fancier schools until I moved to New York City later on in my life. Otherwise, I just did as I was told and as the school progressed, I went to a high school in the area, and then from there, I decided that I wanted to. Look into other careers. So, I was actually interested in being a doctor. As a daughter of immigrants, you’re either a doctor or a lawyer. Those are the careers that they know and they they seem to value the most, and with that, I was like, yes, I’m going to go be a doctor. I was taking all of the medical classes, that included even getting my certified nursing assistant certificate to become a CNA and I was also looking, foreshadowing where you go and just look at the people’s jobs and I did that for an orthopedic surgeon and a chiropractor, and I realized that, I mean, I really enjoyed it. I wanted to be an orthopedic surgeon, so I was ready, but throughout that time, I was also very involved in the Finance Academy, Business Professionals of America, BPA, and DECA. I don’t remember what DECA stands for, but it was a business club in high school. I was very involved in that, but then came around the time that I had to apply for college. I didn’t know where to go and my parents didn’t know where to point me either, just because they knew the language, they didn’t really know how to speak it that well, but they didn’t know what was available for us. There was a community college across the street, so they were always just telling me to go there. My guidance counselor actually told me that I should go do makeup or hair because I did that well, and definitely, I respect those careers, but I felt that I was being stereotyped into fitting that mold because of being Latina in a predominantly White school. After that, I decided to push forward and another teacher said I had free lunch so I can take the ACT for free and ended up taking it and then going off to a Hispanic conference later on that year, where I was later introduced to the University of Idaho, which is about an eight hour drive from my hometown and there, thankfully I got a scholarship called CAMP, which stands for Campus Assistant Migrant Program which allowed me to go to school and also allowed my parents peace of mind for me to be sent there. So, I ended up going to the University of Idaho and again, I was doing pre-med and I decided to do business as well, and during my time there, thankfully secured a couple of internships during my sophomore year, and later on in my junior year, the first internship that I had was actually at the National Nuclear Security Administration in Los Alamos, New Mexico where I was working in occupational medicine, again, because I wanted to be a doctor and also do business. I was looking at the operational efficiencies of the clinic available there, then my junior summer, I applied to this program called Sponsors for Education Opportunity, SEO. Now, I think they rebranded it called Seizing Every Opportunity, but it’s a program that, there’s different phases of it. I did the career one which allows underrepresented minorities to get into careers in finance and I ended up going to Goldman Sachs. I had no idea what Goldman Sachs was, I’ve never been to New York, I had no idea how to even, like, I’ve never been on a plane, so it was very interesting too to go there, and I told my friend, I was like, “Hey, I don’t know where to go, I have nowhere to stay, I don’t trust Craigslist.” That’s the only way, this is before Airbnb, it’s like, I don’t trust Craigslist. I can’t really rent an apartment in New York, and my friend said, “My cousin’s boyfriend’s sister lives there, let me talk to them and see if you can stay there in Queens.” Thankfully, they let me stay there and I ended up going to Queens, and it was a great experience overall being at Goldman. Later on, I did found an apartment closer to my work, but just being at Goldman and being in the city that was massive and just being in the city, coming from rural Idaho, literally, when I say rural Idaho, I mean like cows and farms and all these other things, and then going to the city, I was just amazed of the magnitude and also the people there. I realized that it was so dirty and gross. At first, I was like, where am I? I feel like I’m in a third world country just because it looks so dirty and dinky compared to the United States that I was accustomed to, but then as I mentioned, the people were amazing, the energy was just exhilarating, and I really enjoyed my internship there. I was working mostly in procurement and understanding vendor management and I, thankfully, was able to leverage it to a full-time position.
After that, I went back to Idaho, finished my year and came back, and moved to New York after graduating from the University of Idaho. I was at Goldman Sachs for about two years working in environment and social governance programs. This includes the supplier diversity and also buying renewable energy, but after that, unfortunately, my team was let go because they had to pay, like, a $5 billion fine due to the 2008 financial crisis. That was really hard for me because I was supporting my parents. They didn’t know that I had lost my job and I just felt I failed. It was really hard for me during that time, but I leveraged that as an opportunity to see where I wanted to go next and really make a deliberate choice of what I wanted to do. I think before that, I was just going with the flow as to what am I doing with my life, everything was just set up there, but this time, I had to choose, I had a choice. I now knew what business was. Before that, I didn’t know what business was, and now, after being in New York for two and a half years, I had a better understanding of what my career could take me. Go for it.
Priscilla: Yeah, so that seems like such a huge, almost like a crisis moment, right? Like, two years, it was after two years of working at Goldman Sachs that that happened?
Priscilla: Yeah, and so what did you do in that month when you found out that they were letting your team go, did you reach out to anyone? How did that look like for you?
Jessica: I wish, it was a month where I had time to go. It was just like, I went to work one day and they were like, “Bye,” so I thankfully had a severance package, that’s another thing that I didn’t know about, and I was provided with a couple months of pay in addition to outsourcing services or services to place you at another job, and so I was able to leverage all of those benefits that they provided me, but what did I do the day of, I mean, I was just crying. I didn’t know what to do, I had no idea, but thankfully, I’ve already had a network of people that I could have reached out to, and I knew that I could find the job that I really wanted. I reached out to my friend at UBS and she was amazing. She actually helped me get a job two weeks after losing my job, and I decided to say no because that’s not what I wanted to do. It was a job, but I was looking for a job that I wasn’t going to be happier. At this point, I realized having a great manager and someone that believed in you was really important and having experience bad management, I wanted to make sure that I was placed somewhere where I knew I was going to succeed, and I really looked for that, and I waited until I found it and that was at CitiGroup.
Priscilla: Amazing. I think that takes a lot of bravery to say no to something especially when you’re unemployed and maybe yes, you had that financial security for a little bit, but still, you’re always thinking what if I run out of money or what if it takes a long time? Because job searches can take such a long time, but that’s amazing that you were able to say no. What was the new role at Citi?
Jessica: So, at CitiGroup, when I was looking for my job, I decided that I wanted to do something with impact and that was something that drove me and changing the lives of other people, but I was less interested in the environment. I was most interested in the S of ESG which is around social responsibility, and I went to community development and there, I was working around the community reinvestment act which is a law that was passed in 1977 that forced financial institutions to invest in low and moderate income communities around the United States depending on where they had branches, so this is a law that I feel now should be replicated into other sectors of forcing people to invest in these under invested communities, but I was working across different divisions to do the reporting on how they were doing this, in addition, working with regulators to make sure that the firm was upholding their end of the bargain.
Priscilla: Okay, and so when you were at Citi, what does the career ladder look like? What was the level that you entered at and then what do those promotions look like for those who are wondering?
Jessica: I entered as an Assistant Vice President and that was actually a promotion from my Goldman days and also, like, they paid me more, so that’s another thing I tell people just because you’re at a company doesn’t mean that there is another thing out there. You have to be really brave and don’t pigeonhole yourself to one company without really knowing what’s available out there, so I started as Assistant Vice President. The next step would have been Vice President and then following that is Senior Vice President, and then Director and then Managing Director, etc., so that was a career ladder. During that time, I was there for about three years, it would have been in my promotion year if I would have stayed, but my manager and I had very clear communication in terms of me knowing that I was going to go to business school and him helping me get to business school, and nd I was really happy and blessed for that but I think that having that, I really enjoyed my time there and really think that a place like Citi and all these other organizations, there is that career ladder and there are opportunities to move up within the firm, but I wanted to see what other opportunities were out there. I felt that it was a great job, but I was interested in doing a little bit more.
Priscilla: And so at Citi, did you already know about careers in venture capital or when did that conversation start for you?
Jessica: Yeah, I had no idea what venture capital was at all, and even when I was applying to business school, I was like, I’m going to go be an investment banker. I want to work in private equity. Nowhere in my mind did I understand what venture capital was. I think, and I remember my consultant and my mentor, she would say, “Yes, I think you’re more of a venture capital person,” and I will say, “I don’t know about that,” but mostly, I would say that because I didn’t know what it was, but I think I started getting a little bit more interested in it because my brother unfortunately ended up going to prison and I realized that the prison industry is a $5 billion industry where mostly women of color are the ones that are contributing to funding these companies, and not funding, but like the customers of these companies, and I realized that and then thought about how old the technology was there and how I can improve it, and that was through venture capital and I looked at a couple of companies that were in that space, and then from that, I found Kapor Capital, and I was super excited to hear about Kapor Capital and what they were doing more so than actual, like, what venture capital was, and that really is what sparked my interest. I spoke to a couple of friends that had done the internship and they let me know about what they were doing and what they thought about it, and helped me through the application, and thankfully they accepted me, so I was really excited for it.
Priscilla: Very cool. So, you were there the summer before you started your MBA program, right? So, what kind of projects did you work on as an intern?
Jessica: I think the Kapor Capital internship is very unique. It’s 50-50, so 50% of the time you’re doing venture capital stuff, and then 50% of the time, you’re working with a startup. So, I had the opportunity to work with Aclima who actually just raised a $40 million round, series B around starting to buy a Latina, and they’re working on collecting air quality data all around. I think right now they have mostly California, but they hope to expand it to all around the world. So, that was a great experience, and on the venture capital side, I was working on diligencing, so looking at the different deals that were coming through, looking at pitches and seeing whether or not we would be investing in them in addition to other things within the venture capital realm, like going to events and meeting with founders, etc.
Priscilla: So, you decided that you were interested in VC during that summer internship?
Jessica: Yeah, I think I was able to really see what venture capital was and experience it, and from there, I realized that there are very few people of color in this industry, and I think that’s what really motivated me was knowing that we need more people like us, but there’s not a lot of us that are willing to pursue it because it is a long journey and sometimes, we have other responsibilities that we need to take care of first, but I was very interested in just the mission and how I would be the one choosing which companies get to live or die and investing in the community that I cared about and knowing that I had this unique perspective living in certain communities that I could bring to a deal team.
Priscilla: And so, I know you are now at MIT Sloan, so what has that experience been like for you just developing as a leader and also exploring more in finance and in VC?
