As the first person in her family to go to college, Alejandra Flores has learned the true value of education and the opportunities it can provide.
Now a graduate student completing her fourth year in a five-year master’s in professional accounting program at The University of Texas at Austin (UT Austin) McCombs School of Business, she has come a long way from her childhood in Mexico. Following her father’s death, when Flores was five, her mother moved her and her seven siblings across the border to Laredo, Texas, where, in high school, Flores’ interest in accounting began.
“I would do these national competitions as part of extracurricular organizations, and I was able to get a full ride to UT Austin through a merit-based scholarship and was accepted into the business honors program,” she says, adding that education is very important to her. “It has opened many doors. It’s allowed me to have a lot of opportunities I would have never dreamed of.”
One such opportunity was the chance to be part of the inaugural Competitive Advantage class of 2018. Through her participation in the conference, Flores connected with ExxonMobil where she will be interning this summer.
Flores recently shared with us her experience at the conference and how it helped her build confidence, grow her network and define her professional path.
How did you learn about Competitive Advantage?
There’s an organization here at UT Austin called Subiendo Academy that’s for underrepresented minorities, first-generation, low-income students who excel in academics. You’re recruited into this organization in high school to participate in a weeklong conference at the university. The person in charge of that organization here at UT Austin knew about Competitive Advantage and encouraged us to apply.
Since a lot of us come from lower-socioeconomic families, they paid for our plane ticket to Chicago to go to the conference so that it wouldn’t be an issue; it would just be about applying and attending. It was all thanks to Leticia Acosta, who is the director of Subiendo.
What was your experience like at the conference?
I really enjoyed networking. It was so easy to connect with the other students from different schools. Even meeting the professionals who were there was amazing because they had backgrounds similar to us, and you could tell they were very genuine in their care and support for the students who were there … and were offering opportunities. I actually didn’t think I would get an internship out of it. I thought it was just a way to learn about different companies and meet people who would like to connect.
But, my favorite thing was meeting students from other schools. We all connected on LinkedIn and keep in touch. I think it’s a very powerful conference in the sense that you can relate to all these people. We’re all very smart, and there’s a very bright future ahead for all of us. Creating that support with people from all over the nation is, I believe, very powerful.
[There was also] the career fair where you go booth to booth to speak to recruiters. There were people from other companies, and even though I may not have been interested in some of those companies, it was nice to have someone tell me, “You can do it. This is what I did. This is my experience.”
I knew before I went that I was going to focus on Exxon because they reached out to me. They were very kind and persistent, and I could tell that it was a very good company from the start.
What was the process like for securing the internship at ExxonMobil?
Exxon had been calling me, and I agreed to meet them at the conference. I got to meet a couple people and ask questions about the company and about their personal experiences in college and at work. Then I had my interview. It was just a conversation, very easy going in the sense that I felt that even if I didn’t get the internship, I would still be happy to have met this person because my interviewer told me, “I’m very interested in seeing you succeed, and I would like to be a mentor to you.” I really appreciated that because you don’t see a lot of people who look like you — who are underrepresented minorities — in successful positions and at the top of their companies. So it’s nice to see that and for them to tell you that they believe in you. Exxon did that for me.
After the conference, they reached out and said they would like to fly me to Houston to interview me. I went to Houston, and then they called me back [to tell me] I got the internship.
How did Competitive Advantage help you grow as a young professional and leader?
I think it helped me [gain the] confidence to believe in myself. If you can’t believe in yourself, no one else will. Carry yourself how you want others to perceive you. So, I’m a smart, capable young woman, and it doesn’t matter my background; what matters is how hard I work and what I have to offer these companies.
It gave me the ability to communicate. I had to be constantly introducing myself to not only professionals but people my age as well. First impressions really matter, and you want to make a good first impression. If, in the future, I [go through] The Consortium for an MBA and I reconnect with these people, it would be nice for them to recognize me and remember that they met me in Chicago.
Competitive Advantage can be a little intimidating, but don’t be scared to be yourself, to be a genuine and honest person and to reach out to others. You’ll be surprised by how much you can connect with someone on an academic, professional or personal level.
What additional benefits do you gain from being part of Competitive Advantage?
A business school was present at the conference. I had never imagined attending that business school, but [The Consortium] offered the resource of a potential scholarship if I want to get an MBA in the future — scholarships that I didn’t know were available. So, new doors are there that I can open, new resources that I didn’t know about that are applicable to me and my future goals.
I had considered getting an MBA in the past, but money is a big issue. That’s been something of an obstacle for me — trying to pursue an MBA or picturing myself with an MBA. But, after hearing about the opportunities that are available, I am certain that I can do it, and money shouldn’t be an obstacle because there are so many people who are willing to help support people they believe in.
What benefit does Competitive Advantage provide students from all disciplines and majors — particularly those who may not know what path they want to take?
That was something I noticed: There were people from all disciplines.
It offers seminars [for] different disciplines, so if somebody is perhaps curious about accounting but has never taken any classes or doesn’t want to major — they just want to minor — in it, they have the opportunity to go to that seminar. Not only is there a professional speaking about the subject and their career, but there are also the students who are sitting next to you. So you can also ask them about their experiences and the classes they’re taking.
I think Competitive Advantage opens many new doors and can help guide you toward something you never thought was possible or something you never considered before. It did for me.
Do you feel that Competitive Advantage gave you an edge in your professional pursuits?
I think so. The business school’s very competitive here at UT Austin, and … it’s the same group of companies that come and recruit at the university. Even if you do have access to, for example, Exxon, it’s not the people who have backgrounds similar to yours and can understand where you’re coming from, understand you and your hard work, who are recruiting you.
Competitive Advantage offered those people [at] the conference. They can see the struggle that we’ve gone through, the hard work we’ve put in, our skills and how being bilingual [is an asset]. So I think it gave me a competitive edge in that it connected me with people who I needed to be connected with and who I didn’t know were there.
Do you think the conference helps create a space for forming more personalized connections, especially for students from underrepresented minority groups?
Definitely. Coming from Mexican parents, Mexican immigrants, [if] I see someone with a similar background as mine and she’s Latina, of course, I want to be able to show her that she can do it if I can do it.
I feel like underrepresented minority students should really stick together because we need more of us at the top to make the world a better place in general. I think it’s very important to start that diversity and inclusiveness as early as possible, and I think Competitive Advantage really helps with that.