07 Oct 2022

A Case for Greater Representation: A Q+A with Eric Calderon (MBA 2013) on Harvard Business School Admissions’ Use of “Latinos and the MBA Option”


by Shona Simkin

Photo of the "Latinos and the MBA Option" case on a desk with Harvard notebook, highlighter pen, glasses, paper, inset photo of Eric Calderon.

In 2019, Harvard Business School (HBS) published a new case in which Esperanza, a Latinx protagonist, confronted cultural, familial, and personal doubts about her decision to get an MBA. Written with the intention of being used in admissions outreach sessions to underrepresented minorities, Latinos and the MBA Option has since been taught to hundreds of prospective applicants. We caught up with one of the case authors, Eric Calderon (MBA 2013), who is also an HBS admissions representative, to learn how it has been received in the past few years and his hopes for how it might affect minority representation in business schools.

Remind us of why you and your co-authors wrote the case about Esperanza.
We thought the case could be a tool to prompt the difficult subjects that consistently came up in admissions sessions with underrepresented minorities—lack of confidence, having impostor syndrome, and concerns about the cost and leaving a good job. It’s a way of making a typical admissions session more exciting, through a case discussion, but it also creates a way for people to talk about these issues more anonymously because they’re being faced by a fictional protagonist. These are issues that are particular to this Hispanic protagonist, but are also considerations for many other minority groups.

Has it resonated?
We find that folks leave with a taste of the case method and feeling like they weren’t the only one with these concerns—they heard others talk about how they felt reading it and similar struggles and worries. I open and close the case by telling folks that I’m a member of that community too, that I had those concerns when I applied to HBS. In many ways we’re all Esperanza—we all relate to the protagonist. I also close the conversation with information about resources they can access when they think about applying. It builds community.

Has anything changed about the case since you first taught it in 2019?
The first time we taught it virtually was a real change. Having virtual events has opened it up to a wider audience; we often have 100-120 people joining the sessions. I’ve also come to realize that there are some differences in how the case discussion goes in this setting versus in the MBA curriculum. For instance, there is a higher focus on ensuring I can get as many people into the conversation as possible. You want to let people say what they’re feeling and ask, “Who else does this resonate with?”—when five hands go up, you try to ensure all five are called on. It’s important for people to leave the session and think, “Wow, I participated. I talked to the HBS community…I can do this!”

Do you have any indication that it’s moving the needle in terms of increasing applications from underrepresented minorities?
We have some qualitative indications here at HBS. There have been a few students who were introduced to the School through our first teachings of Esperanza, which shows at minimum that the seed we planted was one they wanted to nourish. That’s where the magnifier effect is, that’s where we’ll get the wider impact—those students will touch other lives, and so on and so on.

Over time, we will be able to get more quantitative trends as admissions teams are now releasing their class stats by ethnicity. We have seen some important growth here and want to ensure we keep the momentum. It’s hard to know exactly if there’s any one primary contributor, but I believe it’s everything together, and that this is an important tool.

Personally, the admissions events we do with a case discussion feel special. The case discussion itself is a special event—it’s the hallmark of HBS and something that usually no one in the room has ever done. People come in prepped and ready, and with a bit more energy because they’re taking part in something they know is two-way, as opposed to seeing a Powerpoint presentation or hearing about what the application looks like.

What are your hopes for the case going forward?
My hope is that it moves back to in-person sessions in classrooms, because there’s something special about them. I also want to see it go beyond HBS admissions efforts; I want to see it as the common reference point for how MBA information sessions are structured. I would love to see it become something that all minority Latino MBA applicants are familiar with. It could also be part of the structured MBA curriculum, especially if there are classes focusing on the nuances of racial differences or the struggles and leadership issues of different communities. The best outcome is for as many people as possible to feel comfortable teaching it, because I want people to use it as a platform. These issues are not unique to HBS, and it could be a tool that is used in a lot of places.

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