Jessica: Yeah, I think that one, getting an MBA is great and I’m really grateful to be at MIT and being in this space where I can seek opportunities and really pursue them, but I think that people, at least people of color, need to realize that sometimes these spaces aren’t for you and you just need to make sure that you make it for you and you need to push forward, like I’m very involved in the diversity, equity and inclusion committees and trying to increase representation of Black and Brown people at MIT Sloan, but there is a lack of diversity in all of the programs and we need to continue to create that path, but sometimes, it just does create some sort of attacks on the students because then, that prevents them from focusing on recruiting on, or not recruiting, but like on other things that they might be interested in, maybe starting a business, etc. Being at MIT, I think that looking back, I think it was a perfect school for me because I ended up also applying to the Harvard Kennedy School which is right across the street and very easy to go to, but I think that I really enjoy the aspect of entrepreneurship and technology, and seeing what everyone is working on is really amazing, and as a future venture capitalist, I think that having that network and leveraging the entrepreneurship in combination with some of the financial skillsets that I gained will help me get into venture capital in the long run. I’ve been involved in Mint which is like a competition put on by Wharton Management Impact Investing and Training but it’s a competition where would you look for a company to invest in or to propose to invest in that is making an impact and you’re trying to get $50,000 of funds to invest in this company that you selected. In addition, I’ve been involved in internships, so I’ve been working with Luna Cap which is another scholarship that I received at MIT, not at MIT itself, but it’s across different schools scholarship, and it’s for Mexicans and for veterans, and it really depends on the funding, but it’s also another amazing network and I have been interning on their venture arm, which is the Luna Cap Ventures, and we’ve been doing more of a debt VC which is a little bit different than equity or what I was doing at Kapor, and then at New Market Venture Partners which is an ad tech and future work fund that I actually did my summer internship with as well but I did a spring, summer and I’m doing a fall into master internship because they’re working on fundraising in addition of just doing diligence on their deal flow, but ultimately, I’ve really enjoyed my time at MIT Sloan. I definitely feel that I’ve made great friends and long time friends that I will keep for my future and wherever I go.
Priscilla: So, one thing I’m really curious from your experiences, the people that you met at these funds who they’re calling the shots, they’re at the highest level, are these people who are all ex-bankers, or what are those career paths or even qualifications that you’ve seen for people that are in this space?
Jessica: Yeah, I think most of the time, it really depends what stage. So, Kapor Capital was more earlier stage. At New Markets and also at the debt fund, it’s more later stage, and debt, the investment is very heavily associated with the balance sheet and the health of the balance sheet of the company, so I think, of course, for the venture debt and for the later stage, I see more bankers and I see people that have been in banking being in that space, but I also see people that haven’t done banking. So, I’ve seen people that have started a company, been entrepreneurs, been working on the operational side of things, and then I also, in the earlier stage side, I do see people that have different experience, whether that be in finance or consulting, and thinking about operational marketing. It really just depends, but it is very heavily banking and consulting, and that’s something that I hope to change and something that we all need to change, and unfortunately, the reason why it’s like that, it’s because in order to be an accredited investor, you need at least $1 million of liquid capital and/or a salary of $250,000 a year and only consulting or bankers would really be able to have that salary. So, that’s something that traditionally, it’s been like that because of those entrance of the industry and because you’re a banker in venture capital, then you’re gonna look for a banker and venture capital, but you honestly don’t need any of that. I think if you were really talking about what you really needed to be in venture capital, is you need a lot of money, and unfortunately, not a lot of people of color have a lot of money and that’s what really draws people to it.
Priscilla: It’s such a good point. Yeah, and so let’s say someone’s listening to this episode and they’re like, “I’m really interested in pursuing venture capital but I don’t know any of this jargon or how this works,” when you were learning about it, was there like a book or like anything that you use to help you ramp up quickly and understand, like, the deal flow and like all those things?
Jessica: Yeah, so I think that definitely, there’s a lot of blogs out there about venture capital. You need to do your research on the funds that you’re interested in, know who the top funds are, who the big players, Venture Deals is a book and is what people call like the Bible of venture capital, and in terms of podcasts, like maybe the 20-minute VC provides interviews with these fund managers in addition with people in this space, but I think talking to people about it, but not just talking to people, but I feel that sometimes, people are saying, “Yeah, I want to do venture capital, can we set up a coffee chat and you set up a coffee chat?” and you don’t realize that these people have a lot of meetings every day, and you should probably do a little bit more research and background on what venture capital is or even send over a company that you think that they might be interested in that allows them to feel like, okay, I will spend 30 minutes with this person because they sent me this deal that I wouldn’t have otherwise gone, and I would say try to get some experience if you can working for free although I hate when people work for free because I feel people should be compensated for their time, but sometimes, you do have to do that in VC, just try to see if you can do a scout or start learning more about being inside the industry, but never give up. You need to be very persistent, ask to meet, be bold and reach out. I think for venture capital, you either know how to do diligence and know whether or not an investment is good, but the other part is just networking to either get new deal flow or also, to get someone to invest in your fund. So, if you can really prove that you have those skills, you would be great in a venture capital setting. But yeah, if you are from an underrepresented group, you should definitely look into your network and see, I know for Latinos, there was like a LatinX VC where on Twitter, on my Facebook, that you can join and they post jobs and articles, and different newsletters on how to get into the space, but I’m also happy to share with you, Priscilla, a link that allows people to see, there’s like a whole one pager on how to get into venture capital and blogs and books and a list of resources that you can leverage.
Priscilla: Very cool. Yeah, I could definitely put that in the show notes, but yeah, Arlan Hamilton, her book is called It’s About Damn Time and it came out in May of this year, yeah, she’s awesome.
Jessica: Yeah, that’s an amazing book, definitely read it when you have time.
Priscilla: Great, so I guess my last question for you, I want to talk a little bit about imposter syndrome. I think a lot of us who were the only ones or were the first in our families to go to these elite schools or enter these elite spaces that like you said were not designed for us, how ow have you grappled with those moments?
Jessica: Yeah, I mean, I think that being laid off, I hated it, but I always go to that moment and realizing that everything will be okay and that now, it will be even better because you have an amazing school behind you that you could leverage for whatever it is, but I think that I’ve become more confident as to who I am and what my background is, and I own it. It’s taken me a while, I don’t really remember what it did take for me to get here, but I realized that if you’re not speaking up, if you’re not the one saying something, nobody is. So, you need to be that person, regardless if it is painful, or if you really have to get out of your own bubble to do that, because otherwise, your community will not be heard.
So, for me, I do it not for me, but for other people and to bring other people together, and I think with that, it’s allowed me to find this confidence within myself to be like, whatever, like, it happened, like I did what I had to do and I am not going to change for anyone regardless of what the thing is, and I think that only comes with age, and there are times where I do make mistakes and maybe I can say things better or being nicer, or whatever that is, but I think at the end of the day, I pride myself on trying to give everyone the true Jessica and provide people with my honest thoughts without having to sugarcoat anything, and sometimes, that’s hard to do because then, you can come off as, like, people say aggressive or maybe not as refined as you would have liked, but I told you what I thought, you asked me for it, so it’s not my fault that maybe you don’t like what you hear, but I think that at the end of the day, I just prefer not to happen to regrets for me not doing anything.
Priscilla: Yeah, so I think what you’re talking about a little bit is being authentic to yourself and being unwilling to blend in or change who you are, or mute parts of yourself just to fit into another culture.
Jessica: Exactly, and I think also, it’s learning about our history and the history that Black and Brown people have faced in the United States and knowing that we have nothing to apologize. All of this has been really brought to us because people think that White people are superior or because we’ve been taught to believe those things through propaganda, through the media, whatever that is, and we’re over here trying to act a certain way for other people. No, why are we doing this? Who told us that we needed to do this? And the reality is that we need to change that.
Priscilla: That is a great place to end, very powerful words. Thank you so much, Jessica, for being here for giving it to us straight. I can’t wait to have people listen to your story and be inspired to break into VC or to go any path other than finance.
Jessica: Yeah, no, I mean, thank you for having me and yeah, feel free to reach out to me on LinkedIn or however you want, happy to chat with people, and thank you again for the opportunity.
Thanks for tuning into The Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit ECMpodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community, and if you loved this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.
Have you ever thought about the story that you’re telling others when it comes to your career? On this episode, Aaron Wilson tells us about the career story he’s been crafting ever since he graduated from the University of Virginia with a degree in business. As a Black-Asian child of working class parents, Aaron’s story has included: moving to the West Coast to change functions and industries, navigating the ad agency world, deciding to pursue elite management consulting, and eventually landing at McKinsey, post MBA, as an associate.
Links Mentioned in the Episode:
Aaron: I remember I had a mentor at Capital One. He was Asian so he looked out for me. He knew I was half Asian. But he told me like some people at the company knew that I used to play football and I’m black. So if I walk around slow, people might think that you’re not super energetic or something like that. To a 21-year-old, coming fresh into a job, you’re just like, “What does that even mean?”
Priscilla: Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I’m your host Priscilla Esquivel Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color, and you’re feeling lost in your career, or just need a dose of inspiration. You’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Priscilla: Hey, everyone, how’s everyone doing? I am really good, actually. You know, yesterday, the CDC came out saying that you don’t have to wear a mask anymore if you’re vaccinated, which my brain still can’t really compute that. I feel like we’ve been through such a roller coaster ride in the last year in terms of guidelines. It’s been a trippy year where we don’t even know what to do or whatever. So But anyway, I think there is a light at the end of the tunnel and so that brings me a lot of joy because I do feel excited to start to incorporate some socializing and just seeing people in my life again, safely. And so, anyway, that’s just on my mind. But welcome to episode 24 of the first season of the early career moves podcast. Today, you’re going to hear from Aaron Wilson, who went to UVA Darden School of Business, he is an MBA, and he also went to UVA for his undergrad, his bachelor’s in business where he focused on brand management and actually worked at Capital One after he graduated in brand marketing. But later made a series of pivots that took him to work for Sony Pictures and for an ad agency, but the whole time you’re going to hear in his story that he was always sort of thinking about his next move in a very strategic way, even if he didn’t know exactly what that would look like.
So I think Aaron is a really great example of someone who stays ready, like he was doing the work, whether that was building a super marketable skill set that he could use later, or asking himself, you know, did he get what he needed to get out of a sort of experience? Where was he trying to go next? Not everyone is like this and that’s okay. But, you know, Aaron is someone who you can tell his story, is very much thinking long term, playing a game of strategy in his career, and it’s definitely paid off. Aaron is an associate McKinsey, one of the most elite management consulting firms in the world. And I won’t be surprised if one day we see his name as CEO. Okay, I’ll stop here. Enjoy the interview. Let me know what you think. So I’m excited to have you share your story of how you went from brand marketing to analytics to working at an ad agency all the way through Business School, and now working at McKinsey. But before we get into that, will you share a little bit about your own personal background?
