Carnegie Mellon University
January 08, 2021

MBA Student Aims for Inclusion

Katterin White Salazar embodies community-centered decision making

By Katy Rank Lev

Mara Falk
  • Tepper School of Business
  • 412-268-3486

Katterin White Salazar came to Carnegie Mellon University with a laser-focused plan.

"I knew what I wanted to study, I knew the research I wanted to do and I had planned out my classes for all four years," she said.

Along the way, plans began to morph. A native of Bogota, Colombia, Salazar has been part of the CMU community for more than eight years, helping to shape the community first as an undergraduate, then a staff member and now as a graduate student pursuing her MBA in the Tepper School of Business.

"Meeting people who are passionate about fields very different from my own — sometimes fields I did not even know existed — really showed me this is a place that thinks about problems in a multi-layered way," Salazar said.

When Salazar arrived at CMU in 2012 to pursue a bachelor's degree in economics, she experienced a rocky start. Her housefellow at the time, Renee Camerlengo, helped her find support.

"Renee gave me the space and understanding to come to terms with depression, to be a little bit more forgiving and accepting of myself," Salazar said.

She gave herself the latitude to explore, through activities like acting classes, programming and Buggy. She eventually took at least one class from each of CMU's seven colleges. Along the way, Salazar built relationships across the university and found these connections were the missing piece in her life.

Outside the Classroom

"My CMU experience really came to life when I looked beyond academics to gauge community," Salazar said.

As a researcher, she worked alongside Professor Mariana Achugar from the Department of Modern Languages and partnered with Roseanne Usnay, a student in the College of Engineering, to study the Latinx college experience.

"I went from thinking of myself as a Latina on campus, to broaden that and think about being a Latina in Pittsburgh. This experience showed me I could make a career in this space," Salazar said, referring to diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI).

She graduated in 2017 and was hired by CMU as an assistant director of admissions, focusing on access and diversity initiatives. Eventually, Salazar moved into a role with Student Leadership, Involvement and Civic Engagement (SLICE). Salazar loved working there, helping students to foster their own connections with the wider community around CMU.

"SLICE helped me see the place for all my identity spheres," Salazar said.

Mastering Graduate Work

A graduate degree in business was not on her radar until Salazar began having conversations with Colleen McMullen, Tepper's executive director of community and inclusion.

"I had just spent the past three years working on DEI and civic engagement," Salazar said. "I thought business school would be very bottom-line focused, not in line with my values."

McMullen showed Salazar some of the community impacts Tepper students have helped to create, as well as a vibrant cohort of graduate students who advocate for inclusion. Salazar also learned about leadership initiatives through the Accelerate Leadership Center, which provides coaching, workshops and programs designed to help students advance personal and professional leadership goals.

"I want to see more businesses become agents of positive social change." — Katterin White Salazar

But, as much as she was impressed with what she saw, Salazar said she never imagined she would be able to afford the tuition to attend the program. McMullen connected Salazar with the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, an organization that offers merit-based, full-tuition fellowships to MBA candidates with a proven record of promoting inclusion.

"The Consortium fellowship also connects me with people who aim to promote inclusion in business," said Salazar. "We have conversations about bringing equity to MBA programs as well."

Salazar learned from her undergraduate experiences that building relationships with the broad university community is vital to her learning. She began graduate school determined to take a similar approach.

"We're only here for two years in the MBA program," she said. "I want to try to get outside of my department as much as possible."

Studying remotely from Colombia has been a challenge during the pandemic, but Salazar joined a number of student and professional organizations, including the Latin American Business Club, the Black Business Association and the Net Impact Club, (among others).

"There is so much richness in all of the programs," she said. Plus, finding out more about other students helped her know she was not alone in struggling with imposter syndrome. "When I started learning about other people's similar experiences, I really felt connected to the larger Tepper community," Salazar said.

The MBA coursework began to come alive for Salazar when her classes emphasized long-term decision making.

"We started talking about the impact of our choices seven generations down the line, how school districts will be affected … business has such an impact in our society. I'm really drawn to the mentality of thinking several hundred years out, what our footprint is going to be," Salazar said.

She isn't sure what comes after her MBA with concentrations in strategy, sustainability and marketing.

"Tepper has connected me with so many future business leaders eager to discuss DEI," she said. "Imagine if more businesses engaged in community-centric decision making? I want to see more businesses become agents of positive social change."

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