My first visit to Duke University came during Open Interviews in the early fall of 2011. Being a native West Coaster I was hesitant to consider schools in the Southeast. I assumed a West Coast school would be a better fit for me both culturally and professionally since I felt certain that landing back on the Pacific side of the country was inevitable. But Fuqua kept coming up in my research. First, I found information on the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship which aligned with my professional goal of entering the education sector through an MBA. Then, on an informational phone call with an alumnus, I heard the fateful words “Team Fuqua.”

I had spent the past six years working for Specialized Bicycle Co. as a product manager for women’s bicycles, and being on a team had important significance for me. My final project at Specialized had been with our sports marketing department with a group dubbed Team Specialized. In an unprecedented move in the cycling industry, we as a cycling brand and not a corporate sponsor, negotiated a title sponsorship with the number one women’s cycling team in the world which was named Team Specialized Lululemon (for our co-partner in sponsorship). It was not only significant for it being a title sponsorship of a team, it was significant because it was a women’s team who traditionally had been underrepresented in professional sponsorship and whose success I was personally invested in. I found it ironic that I was now faced with joining a new team, Team Fuqua. But irony or chance had nothing to do with it. From the moment I set foot on Fuqua’s campus, I felt the team. They were in the admissions lounge, they were in my interview room, they were answering my calls without having met me and they were supporting my ambitions to attend Fuqua. It became clear that attending Fuqua was more than earning my MBA. It was an opportunity to join a team of diverse, intelligent, passionate and supportive people in a journey to the individual and professional I hoped to become. I readily accepted my admissions offer and began a two-year transformation as an individual and as a member of Team Fuqua.

During my second year, being a part of Team Fuqua took on a new meaning. I had the honor and privilege to serve as the MBA Association (MBAA) Vice President alongside Simon Moore-Crouch, our MBAA President. During a retreat with our executive cabinet (a group of ten dynamic, talented and driven fellow Fuquans), we engaged in an exercise to define our shared values. We started by answering the question, “If Team Fuqua were an animal, what would it be and why?” To the executive cabinet, Team Fuqua was a meerkat (works well as a collective), a dolphin (extremely intelligent and social), and a sheepdog (hardworking and loyal) amongst other animals. We broke into teams to discuss the actions, beliefs and values we wanted to define our engagement in Team Fuqua and student government. What came from that exercise were six paired principles. Authentic Engagement. Collective Diversity. Supportive Ambition. Loyal Community. Uncompromising Integrity. Impactful Stewardship. These six pairings took on a significance to the MBAA executive cabinet. After sharing them with school administrators and the student body, we heard our fellow classmates begin to reference them and to tell stories of classmates who exemplified these principles. The words began to take on a deeper meaning than anything the cabinet had expected. The values allowed us to identify in ourselves and in each other, the characteristics and actions that defined being a member of Team Fuqua. And they helped us tell the stories of our classmates who inspired us and made us proud to be a part of the team.

Recently, I fulfilled my post-MBA professional dream and entered the education sector working for a large school district with chronic academic underperformance and high levels of poverty. Lately, I have been considering what it means to bring my personal values to the table. Doing this work may be exhausting and defeating when faced with issues that are complex, multifaceted and at times seem to have no viable solution. But remembering my values and beliefs about children’s ability to succeed and their right to a quality education will keep me focused on the work at hand. My mantra recently has been, “engage authentically, bring impactful stewardship and support the ambitions of students who need it the most.”

Having graduated a short few months ago, I have reflected often on my experience with Team Fuqua. It defined my MBA experience at Fuqua. And nothing was more gratifying than working with the MBAA Executive Cabinet and the Deans of Fuqua to solidify the Team Fuqua principles. Those guiding principles continue to shape how I consider my professional and personal development and the stories of my classmates and colleagues continue to inspire me to strive to be my best self and live the principles in a way that is meaningful and authentic.

Read Part Two of Rachael’s blog post here