Aaron: So, yeah, hello everyone. I’m originally from Washington, DC. My family are from the Northeast area of Washington, DC. But my father, he was originally from Chicago, the West side of Chicago, father’s black. My mother’s Korean, she’s actually from South Korea, so she was an immigrant. So most of my time, I was raised in Northeast DC, but also spend some time in Washington, Maryland, which is PG County, and then Alexandria, Virginia. So like a real full around DMV. So I went to high school in TC, played football, track, basketball as well and then played football at the University of Virginia in the ACC. When I first started, I studied Business Commerce at UVA, which was a pretty prestigious at that time. And then, once I graduated, I actually went to Capitol One for brand marketing.
Priscilla: Okay, so brand marketing was your first job. How did you ended up deciding to go down that path? And what was it like being in that program?
Aaron: So, yeah, I originally did brand marketing for Capital One straight out of undergrad. One of the reasons why I chose to do brand marketing was more of like, my mother was a cashier. Father, he was in the military. So I’d never saw what professional jobs looked like in the past. So for me, it was like, “Oh, marketing, would love it. Would love to do that type of job. It has a lot of outreach, a lot of influence.” And then if I ever got to the position high within the company, then I could be the one making decisions of how we’re utilizing that budget, and making differences in the world beyond just adding additional profits for the company. So that was my original thought trying to go to Capital One doing brand marketing. And on the other side of that Capital One was a heavily invested sponsor for the University of Virginia, so there was a big relationship there. A lot of alumni that came from the University of Virginia so it just made sense at the time. I oved it, great people, gained a lot of skill sets that I never had before, thinking strategically as well as working with advertising agencies. So I worked at Capital One for two years as an Associate Brand Marketing Manager. During that time, I was actually exposed to advertising agencies and seeing how they work. So it was very interesting in that time, because at Capital One, we were doing a lot of the strategy, providing a lot of the insights from data that we have within the company. But the cool things that usually think of as marketing goes is usually what the advertising agencies do, the advertising and the media agencies. They’re the ones who actually create the actual creative based upon the original strategy, and execute to expose it to the consumers. And in a way that makes sense. So there’s a lot of components to that I was intrigued, very interested, I wanted to see what that side of the world was like on the agency side, and additional opportunity popped up to move to Los Angeles. As I mentioned before, I’ve always been from the Washington DC area, went to UVA. So DC, in Virginia, Maryland, that whole scene is something that I knew majority of my life. So I thought, “Hey, why not? Let’s try something new and get exposure to a whole another area.” Who wouldn’t want to go to West Coast to do a little LA action, surfing and all?
Priscilla: Yeah. So before we get into you moving to LA and changing jobs, I would love to hear just your first job at Capital One. What were some of the stumbling blocks that you faced entering corporate America for the first time? What was challenging about it? How did you manage that?
Aaron: Sure. So one thing I want to start with is capital was an amazing place, very smart people, high caliber. But with that, I don’t think there will be one company that’s perfect. There’s always a lot of good things with it, but and then sometimes some setbacks. So one thing for Capital One, everyone was super high performing. But with that, it’s hard to get promoted, right? It’s hard to move up within the company if everyone’s high performing. The company treats everyone well. No one really wants to leave. You don’t really find that many opportunities that fast. And then beyond that, it’s like, how do you separate candidates who are all doing their job well? So the thing that I would say was, like separating people is more of like, how much do you like this person, right? Do they seem like they’re fully energetic? Do you feel like they’re super nice and willing to help each other? A lot of those things that aren’t pretty subjective. And honestly, like me, coming out of college, black Korean guy, there was maybe two other black people in the whole brand department of Capital One at the time. Right now, this is Sunday, so I’m feeling energetic. But when I was at Capital One coming out of college, like, I wouldn’t jump out everyone like, “Hey, how’s your day going?” And those are the things that can cost you at moving up in the company, or standing out as someone who’s 14 players, fully smart, etc. So those are some of the things that I struggle with, some of those things that it’s not on paper that you learn you should do to move up in the company or in the world, so I struggle with that. And this is probably even more personal level. I remember, I had a mentor at Capital One. He was Asian so he looked out for me. He knew I was half Asian. But he told me like some people at the company knew that I used to play football, and I’m black. So if I walk around slow, people might think that like, you’re not super energetic or something like that. A 21-year-old, coming fresh into a job, you’re just like, “What does that even mean?” So those are some things that I dealt with just trying to like navigate through like, the political system I will probably say within corporate world. I didn’t really fully understand that at the time. But I think that was just also just being young in my career.
Priscilla: Totally. I really liked that story because I remember when I was young, getting similar feedback like that I seemed disinterested, or that I didn’t seem enthusiastic. And later on, you realize that’s really highly valued. So totally understand that. But yeah, so let’s jump back into your story and what was the job that you moved for in California? Like what happened next?
Aaron: So I went over there for this media advertising agency called OMD. So that’s an agency under the umbrella, Omnicom. So similarly, like consulting firms and similar to some law firms, just like a big four of agencies. And Omnicom is one of those big agencies that’s worldwide, very prevalent in New York City and Los Angeles and Chicago. So I switched to that side and I was very purposeful with what position I picked. The position was for Marketing Analytics. So this is what like, end of 2014 beginning of 2015. I definitely wanted to get exposure to analytics because I knew that big data was going to be a big piece for all types of marketers out there, whether you wanted to be on the brand strategy side, or whether you wanted to be on the execution side, or whether you had aspirations to become an executive, big data was always going to be important. So I switched over to work for OMD in Los Angeles. There I worked on two accounts, I worked on the activation Call of Duty account, so think like Call of Duty Black Ops 3. I work on that campaign. So I did everything from what is the strategy like, what type of partner should we use in media? And what that means is like, yes beyond just like the Google search and featuring advertisements there and working with YouTube, via Google for YouTube videos. There’s a component outside of social media, which also includes like programmatic channels, where it’s a little site that people go to whether it’s blog sites, whether it’s a website site for video gamers, they may know like IGN, you’re featuring advertisements where people go to, and that’s kind of like what the media agency job is.
Priscilla: Okay, cool. Yeah, that’s sounds like such a huge change, right? Like, not only did you move from the East coast to the West coast, where you didn’t have any routes, but you also changed industries a little bit and also function. So what was that like making those switches and what was maybe hard about that?
Aaron: Yeah, I remember telling some friends that, “Hey, I’m going to move to Los Angeles in a month.” Some people thought I was joking. It was just something that I had to move with before I second guessed myself, because I knew I just wanted to change for myself, just because I’ve been in the DMV area for so long. So that’s what just prompted me and pushed me over the edge in order to do so no matter what the challenge is. As far as how I dealt with, like the switch, functionally in and from an industry standpoint, I think it was just pure curiosity. One thing that I think stands out to me no matter who I worked with and in any industry, any company is, if a person is intelligent, and they have the will to learn and work, I think you’ll be fine anywhere. When I started working at the media advertising agency, very different world than a financial bank, especially like a fortune 100 company. So the media advertising agency, I mean, was totally different from a culture standpoint, like we had a basketball Court, inside our building, you can have your dogs at work, we were working with entertainment companies left and right, Disney was another client of ours for the advertising agency, etc. So it was a shift, but hey, I’m not going to complain about those things like, I loved it. I think the biggest thing was more the fact that just showing that I was passionate and which was authentic like, I was excited to work at this advertising agency and try something new. I think that’s something that people have heard over time, who are very successful, when they make transitions, it’s usually because they felt like the position, they were previously in felt stale, or they weren’t learning anymore. I think whenever you’re in a position where you’re not learning anymore, like it will come across to other people that you really aren’t learning more, and then your passion and curiosity might falter. So I really leaned on that when I was starting a new function in a new company. I showed that I was curious, I was attentive, I learned and picked up fast. And then, I just let that kind of carry my weight all the way through. Put in the beginning, it’s obviously going to be more time and effort, but over time, started gaining more expertise, and then just kept trying to push the boundaries of what we could do at some of these media advertising agencies, and even leveraging my past experiences working at Capital One, knowing that I was on the client side of advertising agencies in the past. That kind of gave me like, a leg up of oh, this is probably what they may want to see or what they’re looking for what type of insights will be most helpful? So, again, I think two parts, really leaning on that curiosity point, learning fast. And the second point of utilizing past experience, whenever it fits, I think that’s always shows like a unique perspective, and showing how you’re a unique asset.
Priscilla: What are some things that you think people should know about the advertising agency world if they’re considering entering and breaking into this work? Sure.
Aaron: So I would probably say there’s probably like three different things. One, I would say location does matter, especially, if you’re thinking entry level. The cities with the most agency activity and opportunity would definitely always be Los Angeles and New York City. So I’m just going to be very straightforward on that front. That’s not to say that there aren’t advertising agencies and other big cities in the US like, Atlanta, San Francisco, Chicago, there are, but nine out of 10 there’s way more opportunities and job openings in New York City and Los Angeles. So that’s just a very direct piece of advice, at least from my perspective. The second piece, I would say is, there’s different types of positions they’re looking for in agencies. One, they’re looking for creative, so that’s what you think about as graphic designers, people with artist in skill sets, and craftsmanship, photographic or video recording skills, that creative sector. They’re also looking for analytics. That’s actually a growing space in advertising agencies. Utilizing data and measuring especially for digital media just, because everything is gravitating towards that. Budgets increasing, advertising spend in the digital space, so if you have any type of analytic skills, that’s working with Excel, working with SQL, working with Tableau, it’s huge. So we definitely highly recommend leveraging some of those skills and those platforms in order to get a leg up in the advertising world. And then, three, which some agencies are known for are more of the strategist. So those are the people who don’t have as much heavy analytic skills. But I would say and pre-warn like, that’s more based upon pure experience. Strategist can move up and become VPs, executives, etc. But the road from the beginning is going to be a little difficult because in the beginning, I don’t think that pays huge for strategist coming in to agencies. But as far as like, how to get in, it’s literally more of just like, making sure your resume matches up finding the right opportunity and the right timing, if you want to come in as a strategist.
