In the Loop: First-Generation Students Build Connections in Chicago

2022-09-21 14.43.53 - Sidley

Manderson MBA student Rosemary Hartline is frank about her background: “I grew up in rural Alabama below the federal poverty line, so I never had high expectations for where life would take me.” But even with those humble expectations, Hartline managed to earn a Coca-Cola First-Generation scholarship to pay for her education, as well as a place in Manderson’s MBA program. And in September, she traveled to Chicago with a group of Culverhouse students to explore companies, including law firm Sidley Austin LLP and consulting firms Bain & Company and Crowe, and to network with alumni.

First Gen to the Windy City

Hartline traveled to the Windy City, with students representing Management Consulting Academy, Manderson Case Team, and Culverhouse’s First Gen Community (first-generation students are starting a new legacy as the first in their family to go to college). Quoc Hoang, Director of Experiential Learning, and Keith Norton, Director of Development, drew on alumni relationships to organize and execute the learning experience.

Culverhouse MBA and Sidley Austin managing partner Teresa Wilton Harmon, who oversees the Chicago office of over a thousand employees, shared her leadership style with the students: “When I wake up every day, I’m trying to figure out, how do I win for my people?” Harmon also organized a roundtable discussion with Sidley’s senior leaders overseeing accounting and finance, IT, and diversity, equity, and inclusion. The leaders spoke about their varied backgrounds, and how working at a world class, culture-driven, professional services firm allowed them to grow in their careers and truly find their passions through the work they do.

“When I wake up every day, I’m trying to figure out, how do I win for my people?” –Manderson MBA and Sidley Austin Managing Partner Teresa Wilton Harmon

Inspiring the Next Generation

The students were inspired. Nil Patel, a first-generation MBA student, said, “We learn about company culture in our classes, but this is the first time I could feel and see it. [Harmon] has done a tremendous job building an environment where everyone feels important and included, and she has created a community that helps everyone become the best version of themselves.” He told a friend that he would accept any open position at Sidley, even a role unrelated to his major, simply to be in that kind of environment.

“My father is a carpenter and my mother is disabled so I have no idea what corporate life is like,” said another first-generation MBA student and Coke Scholar Michael Duggar. “I have always wanted to sit at the table in a corporate boardroom in a skyscraper overlooking the city. Now I find myself wanting a real seat on the board.” Hartline agrees: “I never thought I would personally meet so many accomplished leaders and sit in a boardroom on the 38th floor of a high rise in Chicago.” Though first-generation students often struggle with imposter syndrome, she went on, “this trip proved to me that our stories and perspectives are valued and there is a place for us in boardrooms, at top consulting firms, and in leadership positions.”

A Connected Alumni

In addition to meeting with Harmon, students met with recently graduated Culverhouse alums who work at Bain & Company, Boston Consulting Group, Crowe, and Deloitte and senior executives of Bank of America,, and Faegre Drinker over the three-day trip. The learning experience also included exploration of the city itself, including an architectural boat tour and a Major League Baseball game. Joe Clark, a Culverhouse sophomore and member of the Management Consulting Academy, reflected, “Being on this experience with MBA-level students and talking with industry professionals helped me realize how much I’ve grown since coming to college. I feel like I’m turning into the adult I’ve wanted to become.”

Through experiential learning opportunities, students explore the world and discover possibilities within that world.

“Alabama is Where Legends Are Made,” said Rosemary Hartline, “and the thing I love most about Alabama is that those legends, like the alums we had lunch with at Sidley Austin, who have achieved so much, are eager to turn around, reach back, and create opportunities for the next generation.”

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