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Conquering Motherhood and an MBA

Insights from Four Women Who Took the Leap

This article is sponsored by the Kelley School of Business.

April Opper Davis was a lawyer in her late 30s when her career as a law school administrator stalled. She was sure that she could transfer many of her skills from law to business, and the prospect of using her creativity to drive innovation was exciting. She and her husband had an infant son, but April was confident that their son was so young that she could navigate a full-time MBA program. Not only did April decide to enroll at the Kelley School of Business that fall, but her husband, Bruce, did, too.

In addition to balancing their marriage and the demands of schoolwork, they were also the parents of a toddler. Bruce was in good company as an MBA dad, but other MBA moms were hard to find. Still, April and Bruce graduated from Kelley in May 2016; today, April is a senior project manager at Vanguard, responsible for IT talent sourcing for multiple offices.

April’s story is inspiring but not entirely unique. Thanks to Forté, more top business schools are making a dedicated effort to ensure that women’s voices are represented in highly-ranked programs and in increasing numbers of C-suites around the world. Inspired by the female role models assuming visible leadership roles, more mothers are considering returning to school to earn an MBA. April and three other Kelley Women shared their stories and tips for mothers who might be considering this path.

Think long-term.

Casey Bufford, a second-year MBA student, admits that “mom guilt” is real and is something she experiences with her daughter when she can’t spend as much time with her as she’d like. Feelings of guilt are short-term, though.

“For you and your child to be whole individuals, you need to pursue your goals,” she advises other moms. Casey has leveraged her MBA to transition from roles in higher education and collegiate athletics; she will be joining Discover’s leadership development program after graduation in May 2020.

Focus on the positive.

Latasha Napper-Watkins, MBA ’14, had a young son when she started her MBA studies and had her second son during her first year of the program. With her MBA, Latasha realized her dream of shifting careers from operations roles to brand management.

Latasha reflects, “Often women give up and find reasons not to pursue their MBA. My attitude was to find all of the reasons why this will work.”

See yourself as a role model.

Rong Xue, MBA ’21 candidate and Forté Fellow, intends to switch from a career as a chemist to marketing. She was motivated to pursue her MBA after her second child, a daughter, was born.

“I want to be a role model for her just as my mom, a working mother who also took care of two children, has been a role model for me,” she says. Latasha, who now has three sons, is proud of the example that she has set for them. “They don’t see this as impossible. They will appreciate drive in their future partner and how important it is to support them.”

Choose a program and community that values students with families.

Casey recommends researching resources available on and off campus for student parents. For example, the availability of affordable daycare and backup options have been crucial for her success. Finding an MBA community that champions student-parents was equally important.

“My classmates have embraced me as a mom,” she says.

You can do it!

All of these Kelley Women urge other moms to pursue their MBA dreams. “Trust yourself, your kids, and your family,” Rong says.

“Don’t let fear stop you,” April adds. “You can make it work.”

Gale Nichols is the Executive Director of the Full-Time MBA Program at Kelley School of Business.

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