Priscilla: Okay, so you were saying that you were at the ad agency, what ended up happening next, how did you end up moving up and getting to the point of going to business school.
Aaron: So then, I got promoted, worked as a manager within the media agency where I shifted. And there, just working on different accounts really shine light on how you have to change your strategy and the tools that you utilize to reach out to the consumer. A video game, for instance, like they release once a year, annually. So what you’re doing is you’re trying to build hype and engagement throughout the year slowly but surely until the person like, unconscious things like, I have to get this game, versus Levi’s and Dockers, where you’re dealing with retail, people are usually thinking about buying clothes two times the year, at least, which is usually spring and fall. Preparation for the wintertime and spring when you’re preparing for summer, as well as getting close for that spring and fall season. So that’s how like campaign shifted, the type of sites and partners you will utilize, the way we were analyzing engagement was totally different, and that was one of my responsibilities was at the agency OMD. Before, I actually shifted again to work for another agency, a media agency called Universal McCann. And that’s where I was contracted out to Sony Pictures. So that’s where I spent my last year and a half two years before going back to my MBA program. I am working for Sony Pictures, doing audience targeting for all the different Sony Picture movies like, Spiderman Homecoming, Jumanji, Welcome to the Jungle. So this was back in 2017. That’s what I was doing before the NBA.
Priscilla: So when you were making all these career decisions in your 20s before you went to business school, what were the things that you were looking for in your next opportunities? Like how did you think through that?
Aaron: Yeah, for sure. I was thinking about if probably from a 3.1. I was like, “Where did I want to live?” As far as city position, what type of lifestyle that I want as far as what job I was going to choose? People I think automatically guys like compensation, what account, is this any work. So that’s like the short term. So that was like the bare top superficial things I was looking at for jobs and switching jobs. The second piece I’ll probably say is, I was thinking about what story like my resume was telling and how I wanted to grow. And it wasn’t just literally like jumping back and forth from like a zigzag standpoint, but more of like, it didn’t have to incrementally stack up on top of each other as far as how my experience was building. But how was I growing? How was I evolving as if I want to be as an executive. I think I have a very heavy marketing background, but also marketing and strategy. And I knew that something that I wanted to be a part of my core of what I would be known for whether it’s five years from now, 10 years from now, 20 years from now. So from that standpoint, I always wanted to make sure I had a little bit of piece of what I did when I first started working way back when I worked for Capital One doing brand marketing. And I did Sony Pictures was a little bit different, because every movie is going be totally different, right? The way you’re marketing a movie for Spiderman is going to be very different than you do for Peter Rabbit kids movie. So that changed a little bit. But that job, for instance, was still connected to my previous job doing marketing analytics. I was building upon what our to learn about data. And then, I was targeting audiences, so I was building further from my previous job working with Sony Pictures connected to OMD working at that agency. So that’s that second point, I was talking about is how was my resume building over time, incrementally, from position to position. And then, the third piece, I wanted to mention was like more long term, the thing I was thinking about is, how could it put me in a position. For instance, I knew I wanted to eventually switch to management consulting will put me in that position. I was thinking about that probably since 2015. And I graduated from the University of Virginia Darden School of Business in 2020. So there were some thought into that, will put me in the best position, what would tell that story of why did I want to get there. So that was the third piece that I think played a role in how I was choosing positions and companies.
Priscilla: That’s really cool. It seems like you were really intentional about your strategy throughout the years, which is I would say pretty rare and unique, but obviously it really served you well once you were in business school and you knew you wanting to do consulting. At what point did management consulting get on your radar? How did you know that that was something you wanted to pursue?
Aaron: From the undergrad business school from UVA, there’s actually quite a few people who go into consulting. I wasn’t exposed to it just during that time. I didn’t even know what to look for. So my mind was always brand marketing. But soon after, when I was at a Capital One, and I started talking to some more friends, meeting more people and find out, “Oh, that’s pretty cool.” Like consulting, you get exposure to multiple different companies, you get to travel, something that piqued my interest, not something that I was sure that I wanted to do, but it was something that was like, potentially in the future. And on top of that, before I move on to the second time, I want to say like, at all times, when I was building my career, I didn’t know exactly where I wanted to be. But it was more of thinking about, I wanted to leave room where it made sense if I went that way. So like if, say, if I wanted to go into music with Spotify, I will want to have works that could connect me to be able to go that direction. So I never exactly knew like, hey, I always wanted to be at Sony Pictures when I was at Capital One but it was more of a thing like, I was always incrementally building upon my past experience, so that I could be able to go that direction. So just wanted to make that clear. So after the first point of when I was exposed to consulting the second point, I was actually exposed to one of the MBB firms when I was working with Sony Pictures. And that’s when, you know, I was fascinated. The team was very smart, very intelligent, structured, high performing, move fast, and I learn more about them. The fact that the type of work they were touching, even at a young age, I just knew like beyond just the opportunities that were open for management consultants at high prestigious firms was the soft skills that they developed. How exact and professional they spoke with their client. Every meeting wasn’t just a meeting just to have or cover track, it was always with intention in mind to move the problem solving and trying to find the solution faster and forward. People know. Sometimes I imagined who’s listening to this podcast. Sometimes you have meetings where it’s just kind of cyclical. And then, there’s just another thing you have that meeting but then no one steps back and as like why like how are we pushing, you know, the solution in these 20 minutes to make sure that we are further along than we were 20 minutes ago. This is what this firm did. And that really spoke to me. So I would say that was time I was like, hey, like whether something I will want to do for the rest of my life afterward. I know that I will want a career in consulting because I want to develop those skills almost at an unconscious level. So that’s probably the second time I got exposed and I was like, Oh, I could see myself in the consulting industry.
Priscilla: Okay, so now let’s talk about your MBA journey. You decided to go to UVA Darden, you had other options, you got a McKinsey internship offer, you accepted a full-time offer to join McKinsey. And that’s where you are now, McKinsey is one of the top three management consulting firms, one of the most elite, right? A lot of people would say, it’s the best one. MBB, for those who don’t know, stands for McKinsey, BCG and Bain. And so, yeah, like what did it feel like for you to get that internship and to now be in this full-time like, that must have been like such a huge accomplishment.
Aaron: I was ecstatic. It was a hard road. I’m not going to lie. The networking and the case prep, I was extremely excited. One, just the amount of work I put in but two when I was working at Sony Pictures and even applying for the MBA programs, my thought process as far as like applying. What I will want to do post MBA was always like consulting firm like McKinsey, right? Like, I wasn’t sure if I would ever get the opportunity to work for McKinsey so it was always a consulting firm like McKinsey. So at the back of my mind, like it wasn’t only the hard work that I’ve done, but it was also the fact that I felt like it was a dream come true. The people I met at McKinsey were amazing folks that well, they weren’t just smart, they knew how to engage how to influence and I was very happy about that Atlanta office, in particular, there are already three women black partners, so they mean to just say they were about diversity, they actually had them in leadership. So a show like this company actually stood behind what they said. So I was Yeah, I was very happy about getting that offer.
Priscilla: That’s amazing. So switching gears here a little bit, I want to talk about imposter syndrome. We talk about it a lot on the podcast and I just want to hear like, did you experience imposter syndrome throughout your 20s? How did you manage that?
Aaron: Sure. So yeah, I’ve had it a few times across my career. I think the first time ever was when I first started working for Capital One doing brand marketing. At the time, I was working on the Quicksilver credit card so I was pulling it then. I was working with all this senior leadership that’s had excellent past experiences and expertise in the field and I’m the one trying to add my piece to make this national campaign happen. I started second questioning myself. Oh, is this work? Absolutely. 100% unequivocally correct. I don’t want to be that black guy who got something wrong, but over time, it was just trusting myself. I had mentors and sponsors who spoke up for me And when you keep Hearing it again and again, you start thinking like, hey, you’re right, I did do good work. And I did it again. And then again, like maybe I am fit for this. So that was probably the first time. The second time was probably when I first got promoted to manager at OMB, the advertising agency, and I was actually managing someone who’s about the same age as me maybe even like a year older. So one, there’s different dynamics going on there from how comfortable they feel talking with someone who’s their age, and then trying to walk that line between should I be doing this? I am the manager. How do I do this? Am I even cut out for this? Maybe I got promoted too soon. These are the things that were running through my mind. and managing is not easy. Like I think that should be highlighted a lot more in a lot. A lot of corporations like management is not just about being able to do your job. Well. It’s also about being able to build relationships and adapting to the working styles of the people that you’re managing. So it was definitely a learning curve. And I would like to say that I got it correct. The first time I don’t think I necessarily did. But I think maybe like the second year, when I started managing a new person, I started learning how people’s personalities were different and how it could adapt. That’s when I started thinking like, okay, at least I think I’m somewhat competent at it and something that I can definitely do in the future. And then the third time was definitely here at McKinsey. There’s like Olympians walking around everyone’s valedictorians, etc, definitely felt some of that. But I was very happy because even at McKinsey, we have affinity group called the McKinsey black network. And I cannot state how many times people have reached out to me to for support, or even on a higher level for the entire new NBN class of like we do good work like we’re very special people before we got to the firm. So not to ever lose sight of that because the firm did make a special, we were like that before we even got there, getting those reassurances were definitely helpful. And then again, sometimes just given a time, like, I definitely feel in a much better place than I did when I first started working again full time, even after the entire internship. So I think that feeling is always there. But it’s more of just like having patience, giving it time. And then building that support network around you to get that gain reassurance.
Priscilla: I totally agree with everything that you just said. It’s almost like learning how to live with it and creating systems of support to slowly build our confidence over time. But yeah, so my last question for you, Aaron, what kind of advice would you give to someone who was in your shoes maybe a few years back and is trying to move forward in a similar path to yours?
