Effort to ‘Make the Most of What I’ve Been Given’ Drives WashU Student’s Desire to Have Social Impact

Austin René Moulder is proof that you are never too young to aim high.

A current student at Washington University in St. Louis (WashU), Moulder is pursuing not just a bachelor’s degree in international development and economics — with a minor in Spanish — but also an MBA through Olin Business School’s 3+2 program. By the time he graduates in 2022, he hopes to have also completed a master’s degree in corporate finance and investments.

Moulder attributes much of his ambition to his humble upbringing and his desire to have an impact. “I’ve always been driven to make the most of whatever I’ve been given, and that’s my reason for doing a master’s in business administration,” he says.

Austin Moulder
Austin Moulder

His introduction to Competitive Advantage in 2019 paved the way for his 2020 summer internship — he is currently working as a global transaction services analyst at Bank of America — and, ultimately, his acceptance to The Consortium as an MBA candidate. This fall, Moulder will begin the MBA leg of his journey at Olin.

He recently shared with us his thoughts and insight regarding his path to graduate school and how he hopes to use his MBA and consulting and finance background to have a positive impact.

Tell me about your background. What was your childhood like, and how did you get where you are now?

I was born in Virginia, but most of my childhood was spent in Kansas City, in a small city called Grandview along the outskirts; it’s a lower-income area. I went to a predominately African American elementary school where the services weren’t that great. My family struggled a lot in 2008, as a lot of people did; my father lost his job, and we really struggled to make ends meet, but I did my best to keep up with my academics and succeed in school.

We ended up moving to a suburb in 2010, but then in 2013, my father passed away. That was really difficult for obvious personal reasons, but also, it was another huge financial toll on my family. I really wanted to live up to my father’s name. He was an expert carpenter, and any challenge he was presented with, he would make the most of it. He worked hard to achieve whatever goal he set out for himself. I always try to embody that.

I ended up valedictorian of my high school and was accepted into WashU, where I studied international and area studies and economics with a minor in Spanish. The reason for that is that it’s always been important for me to have a quantitative, data-driven approach to complex problems — which I get from economics — as well as be able to question some of the conventional assumptions that are placed on economics, which I get from international development studies. That background has really served me well. I have worked in the nonprofit sector and the for-profit world. I worked in Kansas City with the largest nonprofit homeless shelter as their development intern, and I went on the following year to do an externship with Boston Consulting Group. Now I’m about to begin my MBA, with a concentration in consulting and finance.

Initially, what industry or field did you hope to go into? How has that evolved or shifted over time?

My interests really lie in social impact, cultural diversity and education. I would say that those are the foundations of what I strive to achieve in my life, and I’ve really embodied that through certain activities — in the nonprofit world as well as in my extracurriculars. As far as my career trajectory, I’m studying consulting and finance, and the reason for that is I really think that a keen sense of strategy and a keen sense of quantitative financial management are the building blocks in organizations that break frontiers and disrupt industry trends. Because of that, I really want to leverage my skills in consulting and finance to enter a large management or strategy consulting firm.

However, whenever I think about my long-term career trajectory, I’m more interested in going into something like education or social impact. My ultimate goal, my passion project, is to one day found or contribute to a new university that incorporates high-level, breaking-edge technology with a liberal arts environment; that way, we can focus a lot more on how people can think and engage in critical thought as opposed to regurgitating information or doing something that machines are going to be able to accomplish in a decade.

Tell me about WashU’s 3+2 program. Why did you decide to pursue an MBA, and how do you think it will help you achieve your goals?

The way that the 3+2 Olin MBA program works is that during your junior year, you have the opportunity to apply if you are a WashU student. I’m not in the Olin Business School undergraduate program — I’m in the College of Arts and Sciences — but I really wanted to pursue this program for a couple of reasons. The first reason is in line with my philosophy with respect to life and where I’m at in terms of age. I think that during your late teens and early 20s, you really want to maximize your human capital by trying to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible; that way, you can really optimize your impact in an organization. So, being able to compound my liberal arts education with something really grounded in finances and business administration is the key driving factor.

The second factor is that we really are in an unprecedented time with the pandemic, so it makes pragmatic sense [to get my MBA now]. Whenever I think about the competition in the labor market and how difficult it is to get a job, I think that being able to utilize a master’s degree is not only going to give you a competitive advantage — no pun intended — but it’s also going to better suit you to time your entrance into the labor market.

The third reason that I would highlight is the ability to leverage fourth year scholarship benefits and maximize your return on investment [with regard to] education. The 3+2 program is amazing, especially for people who come from humble backgrounds and don’t have a lot of financial backing. I’m one of those people, and being able to leverage a 3+2 program is unique in the sense that your fourth year you’re considered an undergraduate. The reality is that a lot of fellowships are not available to undergraduate students like they are to graduate students. The Consortium is a good example of an organization that’s trying to break from that. I can use the undergraduate aid that I’m already receiving on a financial need basis and apply that to the first year of my MBA, which cuts my MBA costs in half. Once you factor in my fifth-year merit-based scholarships, it just makes sense from a cost-benefit analysis.

