When 20-year-old Oscar Rodriguez left Colombia for New York in 2000 – by himself – he didn’t speak a word of English.
But for Rodriguez and many other immigrants, the promise of the American dream was enough. “I was motivated by the notion that the U.S. offers opportunities if you are willing to work hard,” he says.
However his peers thought his dream of going to college and working at a top U.S. company was unrealistic. “They’d tell me, ‘there’s no way you’re going to get into a top business school; you’re crazy!’”
Rodriguez noticed an epidemic of low expectation: “It’s hard coming into this country, adapting, and learning a new language. For many of the Latinos around me, the American Dream meant getting a decent job, making $400 a week at a restaurant or construction site, and then sending the money home.”
To Rodriguez, that was an okay way to make it. But he thought it could mean more. He wanted more.
Rodriguez learned English and worked two jobs to put himself through college at Borough Manhattan Community College. After graduating with his degree in computer science, he got a job as a software developer in the financial industry.
And that is where he learned about the organization he credits for making his American Dream come true: Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT), a career development program for minorities.
A co-worker told Rodriguez about the MBA prep program, but he was initially unsure. “I had been thinking about the idea of pursuing an MBA, but I wasn’t really convinced about my potential to apply to the top schools in the U.S.,” he says.
Rodriguez immediately recognized that familiar doubt. “I think this kind of doubt is common among first generation immigrants. We perceive there is no way we could ever get in to an ivy league or top business school, so we don’t even try,” he explains.
This doubt of professional success is very real for minorities. According to the MLT website “although comprising nearly 30 percent of the US population, African Americans, Hispanics and Native Americans comprise only 3 percent of senior leaders in corporations, non-profits and entrepreneurial ventures.”
Catherine Carrington, MLT Chief of Staff, explains that MLT Founder John Rice “built MLT to help young professionals gain access to the best opportunities, specifically young minorities with tons of potential but who may not have had same access or exposure that others have had.”
Using a program model that consists of personalized coaching and seminars with top minority leaders from organizations such as Goldman Sachs, Procter & Gamble, and the Walt Disney Company, MLT’s MBA Prep alumni make up 40 percent of all minority students at Harvard Business School, Kellogg, and Wharton. The organization is funded by leading corporations and non-profits looking to recruit diverse talent, as well as a committed board and alumni base who contributes regularly. To get into the highly-competitive program, candidates must write an essay, provide letters of recommendation and take part in an interview, much like applying for business school. They must demonstrate success on the academic side and leadership experiences that indicate their future potential.
After being accepted to the MBA Prep Program, Rodriguez was accepted to some of the top business schools in the country. He chose the Darden Graduate School of Business at the University of Virginia, where he graduated with an MBA in 2010.
Rodriguez says MLT made all the difference when it came to getting a job. “The consulting firms I interviewed with after I graduated only recruit from a very short list of schools. If you don’t go to those schools you are out of the talent pool for these types of opportunities, and I would never have gotten to Darden business school without MLT,” he adds.
Shortly after he received his MBA he became a senior consultant for Booz Allen Hamilton, one of MLT’s partners.
And in October 2012, Rodriguez accepted a job as Business Strategist for Quality Operations at Google, consulting with global teams in California, Ireland, India, Japan, and China.
Ten years later, Rodriguez clearly remembers the peers who thought his dreams were crazy. While their words of doubt still stick in his head, he speaks with the confidence of someone who’s learned that crazy dreams might be exactly what the American Dream is all about.
Isa Adney is the author of Community College Success and advises students across the country on how to use education to break socio-economic barriers and achieve the American Dream. You can connect with Isa on Twitter and Facebook.