Aaron: Yeah, I think my one piece of advice would be what do you want to stand for? And what I mean by like, what do you want to stand for? This could be at a personal and professional level? Like, do you want to stand for hard work, then come to consulting? Because you’re going to be seeing a lot of hard work? Do you want to be known for impact? Like what type of impact do you know. I’m saying like what really resonates and matters most to you, because I think whatever you choose to do, as far as what you want to stand for, your curiosity is going to run wild. So you’re going to do good work, you’re going to learn you’re going to progress, you’re going to get better, you’re going to evolve. And then, if you’re finding out like what you stand for, I think that’s going to be good for you. When you’re even building your resume. You’re trying to pitch in interview with the different companies because if you know what you want to stand for, you can build, you know your brand of like what you’ve done in the past and what you will do in the future, it will start becoming a lot more clear when you start from there, like knowing like what you want to stand for, that will help you dictate what jobs what industries you want to work in, that will help you even focus on like what you’ve done in the past. Because no matter what, there is a path behind you and ahead of you that is connected. So I think knowing what you want to stand for is that connector to making sure that whole thing tells a story.
Priscilla: Yes, and storytelling and branding, like truly your own career path is so key to a lot of this is like, how do you sell yourself? How do you tell your story? So I love that you ended on that note. Aaron, thank you so much for being with us today. You’re such a great example of what’s possible when you work hard and have a plan. And so yeah, thanks for being with us.
Aaron: Absolutely. Thank you for having me much appreciate.
Priscilla: Thanks for tuning into the Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit ecmpodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes and become a part of our newsletter community. And if you love this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.
Leiva’s story is all about turning tragedy and misfortune into opportunity and hope.
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And at the end of that whole experience, I actually had a conversation with Congresswoman Nydia Velasquez and she was like, “How long have you been teaching?” and I told her, “Oh, this is the beginning of my eighth year.” She goes, “Mama, that’s too long. We need you out here and we need you now.” It was one of those moments of, oh, crap.
Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host Priscilla Esquivel-Weninger, proud Texas Latina, daughter of immigrants, and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
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Okay, so today’s episode is really exciting for me. I’m interviewing Katherine Leiva who goes by Leiva, and Leiva and I crossed paths in 2012 when we were both brand new high school teachers doing Teach for America in Miami, Florida. Leiva taught ESL, English as a second language to English language learners for nearly eight years before deciding to transition out of the classroom and figure out a new career in social impact and advocacy.
Today, Leiva is a senior manager of Leadership Innovation at Radical Partners, and on this episode, she’ll talk about what it was like to make the decision to leave the classroom, a decision that is often very difficult for teachers to make and how she made that choice, what she ended up exploring, and what she gained in the process as she was willing to re-imagine her career.
Priscilla Esquivel Weninger: Hey, Leiva, thanks for being on the show today.
Katherine Leiva: Thanks for inviting me, I’m so excited, this is so cool.
Priscilla: Yes, it’s so wonderful to have you here. So, Leiva, why don’t you start us off by sharing a little bit about your personal background, your personal experiences? I know that they informed your career decisions, so yeah, tell us what it was like to grow up in Miami for you.
Leiva: Oh, my goodness, this is such a loaded question. So, I’m going to try to keep it short and sweet, but real. So, a little bit about me. I’m a first generation Nicaraguan American here, born and raised in Miami. Both of my parents were political refugees that were coming from Nicaragua during a state of civil unrest that was happening in the country and is still currently happening today. They came to the US in the 80s, I believe ’86, ’88, don’t quote me, my family might come from me later, but they came in the eighties and I was the first one born here in 1990. I’m the daughter, I’m number six out of seven kids. So, my family is, like, various generations are included. Like, my eldest brother, I think, is about to be 50, so there’s, like, vast generational gaps within us. All of them were born in Nicaragua except for me and my little sister, and we are a mixed status family. So, I’m a citizen, I have people in my family who are naturalized citizens, I have people in my family who hold a green card and are residents, and then I have people in my family who are undocumented until this day. So, because of all of that, I’ve grown up with a very interesting sense of what it means to be an American and what it means to be poor in the US. I grew up in, like, extreme, low poverty here. Both of my parents died when I was very young. My father died when I was nine years old due to hepatitis C. He had an issue with his liver due to being an alcoholic when he was young, and then my mother shortly passed away a couple of years later when I was 14 and she died of diabetes. She actually had a heart attack in her sleep and died at home, so I was very young when I was thrust into adulthood, I moved in with my big sister and her three children, my nieces and nephews that I see them as my siblings, and to this day, my big sister is the only person in my family that I recognize as anyone who’s taken care of me and helped me along on my journey. So, yeah, that’s been my life. I’ve seen Miami through the lenses of growing up, as a daughter of immigrants growing up in a household that was undocumented in poverty. I mean, I’ve seen Miami and some of the darkest possible spaces that I can be in. I tell people all the time, I’m a Miami mutt. I didn’t grow up stable at all. My senior year in high school, actually, I moved 13 different times and each time, because we were evicted, so it’s been rough. It was a really rough upbringing, and I’ve been thinking about it a lot and I’ve been thinking a lot about it because of this podcast and truly humbled to share this space with you, Priscilla, and have you elevate the voice of people like me, because I feel like there’s not a lot of that. So, that’s me in a nutshell, and I think, I don’t know, it’s all those struggles and hardships that have made me the person that I am and truly ground me into the leader that I’ve become and will continue to be.
Priscilla: Yeah, I mean, Leiva, at this point, you could write a book, there could be a movie, like, there’s just so much that you have overcome and yet somehow, you’re always laughing, you’re just always bubbly and positive, so I always have appreciated that about you, but yeah. So, let’s go a little bit towards high school, like, where did you go to high school? What was that educational experience like? How did that lead you to making it to FSU?
Leiva: So, one of the biggest gifts that my mother ever gave me was making sure that I attended a magnet high school before she passed away, so my mother died my freshman year in high school, which was rough. I ended up in MAST Academy, I got accepted, and that school completely transformed and changed my life, Priscilla, and I’m saying that because you’ve heard about my senior year, right? I moved 13 times that year. We were homeless, we were transient, we were, like, living on the floors of peoples that we knew and it’s couch surfing, it’s like staying at a friend’s house for a week while my sister tried to figure something out. That was my high school living situation and MAST Academy made sure not only that I graduated, but that I went to college and I thrived there, like, that school literally made it happen because they were invested in me, they knew everything that was going on. My mom died my freshman year and it was like, my mom died on a Saturday, Priscilla, and I went to school on Monday and everything was normal, and then the counselors found out and it was like, oh, hell no, like, they pulled me out of class. They were, like, trying to unravel the years of trauma that I had and I’m just sitting there like smiling, I’m fine. Let me go back to my science class, that’s where I want to be, and because that happened, there was just such an investment in me in what I represented, in what I brought to the school, it was transformative on so many levels, and in my senior year, while everyone’s applying to college, I wasn’t going to go, I don’t have the typical Latina story of you’re going to college and you’re going to be a doctor or a lawyer, like, I didn’t have that. I had, hey, you have three jobs, you are income for the household, great. When you graduate high school, let’s get you a full-time. That was my expected life. So, college was never on the table. It was never something we discussed at home. It was never an expectation. It’s just not, college is not something that my family does, and to this day, I’m the only one who’s gone, still. So, really, like, my high school played such a vital role. If it were not for MAST Academy, I don’t think we would be having this conversation right now. My college advisor at school, Ms. Whitby, she literally put her hand on my shoulder. She looked at me in the eyes and she was like, “Leiva, if you stay in Miami, you’re not going to grow the way that you need to grow,” and she was like, “I see so much potential in you. This school sees so much potential in you that you’re not seeing in yourself, and the only way you’re going to see it is if you get away from the life that you live here, and if you get away from your family and just breathe,” and that’s the first time anyone had ever told me that, and I was 17, I was 17 and I had two jobs, like, it was the first time that someone told me to think about myself, and Ms. Whitby, like, she changed my life and I tell her every single chance that I get, we’re friends on Facebook and I shower her with her flowers every single chance, every single opportunity. She said, “I want you to look at UF, which is the University of Florida which is in Gainesville, Florida, which is about six hours away from Miami,” and then she said, “I want you to look at Florida State University, FSU,” which was about eight hours away and she gave me pamphlets for all of them, and she pointed out that Florida State University had the CARE program and the CARE program stands for the Center for Advancement and Retention Enrollment, and it’s pretty much a first-generation low-income program for kids who have never heard, no one in their families has gone to college or do not have the money to go to college and probably don’t have the scores to do extremely well in college if I’m being 100% percent honest, and not only giving them the opportunity to go to an institution like Florida State, but finish with the support needed. So, they actually had a summer bridge program which allows me to go to Florida State the summer right after I graduated, so my graduation was in June, I was in my dorm in July. You only have a month off. You’re there, you get dorm, you get boarding, and you get food, they give you a meal plan, they pay for all of your courses, you get a counselor, you’re there with everyone else who is in the program, which is about 100 other kids from all over the state who share your background and share the struggle, and it’s welcome to college bootcamp 101. So, you’re starting to go to classes and then they give you, like, tutors, and after looking at all of that, I was like, that’s what I want, and I turned in my application in November, I turned in my regular application of Florida State, and then I turned in my application to the CARE program, did all of my essays, got my letters of recommendation, and within a month in December, I was accepted and I knew where I was going at that point, I was going to Florida State, which was such a relief as a senior and going in December, it was amazing.
Priscilla: Okay, so you graduated from FSU, you joined Teach for America in your hometown of Miami, and you were assigned to teach ESL, which is teaching English as a second language to English language learners, so mostly immigrants, high school students learning English from a variety of different countries. You ended up teaching ESL in Miami for seven years, seven or eight years. What was that like? What was hard about it? What did you love?
