Yousaf Bajwa, MBA ’22, is an aerospace fanatic and a community builder. After earning an undergrad degree in aerospace engineering, Yousaf switched gears and accepted an offer from an economics consulting firm. His goal of taking on more responsibility and making a bigger impact within organizations led to his applying to the MBA program at MIT Sloan. Currently, Yousaf is a co-president of the FLI@Sloan (First-generation college graduate//Low-Income) student club, which he is continuing to help shape and grow. His core mission is to continue building community and inclusive spaces for people with FLI backgrounds at the school and beyond.
Can you tell us about your professional journey before coming to MIT Sloan?
My family is originally from Pakistan. When I was very young, we moved to the United States and settled in the Washington, D.C. area. After studying aerospace engineering at the University of Virginia, I worked as an economics consultant for four years. While looking for new growth opportunities, I decided that I wanted to pursue an MBA to further my career.
Why did you decide to get an MBA from MIT Sloan?
One of the reasons I came to MIT Sloan was because I wanted to take on greater leadership positions within organizations and to be a more impactful team player. While my classes have been a tremendous source of learning and growth in that direction, my involvement with FLI@Sloan has been especially transformative. Through the club, I have had the opportunity to apply many skills toward an end that was really important to me, which is building the FLI@Sloan community and creating an inclusive environment for students with FLI backgrounds.
The second reason was community. Of all the different business schools I explored, I clicked best with the Sloanies I connected with during the application process. Part of that is because many Sloanies come from an engineering background similar to my own, but there’s also an energy and excitement towards “breaking the mold” that I found unique to MIT Sloan. You’ll find some of the most down-to-earth and approachable people here. It’s a community that’s built on trust and mutual respect, and you can really feel that in your interactions with everyone.
What resources did you utilize during your business school research process?
The most helpful resource for me was connecting with people who had recently gone through the application process. Finding mentors who will be able to answer your questions and people who can provide perspective on what it’s like in the actual program is so important. I was fortunate in that the firm I was with before Sloan had a strong pipeline to business schools, so I was able to reach out and connect with recent applicants. I would encourage people to look within their own firm or reach out to current students as part of their application journey and make a point of learning about the culture of the school through those connections.
Have prospective MIT Sloan students reached out to you with questions?
Definitely! I answer emails all the time and occasionally hop on Zoom calls to answer questions about Sloan and the application process. Sloanies are happy to engage with prospective applicants. And if you click with them, they’ll really champion your cause and can become strong mentors. Establishing those professional contacts within the school and getting that personalized feedback is invaluable, especially for students of FLI background who may not necessarily know all the ins and outs of an MBA.
What is the mission of the FLI@Sloan club?
I’m one of the three co-presidents for FLI@Sloan (First-generation college graduate/Low-Income) club, which was founded two years ago. Our mission is focused on three pillars: building and fostering a community for students of FLI background; creating mentoring opportunities for FLI students; and advocating on behalf of FLI students to MIT Sloan administration and other stakeholders across the MIT community. We help shape the school in a way that bridges the gap between people of different backgrounds.
How did you learn about FLI@Sloan?
I learned about the club by chance when it was first starting the program. I happened to be friends with one of the club’s co-founders during my first year, and as I learned more about it, I wanted to get more involved. Despite being a FLI student for many years in other institutions, I’ve never belonged to a club like FLI and felt that there was a strong unfulfilled need for it at Sloan. As I became more involved, I found myself connecting with more and more amazing people who shared my FLI background. I felt a strong connection with the club and wanted to play an active role in shaping it.
How has your journey with the club evolved?
As the club has grown, I feel that I have grown with it and learned more about myself and my identity. At the end of last year, I stepped up to take on a leadership role as I wanted to play a more active role in growing the club. Much of this motivation came from having connected with other FLI students and realizing the impact the club could have on students’ experiences at Sloan. It was exciting because I felt like I was in a startup of some sort– we started with a small club and had the creative freedom to shape it in any way we wanted. That ambiguity was sometimes daunting but for the most part, has made for an exciting journey for everybody involved within the leadership team.
How has being a leader in the club been for you so far?
One of the great things about the way our club is organized is that we have multiple ‘co-presidents,’ as opposed to one point person for the entire club. As such, we’ve been able to organize our leadership duties in a way that allows individuals to focus on a piece they are particularly passionate about. It also helps to reduce much of the stress that might accompany a leadership position, as we make decisions collectively and share in both our successes and (sometimes) failures. Working within a team of fellow Sloanies has been an enlightening experience, and I feel that I’ve grown as a leader in part by simply observing the different leadership styles within the club.
Among those events, which ones stood out to you?
The FLI retreat we had in New Hampshire was definitely one of the highlights. We rented a cabin for a weekend with the sole purpose of bringing the FLI community together and strengthening our connections with one another. We cooked food together, played board games, and just enjoyed the beautiful New Hampshire fall weather. It was amazing to have this quality time with really cool people we see around campus but never had the opportunity to engage with. Having an entire weekend to step away from Sloan, enjoy the space, and take it all in was a special time that I’ll always remember.
In what ways have club members supported you at Sloan?
FLI is all about sharing information, resources and investing in one another for collective success. One example that comes to mind is when I was going through consulting recruiting. There were times when I felt particularly overwhelmed by the whole process but was able to tap into the FLI community and connect with individuals who helped mentor me all the way towards a successful outcome. I found myself relying on one of the club’s co-presidents at the time who had gone through the same process. Her willingness to take time and give me specific, actionable advice was huge and I attribute much of the success I had throughout the process to her support.
What do you hope to accomplish for the club and for Sloan in general?
While we’re still figuring out precisely which direction we want to take the club, one of our core missions is to build a pipeline for future FLI students into Sloan that’s self-reinforcing: The stronger we can make the FLI community here, the more appealing Sloan will be for prospective FLI applicants. Some of the people who will benefit the most from all the amazing opportunities at Sloan are those with FLI backgrounds, and we strongly believe that Sloan itself can benefit from increasingly more FLI Sloanies.
What is your advice to a FLI prospective student who is considering an MBA?
Be authentic and true to yourself. It’s easy to lose yourself in the process of applying to business school and end up getting pulled in different directions as you see people doing things differently. What matters is your unique life story and the challenges you have overcome in getting to where you are. If you choose to apply to business school, don’t be afraid to talk about your FLI identity and how it has shaped your journey. Personally, I found that there were moments from my life that I dismissed as lacking importance that, upon reflection, were deeply meaningful and helped to capture who I am as a person. Don’t be afraid to share those stories- be yourself and I promise it will make for a more personally rewarding application experience!