Confidence in Community
Community is everything for Johana Muriel Grajales, MBA ’22. Originally from Colombia, with a background in the nonprofit sector, Johana came to MIT Sloan looking to find a community that would support her ultimate goal of being a more impactful leader. Leaning on the tight-knit support system of the Sloan Pride Club, she’s well on her way to doing just that—and more.
You describe your professional background as a bit “nontraditional.” Why?
My educational and professional path has been a complex journey! I began my career in community organizing, advocating for affordable housing and immigrant rights in Chicago. Then years ago, I moved to Boston and started working on nonprofit strategy in the education sector. My focus was on scaling nonprofits and growing innovative new programs that would generate more impact. I wanted to make a big contribution in the world. But I did not feel I was developing my potential enough and I knew that business school could help me fill in some knowledge and skills gaps to become a stronger leader.
Why did you choose to come to MIT Sloan?
Interestingly enough, I had a partner who completed his PhD here, but I hadn’t even considered MIT Sloan for myself. I knew that MIT was rigorous, and because of my political science academic background and social-sector experience, I felt that I wouldn’t be prepared.
It wasn’t until one of my previous supervisors mentioned MIT’s innovation entrepreneurship ecosystem that I started doing more research and realized that I wanted to be challenged! So instead of turning away, I started feeling drawn here. I knew that MIT Sloan would be the best place for me to grow my quant skills and develop the ability to make sound data-driven decisions—to build a stronger business sense.
What was your first experience with the MIT Sloan community?
Early on, I came to an Admissions event led by the Sloan Pride Club. At that point, I knew I wanted to apply, but didn’t know what to expect. The event was completely student led. I observed this camaraderie within the group—everyone was super warm, bright, welcoming, and fun—so I immediately felt at home.
How did you get involved with the Sloan Pride Club?
I was a Round 1 admit, so I actually started connecting with students in the spring before the program started. During Pride Month in June, we hosted a virtual LGBTQ+ trivia night—it was a great way to start building community. That night gave me a hint of what this experience was going to be like. And, thankfully, it’s just magnified as we’ve gotten to know each other throughout the semester.
What are some highlights from your first semester in the club?
During Orientation week, Pride hosted a lot of different welcome events that had a unique vibe. It was fun, it was relaxing, and it was candid. Since then, we’ve had virtual game nights and movie nights, especially during the holidays when we were exhausted and far from home. My entire family is in Colombia, so even though we weren’t able to get together in person, this community has helped me feel very much at home. And even though it can be hard to get to know people in a virtual environment—at Pride, little by little we are getting to know each other on a personal level.
How would you describe the Sloan Pride community?
For me, the Pride community is a safe fun space. I’m Latina and have spent several years of my career working with the Latino community. I’ve been able to connect through that aspect of my identity in a very powerful way, but I’d never connected with the LGBTQ+ community in the way that I’ve done at Sloan. We have this shared journey, and because of that we’re very closely connected. In Sloan Pride, I’ve found a community that shares this aspect of my identity. I can be 100% myself, and now feel empowered to carry this comfort beyond Sloan.
And how does this complement the larger MIT Sloan community?
I appreciate the mutual support among Sloanies. Here, everybody is incredibly talented and accomplished, but also very humble. During moments when I’ve struggled with academics or internship recruiting, I’ve never felt like I was alone. My classmates are always willing to help me to grow my confidence and continue to improve. Helping me become the best that I can be also means that they are helping me access better opportunities.
What’s the key takeaway that you’ll apply in your career after the MBA program?
For me, it’s the power of a team—and how vital teamwork is to success in anything. So much of our work at Sloan is accomplished in teams. I’ve learned how important it is to hear everyone’s voice and make sure that we’re all contributing and supporting each other. That way, we can do our very best, together.
Finally, what advice do you have for prospective students applying for the MBA program?
One very simple, tactical piece of advice is to not be alone. Seek help! The community here is very warm and very eager to help future students. If you feel lost or need advice—or just need someone to say, “You can do this”—reach out.
My other piece of advice is to have confidence in yourself. MIT has the infrastructure in place to help you succeed—so trust that you have the skills and potential to thrive here!