Leiva: Oh, my God, honestly, the whole time, this whole experience of teaching ESL is a gift. It is honestly a gift. It is, oh, my God. I am forever indebted to Teach for America due to that because I was so riled up, the mission of one day, one day, all children will have the opportunity to obtain an excellent education. It’s so perfectly crafted, right, to say, “Hey, you’re going to have a chance at this. We’re going to make sure you have at least a chance,” and I was so ready to make that happen and when I got placed in ESL, I remember just having this fear of wait, we are not trained in ESL, right? First of all, we’re not trained in anything, but let alone ESL, right? And the second thing was, I thought I was going to have a community of English teachers, but it’s no, you have a community of ESL teachers and there’s only four of them, right? And you are one of those four. So, it was very much like you are on a ship all on your own, buddy, you got this though, TFA out. That’s what it felt like. So, it was very scary. I remember lesson plans, it was lesson planning and the structure of you need an objective. What are your students going to do today? You need to have activities. How are you going to make sure they learn the thing that they need to learn? Like, that whole structure was new to me. Backwards planning, which is you plan with the end in mind was brand new to me. Girl, come on, I went to college with trash bags. I was not planning with the end in mind. My life has never been planning with the end in mind, so this was a whole new gamut that I was just so, I cannot mess this up, these are ESL children, I can not mess this up, I cannot mess this up, and I remember I am myself up with that fear of I’m going to mess this up in the first day of school. As I was teaching, I was doing my thing, literally, by, I’m not even exaggerating, by my third class that day, I knew that this was the perfect placement for me in the perfect school with the perfect kids and that I was going to knock this out of the park simply because every single child, every single one of them in my class was an immigrant, every single one of them had such a desire to be in that classroom. Every single one of them that spoke Spanish sounded like my mom or my dad, it was eerie. It was just one of those, I don’t know why I’m here, but there’s a reason why I’m here and I will never take that back. I knew by the end of my week, by the end of the first week of school that I was going to stay beyond my second year, I knew it, I knew it. I loved it. Those kids fueled me. They literally lit a fire inside of me. They transformed me as well. They’ve been just a part of my leadership journey as I’ve been a part of theirs. It was hard, but it was so worth it and I would never ever take it back, and I mean, you saw it. I was in the classroom for seven years and all seven, I was an ESL teacher. That is my craft. That is my home, and to be honest, like, teaching the kids was the easy part, like, teaching them what they needed to know, going outside of the norm, right? Because I was always the teacher who went above and beyond for the kids in the sense of the curriculum, right? I wasn’t just going to teach them what the school was asking me to teach, I was also going to teach them about social justice and the ways that immigrants have impacted the world and how we can all make a difference. That was literally my curriculum and what I was structuring, like, yes, I’m going to teach you the main idea as we learn about mass incarceration in my ESL class, which is like, people don’t even expect ESL children to be able to perform, let alone talk about social injustices or anti-Blackness that we have in our communities, and that’s why, like, I had the highest scores every single year, like, back to back because I’m teaching the kids English and things that they want to know and things that they need to know and in something that they’re truly invested in. So, honestly, that was the easiest part.
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Leiva: The hardest part was learning that ESL kids get the short end of the stick in our educational society. It was learning that educational inequity was even harder for my kids and learning that if I didn’t spoke up for my kids, nobody would. So, it was being a teacher by day and an ESL advocate at night is what made it hard when I was constantly getting in trouble constantly, whether it was with my superiors at my school or people at the district, I just never shut up. I really didn’t, to this day, I still don’t, and that was the hardest part.
Priscilla: Because you’re such a fearless advocate for your kids.
Priscilla: When you were going through this journey of every year deciding, okay, I’m going to stay another year, okay, I think I’m going to stay another year, were you thinking, I think I’m going to become a lifelong educator or were you just kind of taking it year by year?
Leiva: So, I knew that I was going to stay at least for my third year because in Florida, when you have a teaching certificate and when you don’t have a degree in education, you get a temporary certificate and that’s good for up to three years. After your third year, you have to have some sort of education credential behind your name, or if not, you’re not allowed to teach anymore, so I knew that I wanted to stay at least those three years, but my second year was when I made the decision that actually, I really like this and I’m not good at it yet. Even though people were like, “You’re amazing,” yada, yada, yada, whatever. It’s like, I know that I’m not as good as I possibly could be, so I decided to enter the Johns Hopkins graduate school program which was a partnership with Teach for America to get my masters in Education to allow me to continue teaching beyond my third year, which is what I did, and once I had that masters under my belt, it was my fourth year, that masters really helped me reflect over my four years of teaching. The fast growth that I had as an educator, not just as an advocate, right, but also in the curriculum, the design for the kids, and I honestly was able to reflect and see that what I loved about teaching and what I miss about teaching to this day is that genuine relationship that you build with children and with that relationship, you use it to teach, and when the light bulbs go off in a child’s brain, it brings me so much joy. To see a kid grapple a concept, that at the beginning of the year, maybe they didn’t even know how to say “door” or “thank you,” and then at the end of the year, they’re talking about social injustices brings me such a joy in my heart, and so every year, I became better and every year that I became better, the more I wanted to do it longer, I knew for a fact that I didn’t want to become an administrator, I just didn’t. I felt like the further away you get from kids, the less impact that you have, and I actually dabbled a bit in coaching. So, I was actually a full-time teacher in the day and then I was a coaching teacher in the evenings for ESL teachers who taught adults at night, and I actually did that for about a year and as I was doing that, it brought me joy and I loved it and it stretched me, but I don’t think I would have enjoyed it as much if I wasn’t teaching during the day. So, that really helped me see that my gift and my passion, and my love was in the classroom and that’s why I actually stayed so long.
Priscilla: Totally. So, I think with the amount of experience that you’ve built up as an educator, as an advocate and someone who has personally lived through a lot of the experiences that our students have gone through, you’re so perfectly well-positioned to do so many different things. You could be a school leader, you could open a school, you could run for office, there’s just so many options for you, and so my question to you is, how did you decide to join Radical Partners as a program manager and how did you decide it was the right time to leave the classroom?
Leiva: I did a lot of reflecting, I did a lot of journaling, a lot of running, a lot of just trying to figure out what all of it meant, and I realized just what you said, Priscilla, there are so many pathways that I can take and I knew that for me, maybe the classroom wasn’t it anymore. Maybe the impact that I was making on 180 kids a year was just not enough, so I got involved with Leaders for Educational Equity. I took a couple of courses that they had and they had a fellowship for emerging political advocates and they were doing it for different sectors, and I was chosen for the LatinX sector, right? So I was an emerging political advocate for LatinX folks around the US and that granted me access to go ahead and be a part of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute that happened in September and it truly showed me all the ways that Latinos are kicking ass around the nation. I got to rub elbows with people in Congress. Julian Castro, Joaquin Castro, Velasquez is over in New York, and I also got to meet people who were the heads of Univision but also Humana and seeing how all these sectors came to play to move the “Hispanic agenda” forward in the US and I realized, like, the classroom, isn’t the only avenue, and at the end of that whole experience, I actually had a conversation with Congresswoman Vasquez and she was like, “How long have you been teaching?” and I told her, “Oh, this is the beginning of my eighth year.” She goes, “Mama, that’s too long. We need you out here and we need you now,” and was one of those moments of, oh, crap, that trip, I really thought about it, and I saw they had another fellowship available for teachers who were working full time to be able to give a political insight and voice to nonprofits and for-profits trying to make social impact in the region. So, I applied to that fellowship and I was accepted, and when I was accepted, it was a policy and advocacy fellow, so I became a national policy and advocacy fellow right after that and my placement was at Radical Partners. So, Radical Partners is a social impact accelerator here in Miami that invest in leaders that are growing the city through social impact, that engages locals in decisions that are made by the government and by the community every single day, and that works with collective partnerships in order for us to move closer to a stronger and better community, and in that fellowship, I started to help out with different programs that they have. 100 Great Ideas is this awesome program where for one week, there’s a Facebook group that’s open to anyone in Miami to go ahead and contribute their ideas and their solutions to a problem that we have in the region, and this year that I was a fellow, the problem with climate change, and you have people from all walks of life just giving solutions on how to fix the problems that we’re seeing in our communities – the massive flooding, the heat index is just rising every single day, right? Like, the fact that low-income communities are on higher ground and therefore are now being gentrified is a climate change issue, so you saw all aspects of Miami contributing to this, and then after that week, it’s closed, it’s consolidated, it’s written up in a report and it’s handed over to our political powers here in Miami and saying, “Hey, Leiva from zip code 33138 believes that this is a solution that can be implemented in order to elevate the voices of the community,” and as I was working on that project, a month in, I was offered a full-time job. They were just like, “Listen, you are doing phenomenal work here. Everything is great. We can’t see us functioning without you moving forward. Do you want to be a program manager?” and that was in October and I told them the soonest I could join them would be January in order to prepare my students for their exams in January. I wanted to teach until December to prepare them and see them off, and that’s how I landed at Radical Partners.
Priscilla: Wow, that’s so cool. I had no idea that Lee was actually an instrumental part of that for you.
Leiva: Absolutely, yeah.
Priscilla: Yeah. Tell me some of the cool projects that you’ve worked on or are working on and how have you transferred your skillset as a teacher over to do those things?
Leiva: I was hired to be the program manager for the strategic planning summit which is pretty much 50% of nonprofits right now don’t have a strategic plan, and if they do have one, they paid about anywhere from $30,000 to $100,000 for that plan and they don’t implement it because they didn’t make it themselves. So, literally, our former executive director, Rebecca Fishman Lipsey came up to me and she’s like, “This is a problem that we have. I want you to solve it in any way that you want over the next year.” So, I literally created a curriculum to help people understand the strategic planning process. I had to teach the strategic planning process to myself first which almost every teacher knows that’s a skill that we have, you teach yourself before you teach the kids, so I had to teach it to myself and then I broke it up into bite size pieces. I created a whole forum. This program started with just me, Priscilla, like, me in a room with a whiteboard going crazy. That was literally it to what it is now, and just to see that my teaching skills were able to be meshed together with helping a community and seeing that the organizations that are receiving this help are the same organizations that are helping my kids in the classroom today is, like, such a different level of fulfillment that I’ve never had before. So now, I’m working on projects that involve philanthropists who want to make the educational leadership arena in Miami better. I’m now currently developing a professional development for principals in my city, in the same school district that I taught at, in the same district, so to see it all work full circle has just been, for lack of a better word, delicious, to see that, like, I can, like, truly be an advocate in this different arena and continue to hone and make everything about the kids first, has been just outstanding that I can continue to do that outside of the classroom. To me, it’s just been a realization journey that holy crap, I’m still having an impact in this very different way.
Priscilla: I love that. I love seeing you thrive and still be aligned with your mission and do it in a different way, right? Like, teaching was one way to do that but there are so many different ways to have an impact and make a difference in people’s lives. So, thank you, Leiva, thank you for sharing your incredible story with us.
Leiva: Oh, thank you. Thank you for giving me the space. Thank you for allowing me to reflect and truly enjoy this time, and I can’t wait, I can’t wait to see what comes out of all of this.
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Talk to you next week.
