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Taking a leap of faith – and finding community

Harmonie Jacobson

When I was a college student, I walked into a classroom full of poised upperclassmen sitting at the front of the room. Feeling out of place, I made a beeline to the back of the room.

As my freshman year neared its end, I was required to attend an engineering club meeting at the University of San Diego for class credit. I chose the Society of Women Engineers (SWE) because it seemed the least intimidating of the clubs, most of which were male dominated. Little did I know that attending that meeting would completely change the direction of my undergraduate and professional experience.

The meeting agenda included officer elections for the following year. The outgoing president announced the last position, interclub council representative, and no one made any indication of running for the position. I somehow built up the courage to walk to the front of the room, introduce myself and tell this group of strangers that I’d be willing to give the position a shot.

Fast forward several years, and I am so glad I took that leap of faith. As a SWE officer, I grew immensely as a leader and served as president during my junior and senior years. I met some of the most badass women engineers (including Frances Arnold, recent winner of the Nobel Prize in Chemistry), fostered community among female engineering students on campus (there weren’t many of us) and, most importantly, discovered my passion for outreach and encouraging young women to pursue degrees in STEM.

My involvement with SWE extended beyond graduation through the San Diego professional section, serving in various roles including vice president. We hosted sessions for local female engineers on everything from financial literacy to overcoming imposter syndrome.

Carolina Women in Business

Carolina Women in Business

Here at UNC Kenan-Flagler, the parallels between SWE and Carolina Women in Business (CWIB) are numerous.

As a prospective student, the CWIB community warmly welcomed and supported me through the entire application process. While preparing my application and visiting campus, there were times when I again felt like that freshman girl in the back of the classroom. Am I good enough to get in? Am I kidding myself? Those who had already traveled this MBA path, CWIB members especially, helped me overcome my doubts and recognize my value to the UNC Kenan-Flagler community.

I knew as soon as I set foot on campus that I wanted to lend this same support to prospective students, especially females, throughout their MBA application process. As a first-year student, I helped coordinate the annual Women’s Workshop, and reached many other prospective students as a liaison with the Ambassador’s Club and Healthcare Club.

I am excited to continue working on a Dean’s Fellows project, proposed with classmates, to reach gender parity at UNC Kenan-Flagler. In addition to continued efforts ensuring we recruit future generations of future rock star female Tar Heels, I am excited about serving in the broader role as Carolina Women in Business president.

My goals as CWIB president are to:

  • Continue to promote a more diverse and inclusive environment: CWIB is integral to our overall climate of diversity and inclusion. We have done a great job partnering with other diversity organizations and hosting events with impact. I want to take things farther, working together to develop metrics that tell us how we’re doing and develop tangible goals. We shouldn’t be afraid to have hard conversations. Let’s talk about the pay gap, the double standards many of us face as we consider starting a family, imposter syndrome, and the difficulties we have and will experience in the workplace. To do this, we want to get more of our male classmates actively involved as CWIB allies.
  • Strengthen the community aspect within CWIB: All of our students have inspiring backgrounds and ambitions. Together, we can accomplish so much academically, professionally and personally. I want CWIB to be more than just an organization we join. CWIB should be a community, a family and a place to build lifelong connections. With that in mind, I hope to provide more opportunities for us to get to know each other, where we come from and what we hope to achieve during and after school.
  • Understand and take action on increasing gender diversity: The Gender Parity project isn’t just a Dean’s Fellows project; it’s our project. The USC Marshall School of Business was the first top business school to achieve gender parity, and it was mostly student-led! We have an incredible opportunity to partner with the Business School to understand the facts, conduct research and make change. It will be a long road to 50 percent, but the journey starts with us, today!

I am wholeheartedly committed to the mission and goals of CWIB throughout the next year. We have a group of incredibly ambitious, strong and fabulous leaders, and I look forward to seeing what we accomplish together. I am excited to use my background in leading diversity organizations to serve the UNC Kenan-Flagler community and CWIB.

By Harmonie Jacobson (MBA ’20)