Originally from Mexico City, Mexico Paulina Ponce de Leon moved to the United States in 2001 to attend Wellesley College. After graduating from Wellesley, Paulina spent a year travelling and pursuing a Master’s degree at MIT. Paulina then joined The Boston Consulting Group, where she spent much of her time working closely with the Wildlife Conservation Society. After graduating from the HBS/HKS joint degree program Paulina will be moving to Washington, DC to work for the World Wildlife Fund.
Why did you decide to come to HBS?
I chose to go to business school to strengthen my analytical skills, and to give myself the opportunity to reflect on past experiences and future aspirations. I chose HBS because of the case method, which is a fantastic way of further developing your communication skills.
It’s about listening to the conversation, understanding what the issues are, and finding a way to contribute in a meaningful way. All in front of over 90 people. Looking back, I can’t think of a better way to prepare us to be “at the table” wherever we go next.
Why did you pursue a joint degree?
The other important aspect of HBS for me was the joint-degree program with the Harvard Kennedy School of Government (HKS). I wanted to be in a program that allowed for exploration of issues at the heart of business, government and civil society, and HBS and HKS have created a unique and well-integrated program that speaks to those challenges.
What’s your favorite section memory?
At some point during the spring semester of our first year, I realized that my section was having a long-term conversation. We weren’t just discussing the cases in each class, we were having a conversation that had begun the first day we sat together as a section and continued to evolve every time we met.
That was possible because we achieved a deep level of trust and familiarity with each other, we listened, we were respectful of different views, and we were open to changing our own opinion. A lot of that was due to our willingness to jump into this experience, but a lot of it was because we had great professors orchestrating the conversation. This is one of the things I’m most thankful of as I leave HBS – the conversation I had with my section.
What’s your favorite hobby?
Dancing. There’s a great place in Central Square, close to HBS, that has dancing classes to live music. It gets my head to a different place, and it makes me very happy.
What’s your favorite way to spend a Sunday?
Cooking and eating with friends. There’s nothing better than getting together with people you love to play around in the kitchen, and share a great meal, with great conversation.
Do you have any special talents?
I am a SCUBA dive master. I love diving, and it’s a great thing to share with family and friends.
What’s something people would be surprised to learn about you?
I went to a women’s college, Wellesley, which some people find surprising. It was one of the best things I could have ever done. Wellesley is a place that creates a new normal, and it has built a very strong network of strong, inspiring and encouraging women.
What’s something you’ve done that you’re proud of?
I spent a year traveling on my own after college – I had won a Watson Fellowship to study the use of small-scale renewable energy technologies in off-grid communities. I traveled to a number of remote villages in Peru, Sri Lanka, the Dominican Republic, Mali and Madagascar, visiting projects and trying to understand what worked and what didn’t.
I learned a lot about development, and started to understand the positive impact that business can have in the world. But it was also very lonely, and that gave me time to think a lot about who I was and who I want to become. I saw corners of the world I didn’t know existed, and earned a strong faith in humanity and the goodness of people. It wasn’t easy, but it deeply shaped who I am, and who I want to become.
What’s the best advice you’ve ever received?
My TEM (The Entrepreneurial Manager) professor encouraged me to focus on experiences that would be immediately meaningful to me, and not only part of a five or ten year plan. I had stopped by during office hours to chat with him about my internship options, and kept explaining each one by focusing on how it would help me to get to a particular job experience in the future.
He reminded me that it is impossible to know what will happen in a year, let alone three or five. And then he encouraged me to choose things that would be fulfilling, enriching and meaningful today, now, and not only in the future. It was a great reminder that the journey is as important as the destination.