“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?”

Every summer from 7th grade through her senior year in high school, Brittany Williams went to science camp. “I was the kid who went to the NASA space camp—for fun!” Brittany enrolled at the University of Virginia to study aerospace engineering with the ultimate goal of “becoming an astronaut.”

“When I got to college I learned about other engineering disciplines,” says Brittany. With expanded opportunity came new questions: “Do I really want to be an astronaut? Do I want to narrow myself?” Seeking flexibility while remaining true to her interests in math and science, Brittany concentrated on systems engineering.

Her first exposure to business came from a classmate, two years ahead of her, who became something of a mentor. “He was in systems engineering too,” Brittany says. “He asked me if I knew I could apply systems thinking to investment banking. At the time, I had no idea—I didn’t even know what investment banking was.”

But she found the idea attractive because, “It would allow me to apply my problem-solving skillset to the business world, advising clients on the biggest problems they faced, like M&A, or applying capital effectively.”

For two summers, Brittany interned with Citibank. After graduation, she returned to Citibank for two years, then, to gain international experience, she accepted an offer with Goldman Sachs in London, where she worked for four years. “I absolutely loved it,” she says. “I traveled to more than twenty countries for work and pleasure.”

Preparing for general management

Upon reflection, Brittany realized her career was “heavily technical.” But she saw herself as becoming a “general manager, a C-level executive of a Fortune 500 company. To get there, I would have to expand my skill set.”

Getting an MBA from HBS would help her acquire those skills, and advance more personal interests. “I’ve always benefited from mentors, and now I want to mentor others.” Her personal goal: start a nonprofit mentoring program “to get under-represented minorities interested in science and technology. There are other programs that target younger girls, but we lose talent at the college level—that’s where the gap is.”

To prepare herself for leadership, Brittany served as the African American Student Union’s director of career and academics, “matching first year and second year students as mentees and mentors.” In addition, she has been volunteering as a nonprofit consultant with MEDIAGIRLS, a nonprofit that “encourages middle school girls to build self-confidence and challenge the negative images they see in media. I’m working on ways to scale the curriculum nationally.”

Eventually, Brittany hopes to bring her personal and professional ambitions together, “perhaps by becoming a chief diversity and inclusion officer.”

— Brittany Williams