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In the journalism and media field, you see so many people saying, “Take that unpaid internship, work on the stipend, work, extra jobs,” which I did also, I did daycare, but I think the way I saw it then was like, well, why would I do that? Because I don’t have a financial safety net to fall back on. I felt like this kind of advice appealed to more people with generational wealth or people with connections, quite frankly. So after that, I was like, okay, I’m going to seek opportunities where I get paid.
Welcome to the Early Career Moves Podcast, the show that highlights remarkable young professionals of color killing it on their career journeys. I am your host, Priscilla Esquivel Weninger, Texas Latina daughter of immigrants and lover of breakfast tacos. Meet me for a coffee chat every Friday as we dive into a special guest story and hear all about their challenges, milestones, and lessons learned. If you’re a young professional of color and you’re feeling lost in your career or just need a dose of inspiration, you’re in the right place. Let’s get started.
Priscilla: Hey, everyone. Today, I’m excited to introduce to you Lyanne Alfaro. Lyanne is a Mexican American from the Chicago area who works at producer host and social media strategist at NASDAQ. Lyanne graduated in 2015 from the university of Illinois with a degree in news editorial journalism. After graduating, Lyanne cold emailed her way into a social media role at CNBC where she got to pick it’s stories about the intersection of the Latino community, business, and entrepreneurship. Her pieces have been featured in CNBC, Business Insider, and NBC Latino. She’s also the creator of Moneda Moves, a bi-weekly newsletter and podcast where she dives deeper into the LatinX influence in the world of business. If you’re interested in journalism, a career in social media, or if you’ve ever been told that you should take an unpaid internship, this is a great episode for you.
Priscilla: Hey, Lyanne, welcome to the show.
Lyanne Alfaro: Thank you so much for having me, Priscilla.
Priscilla: Of course. So, Lyanne, I’m really excited to dive into your really exciting career that you’ve had in journalism and learn about what you do with Moneda Moves, but before we go in that direction, will you tell us a little bit about yourself?
Lyanne: Yeah, of course. I’m first-generation Mexicana, my parents are from Guadalajara, Mexico and I grew up in Chicago, Illinois on the Northwest side in this neighborhood called Humboldt Park, and from the very start, my parents were educators in Mexico, so coming here to the US as immigrants, they may not have gone to college here, but they certainly had that grounding where they believe that education was so important. I grew up speaking Spanish. I didn’t speak a lick of English and neither did my parents, but they realized that kind of the first goal was just like, okay, we need to make sure she learns the main language in this country, and so I did see, I think early on, my parents really extend themselves, even though I recognized we were lower income, they extended themselves to make sure I had the best possible education on a low budget. So, that meant I spent a lot of my summers in libraries, I spent a lot of time reading. Eventually, I ended up in the school where I learned English and I fell in love with writing, and to be honest, for as long as I remember, I wanted to be a journalist. I wanted to tell stories, and funny enough, my dad did name me after a local well-known journalist called Lyanne Melendez, she was a Puerto Rican on ABC7 and she would cover stories about our community but just general assignment as well, and so I started tracking her career and I was like, okay, I see another Latina in the field. This was in the nineties, but my parents gave me the kind of like backing the education or the ability to get access to these institutions and just seeing them extend themselves and how hard they worked, I knew I’d be doing all of us a disservice if I didn’t pursue what I was truly curious and passionate about which was journalism, and it wasn’t always about in particular Latinos and people of color communities, I covered a little bit of entertainment. I started writing when I was 15 and I did a little bit of even fashion writing, but what I really fell into post-grad was business news, and in business news, I saw not a lot of people looked like me, not a lot of people of color and certainly not a lot of first-generation, and I thought to myself, I have so many friends in my life that are going through this, navigating the system for the first time, but also people that I’ve seen be very successful in starting their small businesses, why aren’t we seeing that represented in these national newsrooms? So, that that’s what has been my driver to do what I do to navigate my full-time jobs the way that I do, and so today I’m a producer at NASDAQ stock exchange, where I tell stories about technology companies or listed companies, market technology. But of course, at any chance that I get, stories about people of color.
Priscilla: Yeah. I’m so excited to hear like how you got to where you are today. So, when you were in college, what did you do during that time to figure out what kind of journalism you wanted to do?
Lyanne: Yes, that’s a very good question. I think one of my biggest learnings was that there is no linear path, especially when you’re first-generation, you don’t, or at least I didn’t have access to the connections to get the references, to have people push me through the system, and I feel that’s the case for a lot of people that are Latino and first gen and/or lower income, we don’t have this network. So, I became aware early on that I needed to get out there and meet people, and yes, I loved to meet Latinos, but I need to get out there and meet all journalists, so I didn’t limit myself to journalism when I did internships, but I did start writing for my school paper in high school and there was a city paper, the Chicago Tribune which had a program for teenagers called Mash, so via that you would be able to do journalism at the scale of the Chicago Tribune. They picked a handful of people, everyone had to apply, and this was such a critical step for me for many reasons, I started writing at the age of 16 at a city-wide level. I was getting the skills from editors, professional editors and commentary on my work, and I got access to these connections, right? But the other thing that I realized and started getting a hang of was how the system worked and I think it was so valuable that at 17 or so, they started paying me for my work, so I may not have had a ton of experience writing at that level but the fact they they paid me for work set me up with this mindset where I was just like, okay, like, I value experience this much and I’m going to seek free opportunities, but I don’t believe any more that I will be doing free internships. So, I think that kind of set my mindset a little bit differently because in the journalism and media field, you see so many people saying, “Take that unpaid internship worth on the stipend, work extra jobs,” which I did also, I did daycare, but I think the way I saw it then was like, Well, why would I do that? Because I don’t have a financial safety net to fall back on. I felt like this kind of advice appealed to more people with generational wealth or people with connections, quite frankly. So, after that, I feel like that was very formative because after that I was like, okay, I’m going to seek opportunities where I get paid. So, that meant that I wasn’t always working in straight journalism. Sure, I always made sure I was freelancing at some point for a journalistic company, but I would pick up jobs in PR, in comms, in strategy, and these are the kinds of internships that I did. I worked for a channel called Weather Nation which is, like, Weather Channel’s competitor and learned about acquisition of companies. So, I learned a little bit about the business side and I found that to be very instrumental.
Priscilla: Yeah, I think that’s really important, just the mindset shift and the realization that yes, that advice around getting an unpaid internship might apply to someone who literally can do that or someone’s going to help them, or they have the connections to get in the door, but for us, when we’re, like, literally the first in our family to do this and we don’t have anyone we can talk to to get us in the door, it’s, like, such an important realization to say, yes, I need to take care of myself, but I also need to proactively look for opportunities where I will get paid for my time and my work. So, so cool that you were able to have that shift pretty early.
Lyanne: Yeah, no, it was absolutely instrumental because I was in college and I’d hear people who would advocate for taking free opportunities, and don’t get me wrong, I did do things at some point unpaid, but they weren’t internships, they weren’t long-term commitments. I did short term commitments to get experience where I was just like, okay, there’s a skill share swap here, but at the end of the day, I am of the field of thought that interns should be getting paid, and I would say that most of this burden doesn’t actually fall on the interns or students themselves but on the corporate companies, like to me, the older I got, the more a little bit frustrated I became with the fact that we okayed these unpaid internships and said, “This is fine,” knowing very well that not everyone in society has an equal shot at these kinds of things, or even being able to do it even if they did have the talent and skill.
Priscilla: So, tell us about your first job as producer at CNBC. What was it like to get that opportunity?
Lyanne: So, this is an interesting one and a pivotal move because it’s my first full-time job in New York city, so I got this after doing six months of an internship at Business Insider also in New York and this came as a result of a cold email. I sent a cold email to the head of social media at CNBC at the time, her name is Anna Gonzalez. She had about 15-plus years of journalism experience. I did extensive research on her and it really appealed to me that she was head of this at what seemed to me at a very young age but also was Latina just like me, and so I was like, okay, we have something in common, and I knew that wasn’t gonna secure it, but I said, maybe I can reach out to her. We can talk about what value I can provide and what things she needs in her team. So, I cold emailed her, I reached out to her via Facebook. It worked because she was hiring for social media and I will say social media was my way in for journalism and I find that for a lot of times, young journalist today is you can move across, but it is a way in because people tend to look increasingly towards younger people for social media, it’s just the way it is, but so the cold email set up a call with her and that was probably one of the quickest processes ever because once we got on the phone, it became very clear what she needed and actually, the original position I reached out to her for, I was underqualified for it. It was my first job, and so she’s just, “This isn’t quite the fit, maybe in a couple of years, but I do have another position that’s opening up that I think would be great for you,” and so I started as associate producer, started doing social media, realized CNBC has free range for you to pitch stories. So, I started doing that. I worked across networks. I went to NBC Latino, met the editor in chief, Sandra Lilly. She was fantastic, pitched my stories, worked on them after hours. So, that’s what CNBC was like. I got a little bit of experience in a bureaucratic environment because it was, it’s a bigger company, but also being able to have that leeway to do things beyond what’s written down in your role.
Priscilla: What were the biggest challenges for you in that role, especially as someone who was, it was your first job, you were fresh out of college, what did you have to ramp up on pretty quickly?
Lyanne: Yeah, I must say graduating from college, I thought I knew more than I actually did, and so I learned to be a student. I think that was the first thing that just because I had graduated from college didn’t mean I was done being a student. I needed to continue being a student. Media is very different from the world that I am now when you talk about work-life balance and what it means to be a good employee. I feel like in media and in journalism, you need to do a lot more managing up. You’re often working on a very lean and mean team. You don’t always get guidance that you need, you get very aggressive KPIs that you need to meet in working for a social media department, and it’s just not easy. It’s not easy, period, but what helps is setting these managing upskills for you in place so that you can set the expectations for your boss because they won’t always do it for you. So, that was one of the big learnings, which is more corporate, actually, than you might think. The other thing, I guess, is just like in terms of reporting, it was just that you’re going to be your biggest advocate, like, my boss was a really big advocate, but at the end of the day, I was the person who needed to reach out for the additional opportunities, I needed to speak up, I needed to work those extra hours, and I needed to really explore it and then finesse what it is that I wanted to do.
Priscilla: And so, tell us about the passion for the Latino population and money, how did that start for you and at what point did you start to think about pitching stories or creating content around this?
