A journalism major as an undergrad, Stefanie Cainto never expected to go to grad school. But after finding her way into a marketing role where she worked with clients in management and operations positions, she began to rethink her career trajectory. Her “aha moment” came when she started to see how business could be a force for good. While she worked with clients across different sectors, several of her clients were in travel and tourism — an industry she’s passionate about. But the more that she marketed destinations, the more she found herself reflecting on her own personal values, including her passion for sustainability. “I think people need to travel because it increases empathy and broadens their perspectives,” Stefanie says. “But that needs to be balanced with making sure that we're taking care of all the places that we travel to.” That’s when she started to explore business schools that had strong sustainability programs, as well as career paths at the intersection of business and sustainability. She says, “I knew that the MBA would be a way not only to get the skills I lacked, but to fast-track me to where I wanted to be and open up some doors that never would have been open for me otherwise.” I applied because I wanted to know how to best put my application together, and I got that. But I also found a group of women that were there to support me along the way and that I'm likely going to be friends with for life. Stefanie learned about Forté MBALaunch through a friend who was in business school. “I didn't have the funding to get a consultant, so as soon as I found out about MBALaunch, I knew that I wanted to be a part of it,” she says. While she expected the program to be helpful, she was surprised at the network and friendships she built along the way. “I applied because I wanted to know how to best put my application together, and I got that,” she says, “But I also found a group of women that were there to support me along the way and that I'm likely going to be friends with for life." Making Connections in MBALaunch’s "Covid Cohort" Stefanie's MBALaunch program began in early 2020 and, almost immediately, moved online because of the Covid-19 pandemic. She recalls, “There was so much uncertainty about what was going to happen. What would classes look like? And how would it affect the application process?” She felt fortunate to be facing those unpredictable circumstances alongside other MBALaunch participants instead of on her own. Through Slack, Stefanie connected with two members of her cohort who were applying to several of the same schools as she was. They had weekly calls for several months during the round one application process. “We would check in to see how we were doing, talk through essay prompts, review each other's essays, and do mock interviews with each other,” she says. Now, I want to tell as many women as I can: 'This might not have been the path that you thought you were going to pursue, but the door is open for you if you decide to pursue it.’ As the women considered their b-school options, they shared their findings with each other which Stefanie found incredibly valuable. While the three women each ended up at different schools, they kept in touch, and over the summer, found a way to meet up in person for the first time after months of a virtual friendship. They still stay in touch today. Encouraging More Women to Pursue an MBA MBALaunch not only provided a structure that guided Stefanie through the application process, but also helped her find a b-school that was the right fit. She decided on Cornell SC Johnson College of Business (Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management). As she progresses on her MBA journey, Stefanie hopes to motivate others to join her in taking this leap. "Because I'm a woman, I'm a minority, and I'm an immigrant, there are a lot of things that didn't line up for me as a path to an MBA," she says. "Now, I want to tell as many women as I can: 'This might not have been the path that you thought you were going to pursue, but the door is open for you if you decide to pursue it.’” She also shared some advice for future MBALaunchers: "Use it as an opportunity to create friendships. The people that are going through MBALaunch are like-minded women. They will inspire you, and they will add perspective to the decisions that you make, whether that's the schools you apply to, the school that you decide to go to, or the career that you choose to pursue." Want to learn more about Forté MBALaunch and be notified of upcoming deadlines? Sign up for updates.