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A Tear Worth a Diamond

“Effort is only effort when it begins to hurt” – JOSE ORTEGA Y GASET

by: Alba Medina Flores

The MSRED program at MIT has been one of the best experiences of my life. Not only professionally, but personally, as well. Though there have been some very challenging moments, I’m glad I chose to take a risk to move out of my comfort zone. The resources available at MIT, ranging from the synergies between different science/engineering departments, to the development of innovation, seem unlimited. I have enjoyed being immersed in an intellectual environment of sharing ideas after 5+ years of working.

The application process, in and of itself, was overwhelming at times. Especially since I pursued this while managing a busy and demanding schedule.  Nonetheless, I feel very proud of myself. It was very tempting for me to “throw in the towel” and continue with my comfortable routine in Mexico. I believe, in the end, what matters the most is perseverance, discipline…and a passion for achieving your dreams. Few things in life have challenged me as much as getting into MIT; but few achievements have been as satisfactory. Turns out – I’m only the 2nd Latin woman who has come through MIT’s MSRED program.

I thought that being a woman was going to be challenging in a predominately male dominating class and environment, especially considering that it is a Masters in Science and there are very few women in the field. I was pleasantly surprised to experience just how much MIT embraces and celebrates diversity. Specifically related to the MSRED program, the heterogeneous background of my fellow classmates – age, work experience, race and ethnicity – make this program uniquely global and dynamic.

I consider myself to be a hands-on person. Initially, I was concerned my experience at MIT was going to be strictly theoretical. I couldn’t have been more mistaken. MIT truly lives up to its motto Mens et Manus (mind and hand).  For example, in the Real Estate Economics class we learned about the dynamic 4-Quadrant model, an economic theory/concept created by our very own Professor William Wheaton. This knowledge has been extremely useful in my day-to-day investment decision-making because I can now deeply understand the cycles in the real estate sector as well as their implications. The program has opened my eyes to concrete investment opportunities that I hadn’t previously considered or even thought about. MIT’s MSRED program has a rigorous academic curriculum and offers a lot of whole-life flexibility. I now realize I can do something really important with it and make a difference in the world.

Another aspect I love about the program is that it also offers the opportunity to take some optional qualitative classes in addition to the rigorous program. I took the Real Estate Leadership class and I felt it helped me grow personally. Dr. Gloria Schuck is an extraordinary professor and someone that transformed my life. She has pushed me to take risks and to pursue my aspirations in science and entrepreneurship, as well as in regards to my personal life. Dr. Schuck is someone that believes in the empowerment of women and translates it into action. Being able to make an impact is a significant motivator, especially for minority women in an area of study populated mostly by men.

MIT has been a long-time leader in effecting change. One such example is the institute-wide, student-led group Graduate Women at MIT (GWAMIT). Founded in 2009, their mission is to promote the personal and professional development of MIT’s graduate women. GWAMIT has been a great resource for me and has widened my network – especially with other female graduate students at MIT. They provide  information, mentoring programs, leadership conferences and workshops throughout the year.

I feel that pursuing a graduate degree at MIT, and living in a different country, has been the best investment I have ever made. Taking some time off from work to explore new ideas and opportunities, with interesting and very competent classmates, is making my professional career skyrocket. Most importantly, it has already made me a better human being.

The Latin culture has a strong tendency to dissuade girls from forming ambitions that include the technical fields. The biggest drop-off happens after college, where the women start wanting to conform and give up their dreams. The majority of men in the culture where I come from still have the perception of women being inferior, and constantly question our abilities when it comes to science and business in general.

I remember a couple of years ago feeling very guilty for not wanting what everyone expected from me and for my eagerness to explore new challenges and opportunities. Thankfully my parents imbued me with the spirit that I could do anything to which I committed. Dealing with my own experiences with prejudice has inspired me to advocate for female participation and to change the status quo of women in Latin America. Hopefully, I will be an inspiration to my 4 younger sisters so they feel empowered to accomplish their wildest dreams.