Four years ago — on June 13, 2013 — I visited Harvard for the first time. Never would I have imagined that 4 years later, I was going to be one of the students accepted into a Harvard Business School summer weekend program, HBS Peek Weekend.
Education has always been a big emphasis in my life, but it wasn’t until middle school that I understood what college was. And, even then, I only knew about some of Texas public colleges and universities, thanks to a summer program I was in called GeoFORCE. I think back to my childhood and… ten-year-old Karen did not have the slightest idea of what Harvard was. In fact, I had never even heard the name.
For those who do not know, I have been part of EMERGE Fellowship since freshman/sophomore year of high school. EMERGE is a nonprofit organization that guides and supports high-achieving high school students from underserved communities to attend and graduate from top-tier colleges and universities. I joined EMERGE when the program was barely starting. Their pilot Summer College Tour happened four years ago and I was able to participate in this opportunity. For the tour, a group of HISD students traveled to the Northeast region to visit top colleges and universities, like Harvard, Columbia, Yale, and the likes.
One of the most significant moments as an EMERGE Fellow was visiting Harvard and Harvard Square. I remember being in awe during the whole time. I also remember going into The Coop to buy souvenirs (you can’t go to Harvard for the first time and not get Harvard items). In one of the turns I made, I saw the logos of the Harvard graduate schools. For some unknown reason, I took a photo of the business school logo. This was a time where I was set on going to law school and there was no other option that I even wanted to consider. Fast forward four years, I spent a weekend at none other than Harvard Business School (HBS).
HBS has a program called Peek Weekend, in which participants get a peek of the program. It is divided into three cohorts: STEM, Family Business, and Women’s Colleges (the best cohort, of course!). I applied to the program to understand what business school could be like, and how I felt in that setting. Since I am a rising senior, I wanted to experience a program first-hand and seeing whether or not it could be the one for me. However, my major and minor are not considered the “traditional business school courses”, and I was afraid of being confused during the whole weekend. I love understanding everything, so the first day I frankly was terrified that I would just not get it. Thankfully that was not the case. I was able to contribute on aspects that were more than the numbers, since thinking about cultures and the people, as well as the numbers, is what I have learned to do at Smith.
By the end of the program, I learned about five different cases, like Beyoncé’s surprise album in 2013 and Parkwood Entertainment, the battle between P&G and Colgate, and others regarding e-commerce, human-centered design, and such. More importantly, however, was learning about myself and working on getting out of my comfort zone. I learned what I liked and did not like, what possibilities I had, and how my focus of study, despite not being “traditionally business”, could help me contribute in more ways than I had expected.
If ten years ago, five years ago, even one year ago, you would’ve told me I’d be where I am today, I would not have believed you. I would have been confused. I would have thought it was some sort of joke. Honestly, if the day I got accepted to the program, anyone would have told me I was going to be able to take part of it, I would not have believed it because of financial reasons.
HBS Peek Weekend had a cost of $200, a price that my family would simply not have been able to cover with the short period of time I would have had to accept the offer. Thankfully, they offered a limited amount of scholarships, and I was one of the people who received one to cover the cost of the program. But, the other problem was the flight. Because the event was going to happen in less than a month, a roundtrip ticket to and from Boston was more than $600. If my parents could not have afforded the $200, they definitely would not have been able to afford the $600+. I am grateful to Ms. Juliet Stipeche, who ever since we met in high school, has supported me tremendously. Thanks to her, I was able to get on a flight that would take me to Boston and back.
Peek Weekend was a memorable experience, and I am happy and thankful that I, an immigrant and woman of color from East Houston, had the opportunity and was able to take it. My parents always say that opportunities only come knocking once, and when you get them, you must take them.