Lyanne: Yeah, honestly, it’s when I started to have my own journey where I was coming back in touch with my own roots and culture, and that probably started towards the end of college. I think I was coming more to term with my roots and I spent a very long time not talking about my identity and not really exploring it. Maybe when I was younger, there’s a little bit of not really wanting to embrace it fully, and then in college, I was just like, our culture is so rich. I became fascinated with a little bit of history, with a little bit of culture, music. Actually, one of my earliest stories for NBC Latino was about a woman mariachi band in New York City. It was nothing to do with business, but the fact that I was in the business space and I saw a need, it wasn’t completely, solely passion. I was like, okay, I’m passionate about this and I see a need, those two things can intersect and fulfill me and drive me, and so that’s where I was just like, okay, the market needs this because it’s not there. I think that’s one of the fallacies, I think, of national media that we get placed into one bucket and we increasingly need to have these hard conversations about how we’re a lot of people, Latinos, we’re a very diverse bucket.
Priscilla: Absolutely agree, and I think we saw that with the election, right? Like this past 2020, we’re not a homogenous group. There’s a lot of intersectionality and race, and class, and so many other things play into our understandings of ourselves and, like, how we show up, and yeah, so I love that, I totally agree. What really resonated with me was that I’m Mexican Peruvian American and I grew up going to predominantly white schools, my whole life, and so for me, I was in a space in school constantly where I just wanted to survive. Like, I was just trying to survive, just trying to do well in school, just trying to get to college and make my parents proud, and then there was also a lot of racism I grew up in Texas. There were definitely always comments being made about Mexicans that were derogatory. So, for me, when I went to college, it was also a time of re-embracing that identity.
Lyanne: As diverse we are, like, that’s one thing that we can resonate on. You’re saying you embraced it in college. I feel like I met other people in college who had a similar narrative and said growing up, it was just so hard for me to see the things, the way that I see them now, and I appreciate things so much more, and just having that community and being able to relate to that meant so much.
Priscilla: And so, on the topic of money and career, what comes to mind for you in terms of one of the biggest lessons that you had to learn in terms of navigating money and career, whether that’s, like, negotiating for a salary or honestly, just anything?
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Lyanne: Yeah, I would encourage you to keep tabs on your wins. Literally keep them in a folder, keep them in a Google Doc, keep those emails that you get from clients or from editors, readers, praising you, use that as leverage when you’re asking for a negotiation and if your company doesn’t do this, set metrics for success a year out or even six months out, but six months to a year out with your manager. Again, managing up, so that that way, you can revisit those and use that as leverage when you’re asking for a raise.
Priscilla: Yeah. Okay, so now, I want to transition to your decision to leave CNBC, so what prompted your decision to leave and then what made you move over to NASDAQ?
Lyanne: Yeah, I got to say, I didn’t think I’d leave a full-time journalism job in the near future, but the opportunity came up. My former boss actually moved over and she wanted to bring me with her, and so to that end, she became a big thread in my early career because she was what I realized we call a sponsor. She was more than a mentor. She wanted to take me with her under her wing to advocate for me, put numbers to that too, like, money and, and say, “We can offer you the opportunity that you’re looking for,” and so what really drew me to NASDAQ was the opportunity. It was an opportunity for growth in skillset. At CNBC, I was doing social media and I was writing articles in my after hours, and while I really appreciated that flexibility, it was a little bit harder to get some of these other hands-on experiences at such a big outlet that I wanted to get. And NASDAQ was in a time of growth, and so they had a studio, they were working on video production which is really fascinating to me. After I joined the CMO, even became interested in a podcast, which I launched for the company alongside our comms team, so the opportunity for growth is really what appealed to me. Once the opportunity presented itself, I really pursued it for the skills and the growth proposition that was there.
Priscilla: That’s huge, and so has it fulfilled a lot of what you expected in terms of your growth and, like, all of that?
Lyanne: Honestly, it’s more than I could have imagined. I went there not with the title of, like, supervising producer that I have now. I went there as a booker. That’s what I was, I used to book people for our live interviews, and the thing about NASDAQ, it has a very flat structure, at least on the marketing end, which I sit under, which means that you have insane access to the C-level executives and I was just like, what is this place, this amazing place? Because that certainly was not CNBC which is very structured, and you had to really climb up and do time and all of that. Here at NASDAQ, it was the second day and I was sitting in the studio in an interview. So, the opportunities and the speed at which they were coming I think brought about by such an innovative company, because NASDAQ is relatively new for stock exchanges founded in 1971, second biggest stock exchange, but it’s not that old, so I think it was that, that kind of just, they move really fast. You have access to all the C-level executives, and so the opportunities have been endless, like, I’ve been sent on projects around the world to do video, to speak with different companies, I’ve learned so much about different fields, from the health industry field to biomedicine, just things that I would’ve never thought that I would cover, and I just, no, not all of them is related to Latinos and money, but tactically, I’m just like, okay, I love being in these different environments and I love learning things that I can apply then to my coverage which I continued to do around Latinos and money. So, I found it a great place to grow and get experience of everything, a smattering, so to speak, across the board.
Priscilla: Yeah, and what’s really cool to me is that you didn’t really have a business background, right? It’s not like you worked in corporate or finance or had a BBA or something, but you were willing to be a beginner and be like, I’ll learn as I go, and I think that’s a big deal, that you were willing to do that.
Lyanne: It’s a big deal, but I think I practiced that muscle early on. I will say, I think it’s difficult for a lot of people in the Latino community to admit to things we don’t know and be vulnerable in that way, and I would venture to say that in my family, it’s because they went through such hardships early on immigrating here, everything they had to go through that it’s just, okay, I’ve lived, like, what else do I have to do? Especially for my parents, it’s a lot, but for me being a first generation who didn’t have to go through that immigrant experience in all of that, I’m just like, okay, well, this is the least I can do, admit that I don’t know things and then say, okay, I’m going to go out and learn it, and that’s been my approach to life. That’s my approach now, too, as I’m even getting my personal finances in order, because I’m still on that journey and I don’t mind saying that because I like being transparent. I like for people to know where I’m coming from and that we may be coming from the same place.
Priscilla: That’s the thing is I think so many people, we’re actually all in the same boat, like we’re all figuring things out as we go, and we all have to be beginners at different things at different times, but we have such a hard time admitting that to each other and we build so much, so much community when we can actually just be vulnerable and be authentic about where we are and what we’re doing to get to where we want to go.
Lyanne: Yeah, I am absolutely about that, and I’ve embraced that a lot in the last year, I think, with more online communities where people can be vulnerable like that.
Priscilla: Yeah, and so I noticed that you’ve interviewed Ryan Leslie, which I was really impressed because he was, like, one of my favorite RNB singers and he kind of stopped singing, but what has it been like to interview these really cool people and what has been your highlight from that time?
Lyanne: Oh, my gosh. Oh, boy. Yeah, no, Ryan, he was great. He was so down to earth and we interviewed him because he started an app on his phone to kind of help facilitate communication. He’s a really smart guy. I would say I just enjoyed the diversity of it. I interviewed the first company to go public on an American exchange from Costa Rica, which is so specific. It’s so specific, but I was just like, this is really cool, and at the time, we did the interview in Spanish, too, where I was just like, wow, this is powerful, like it’s just the Costa Rican media outlets picked it up too, and honestly, that was an interview, I know he’s not a celebrity, but that really stuck with me because my heart swelled with pride where I was just like, okay, the whole theme of opening doors and paving roads, and being the first, that, I feel like the most impressive part about that is not that you were the first. It’s that now you’ve opened up a road where you won’t be the last. That’s what is most impressive about that, and so I think I really enjoyed interviewing people, not just Latinos, but people of color, people in general, who were the first to do things, but if I could think of one person, oh, my gosh, there’s just so many. I interviewed at some point the actress from Nikita, and I love her, I interviewed Maggie Q because she has her own fitness line and I think she was with some health company that came to ring the bell, but I absolutely adore this woman as an actress. I watched her shows like all throughout college and I was just, I don’t get starstruck very often, but I was just like, I literally, I watched all of your acting career and I literally felt so empowered watching you, and so the fact that she’s also a business woman is obviously really appealing. So, yeah, she was definitely a memorable person for me.
Priscilla: So awesome. It sounds like your job gives you a lot of energy and like you’re really excited and super engaged a lot of the time.
Lyanne: Yes, it’s super engaging and that’s kind of exactly what I look for. I like being able to move from one thing quickly to another, adapt and just continue to tell those stories.
Priscilla: So, I’m really curious about Moneda Moves. Tell us how it started, what it is and your mission with your podcast.
Lyanne: Yes, of course. So, Moneda Moves is a platform, newsletter podcast all about Latinos, our relationship with money and role in the American economy. Basically, what a CNBC would be but to Latinos. It’s largely aggregated at this point because it’s just me, but I have a weekly newsletter where I give you the kind of top line stories that you should know. Lately, we’ve been covering the Latinos on the Biden cabinet, and actually, they would have a big hand in managing money in this economy. So, it’s really important to track those and see where they are. It usually takes a hundred days for cabinet members to get approved, so that certainly will be really impactful, and then we have a podcast that is bi-weekly. The goal with that is to have different conversations around money with people who are successful in the field, that money can mean a lot of things. So, I’ve been talking to people in financial technology, people building personal finance platforms for Latinos by Latinos, but the goal is also to provide contextual story. So, we’ve done a story about the PPP loans from last year, 2020, and how Latinos were having a really hard time getting these loans for their businesses. So, I think just giving a little bit more context is really important. I love the profiles, but I also think we need to be aware of the bigger picture and our role in it.
Priscilla: So, my last question for you, what would you tell your younger self if you could tell her anything today?
Lyanne: I would tell her to trust yourself a little bit more. I think sometimes, I held myself back because I wanted things to be perfect or I just didn’t think I was good enough. I think that leads to overthinking and analysis paralysis, which is understandable, but taking risks once in a while and trusting yourself, and trusting your gut and your intuition, I would tell my younger self to trust yourself and take the risk because action is how you get started. If you have an idea, go for it, shoot for the moon, and then see where you land.
Priscilla: Thanks for tuning in to the Early Career Moves Podcast. Be sure to visit ECMpodcast.com to join the conversation, access the show notes, and become a part of our newsletter community, and if you loved this episode, head over to iTunes to subscribe, rate, and leave a review. Talk to you next week.