Stanford’s Boot Camp For ‘Future Leaders’

All of last year’s participants. Courtesy photo


Stanford likely couldn’t have found a better person than Simone Hill to head up the Future Leaders program. The 2014 graduate of Stanford’s MBA program grew up living in Section 8 housing and tragically lost her father to leukemia when she was a freshman in high school. Not one of her family members had attended college or graduate school. “It took a lot for me to get to college, let alone graduate, let alone be lucky enough to get into Stanford for my MBA,” Hill recalls, though she notes that her childhood was “absolutely great” outside of the passing of her father, which she understandably took very hard.

So hard, in fact, that after her father died, Hill’s high school performance suffered to the point that it was unclear if she’d graduate.

“My family members rallied around me seeing my potential,” she says. Though no family members had been to college, some members of Hill’s church community had been too both college and graduate business school. “They put me in contact with mentors,” Hill says of her family’s push to connect her with church members. Hill turned around her high school performance and was accepted to the University of Connecticut on a full scholarship. When she arrived on campus, Hill made a promise to herself to not take her opportunity for granted — and to make better not only her life, but her family’s life, too.

As a senior at Connecticut, Hill was accepted into Stanford’s full-time MBA program — an amazing great considering the school’s acceptance rate, which last year was a stingy 6.1%, more selective than any MBA program in the world. “None of that would have been possible without my family rallying my community and mentors,” Hill says. That history and those values have influenced her work and that of her team in establishing the Future Leaders program. “For me, it’s about understanding and remembering programs like this and mentors that were trying to do similar things to what this program is doing in exposing me to a lot of different paths,” she says.


According to at least one program participant, Hill and her team accomplished their mission.

“The most important thing I learned was that an MBA from Stanford is possible for me,” says Kristen Shipley, a public relations major at North Carolina A&T State University in Greensboro, North Carolina. Shipley, who grew up in York, Pennsylvania, spent her entire summer near Stanford’s campus as a product marketing intern for the Instagram team at Facebook. This coming summer, she’ll be in a similar role at Google, one of the companies the Future Leaders program visits. Shipley says the program gave her the “tools and advice” to move forward to an MBA after graduating and working for a few years. In particular, the TALK session — a Stanford GSB tradition in which a student shares their personal story — helped Shipley feel that she could eventually attain an MBA.

According to Nicholas Curtin, a native of Anchorage, Alaska and current student at the West Point Military Academy, the Future Leaders program was “impressive from the beginning.” In particular, he says, he was impressed with the stories of current students and alumni, as well as the logistical flow of the three days. “It didn’t feel like a first-year program,” Curtin says, adding he found the program via a Facebook ad. He says he was surprised to learn about the diverse paths an MBA can lead to. “With an MBA, there are so many different things you can do,” Curtin says. “It’s not just working in finance, which was my original perception from reading online.”

Gonzalez, Shipley, and Curtin all mention keeping in consistent contact with the cohort through a GroupMe chat. Both Shipley and Curtin say they have either already met up with fellow participants or plan to do so in the next few weeks.


Of course, the Future Leaders program also serves as a diversity pipeline for future talent. Hill says diversity is an “important factor” within the “fabric of the educational experience.” Prominent organizations like the Forte Foundation and the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management already supply support and a talent pipeline to elite B-schools, but as Hill notes, that means the GSB is seeing the same applicant pool as every other B-school. The Future Leaders program is meant to “broaden” the pipeline of diverse talent, Hill explains. “These students reflect the nation’s top talent and are going to go on and make an impact in the world,” she explains.

Stanford does not release the number of applications they received for the program last year, but Hill described the program as “quite selective, but not as selective as the MBA.” This year, Hill says, the number accepted will remain around 80 or 85, but she expects the applications to increase, which will in turn create a more competitive application environment.

Similar to the full-time MBA, Hill’s team is taking a “holistic” approach to evaluating applications. First they are looking for personal qualities that will contribute to the diversity of the program. Specifically, means under-represented minorities, first-generation college students, LGBTQ, and low-income students, Hill explains. However, they will also look at “any other way to bring a diverse perspective into the cohort,” Hill says, mentioning accepting a Muslim student who was the only follower of Islam in her Alabama high school.

Of course, the program also values academic achievement. According to Hill, that means consistent academic success, but also students showing “signs of an upward trajectory” if they had a rough first semester. First-generation college students, in particular, often have slow starts, and Hill says her team wants to look for — and reward — resilience. “Sometimes this is also about personal leadership reflected through things like resilience,” Hill says of what her team looks for in the essay portion of the application. “The amount of things that some of these students — at 19 or 20 years old — have had to overcome to even get to college is absolutely remarkable and, to us, a reflection of leadership.”

Applications to the program are currently being accepted for this August and will be closed on March 1. In addition to the two required essays, resume, and unofficial transcript, applicants are required to submit a letter of recommendation.

Hill says one of the most important things participants can do is get to know everyone in the cohort and build a community with their fellow participants as well as Stanford students and alums. “We want this program to feel like another layer of their community that is pushing for them,” she says.


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