Your introduction to The Consortium began with Competitive Advantage. So, how did you hear about the program and what drew you to it?

I’m so grateful for the power of networking. Coming from a public school background and not really having too many resources [or access to] top-name schools or organizations, I didn’t really know what networking entailed. But, whenever I entered WashU, I found all of these people who really wanted to help me succeed. Something that I’ve really utilized — although it may seem trivial — is the Latinx group chat on GroupMe; it’s a group of Latinos at WashU. We make up about 6 percent of the student population. Someone posted about this opportunity, Competitive Advantage 2019, and there were only three days left to apply. I thought it would be a great opportunity to meet Latino professionals, successful Latinos, and other people from minority backgrounds at top schools and leverage this network.

I was so grateful when I found out that I was accepted, but honestly, I didn’t really know what I was getting into. It really wasn’t until I went to Schaumburg and spoke with people from The University of Texas at Austin and all of these other schools that I really was able to understand the magnitude of the organization, as well as the power of networking and establishing connections with corporate partners.

What did you enjoy most about your experience at Competitive Advantage?

I really liked that it had a lot of focus on diversity, on including people of color, especially in the field that I’m interested in. In consulting and finance, it’s very pale and male. Because of that, whenever I’m networking or connecting with some of these companies, it can be very easy to sacrifice my culture to try and get the job or to try and meet a certain resume standard. The Consortium completely turns that on its head.

That was the thing that drew me most to Competitive Advantage, the fact that it doesn’t try to meet this conventional, outdated standard of what finance and consulting look like. Even on the program’s website, in the media it shares, the blogs it posts, it’s all about celebrating culture. I really noticed that when I was applying, and it really showed to be true whenever I was actually at the conference.

What did you hope to walk away with?

I was looking for a job or an internship. I was also there to network, and I think that I accomplished both. It was incredible because there was time to interact with these large groups, these large schools that were attending [with] 20 or 30 students. I came out of the conference with nearly double the size of what my original LinkedIn network was, and I still stay in touch with a lot of the participants.

I was able to leverage opportunities with corporate partners; that was my introduction to Accenture and Bank of America. Ruben Blaise was the representative from Bank of America, and he walked me through, on a very personal level, what it was like to work in investment banking and finance. As someone who, at the time, was predominately [focused on] consulting, I didn’t really know what a finance job looked like. What Ruben was saying about the integrity of the corporation and how they live by their values got me excited, so I continued my relationship with Bank of America, and that eventually led me to a summer internship that I recently started in Global Transaction Services.

As a side note, something that I have come to appreciate is that, while so many companies and corporations have rescinded internship offers because of the pandemic, Bank of America made a commitment that they weren’t going to lay off anyone this year. This speaks volumes of the corporation and how much they care for their employees.

How if at all did Competitive Advantage affect your decision of where to go next in your career and education?

Competitive Advantage really opened my eyes to the possibilities in the industries I was considering. In top 20 or top 30 undergraduate programs, there’s often the expectation that you’re going to come in as a freshman and you’re going to [become part of] this machine [and work] at a McKinsey, Bain or BCG type company. While that’s great and those organizations are fantastic, it’s really hard sometimes to see through the prestige and analyze other options.

I think The Consortium does a really great job of saying, “Yes, these are great opportunities, and these are great organizations that you should definitely reach out to, but it doesn’t have to just be this.” There are so many organizations, there are so many sub-industries. There’s insurance. There’s not just strategy consulting, there’s tech consulting. There’s not only finance, there’s also auditing. That was one of the main benefits of Competitive Advantage.

You mentioned that you like the program’s mission and its focus on diversity. Is diversity an area in which you would also like to have an impact?

Yes. It was so incredible to see the speakers from Competitive Advantage — Latinos, African Americans, groups with which I identify and ally — and I really hope to contribute such that whatever I do in my career has a social impact. My future employers and business ventures need to include diversity and inclusion as core values.

There are so many barriers to entry for people of color in managerial positions. My hope in the long run is that I can create something and be entrepreneurial in spirit such that these barriers are not so large — whether that’s creating a network like The Consortium, whether that’s creating educational opportunities for people of color, whether that’s integrating global culture and global diversity into a single geographic or digital space. That really is the key to what I want to accomplish in life.

What does it mean to you to have participated, first, in Competitive Advantage and to now continue your relationship with The Consortium as an MBA?

It means that I am a part of something fluid, something that will evolve alongside me and support me in my professional pursuits. I believe that organizations like The Consortium provide opportunities for life-long networking. To me, that means a relationship that develops over time. I think about Maura Quinn, a recruiter from Liberty Mutual, with whom I had the pleasure of engaging at both conferences.

Continuous engagement grants me the ability to establish sustained relationships. Ultimately, those networks create an important foundation for growth among our communities of color. I believe that being a part of Competitive Advantage as well as The Consortium’s MBA platform shows the organization’s commitment not only to creating connections, but also to cultivating them. I am grateful to The Consortium and plan to leverage my unique position to bridge the gap between thriving individuals at the undergraduate level and the MBA level, because closing those gaps are necessary for the advancement of our communities.

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