Olivia Mell

Olivia Mell
Class Year
Los Angeles, CA
Areas of Interest
Student Leadership
Media and Technology
Previous Education
Brandeis University

Prior to starting, what were you expecting the program to be like? How was it different than your expectations?

I came from a creative career prior to business school and was really entering a new world when I started my journey at Columbia Business School. I honestly didn’t know what to expect other than it being “different” than anything I had experienced before, and I was excited by the newness of it all. It definitely met my expectations in that regard, and in the best possible ways. I guess you could say that I also expected it to be very sharp-elbowed, but that was not what I experienced here at all. The whole community is very driven and competitive of course, but at the same time, it is completely supportive—my peers want each other to succeed, and are always there and ready to help, push, and encourage each other. 

Why did you choose Columbia Business School?

My goal with the MBA was to be able to transition back into my industry (media & entertainment) from the creative side to the business side, and have the tools to make that transition successful long-term. The Media & Technology curriculum and robust CBS alumni network in media made it a clear choice in that regard. I was also very committed to returning to NYC, where I spent so many years as a creative early in my career, and transition into a new and exciting setting.  Finally, when I came to visit classes and explore the School, something clicked in me that said “this is your place.” And it really was.

When did you first feel the impact of the program?

There was a point in the core, about a month and a half in, when I began to notice that my thinking was evolving, that my worldview had expanded, and that everything I was learning across different classes was truly inter-connected. I found that what I had been learning in one class or what I had taken away from a recent club leadership meeting was serving as a foundation to guide my thinking in another class or in recruiting. The whole ecosystem of thought, understanding, and growth that this program provides really does build upon itself in an incredible way. I remember halfway through the core, in conversations with my mother, she would tell me that she could hear me coming into my own in this program just by how I sounded on the phone, and how I was thinking about things. 

Which faculty members(s) influenced you the most, and how?

This was a very tough question to answer, because there have been a number of professors at CBS who have had a significant impact on my experience, my education, and the expansion of my worldview. But pressed, I’d have to say that my core Managerial Economics professor, Amit Khandelwal, truly was my favorite. This is because at first, I couldn’t stand him. But really it wasn’t him at all I couldn’t stand; it was the subject and how it intimidated me. I struggled the most with microeconomics in the beginning, and I was most afraid of it than any other subject heading into the rigorous core. Therefore, when Professor Khandelwal made it seem so natural, I was frustrated. But as time passed and he began to cold-call me in class, he wouldn’t let me off the hook if a question wasn’t clicking for me: he would have me work through the problem and break it down to its fundamental elements so that I could see how the pieces fit together. He was open, warm, and so helpful during office hours, and catered his advice very particularly to how I learned best.  And when something clicked, the joy that I felt in my understanding of it, I could see reflected back in him—he really loves teaching and seeing his students succeed. He is also a great storyteller and has a way of weaving great stories into the way he explains complicated economic concepts. Professor Khandelwal turned my most abhorred and feared subject into my favorite and most exciting subject during the core. He was committed to making us feel comfortable with making mistakes and learn from them. He made me a better thinker, a bigger risk-taker, and helped make this poet more of a quant than she ever thought she could be.

What has been your most memorable experience at Columbia Business School so far?

There were so many amazing memories from my first semester and a half, before COVID-19 hit, and I could really go on forever about so many things from the whirlwind experience during that 6-7 months. But it was really what happened as a result of COVID-19 that will stick with me most. Working tirelessly and collaboratively with my incredible Follies club members to create an extra special show and experience for our community during this unusual and difficult year was incredibly gratifying and important to me. At a time when we were all finding it difficult to feel the sense of togetherness we’d built so strongly pre-pandemic, I got the great privilege of working with a ragtag group of brilliant, hilarious, do-anything classmates who were as committed as I was to ensuring that “the show must go on”. And it was more than a show, it was a way to stay connected to each other, not just the people in Follies but our whole community, connected by laughing at our shared experience. It’s a memorable experience that spans many months, and I’m back in it again with our Spring show airing April 17, but I’ll never forget how close it’s made me feel to my classmates and to CBS when it is particularly hard to find and hold onto that connection. 

How have you been involved in the student community?

I was a Peer Advisor (PA) for the incoming class of 2022, and served as my PA team’s Cluster Lead, helping both my team and 70+ incoming first years of Cluster D’22 (the Dogs) navigate the School’s new normal during the pandemic. Being part of team Blue Polo was an unforgettable experience, all made all the more poignant to my leadership growth given our changed circumstances due to COVID-19. Additionally, for two years I have organized and co-led the West Coast Trek for the Media Management Association, where in my first year as a team AVP (in-person in Los Angeles), and this year as the team VP (for our virtual trek). And last, but certainly not least, I am the Co-President of CBS Follies, the semiannual comedy show beloved by students, faculty, and staff alike, and particularly during the pandemic has been lauded as the strongest unifying force of the CBS community. Our Fall 2020, Follies: Egregious, recently received a glowing write-up in Poets & Quants, and the club’s popularity continues to grow beyond CBS and is widely known among other top business schools in the country.

What was the most challenging part of the program, and how did you handle it?

It was very challenging to come from a completely creative background, having not so much as approached a math problem in 10 years until having to study for the GMAT, and throwing myself into the core. There were many times when I was sure I wouldn’t make it through. I really leaned into the support of my learning team (thank you D1!) who helped me not only break down problems and work through academic challenges, but made me a better thinker, and allowed my strengths to shine as well. I also am grateful for my academic advisor (thank you, Katrina!), who helped me see that I was not alone, and that this environment wanted me to succeed, and that I was fully capable of doing so. 

Did you take advantage of the Career Management services offered to all students? If so, how did the office help you?

I was recruiting for Media & Entertainment, so I was a part of enterprise recruiting. This was a challenge, as it was all self-driven, but I found great support from my CMC Advisor, Mike De Lucia, throughout the whole process. Even when things got derailed because of COVID last summer, I have always felt that he was there for me and has had my best interest at heart. From resume help, to cover letters, to offer negotiation, to just having someone to vent frustrations to and have an understanding ear, Mike was truly a treasure.

What advice would you give to a new student coming into the MBA program at Columbia Business School?

There is so much that this School has to offer, and you’re going to want to take advantage of every little thing that comes your way. And I don’t blame you. Soak in as much as you can and find what really makes you tick, whether that’s certain clubs, classes, special interests, anything.  Make CBS work for you, the way you want to design your experience, because it’s all there for you. CBS allows you the opportunity to be discerning about how you want to spend your time while giving you the option to explore something new every day. And if you’re coming from a non-quant background like me, try to take a statistics and/or accounting intro course before the core—your brain will thank you in the long-run.

What will you take with you from Columbia Business School?

For me, CBS will always represent a place that enabled me to change course toward a better future, that expanded my mind, and that truly brought out the best in me. I will take with me friendships with some of the most fascinating, brilliant, compassionate, powerhouse people I’ve ever met. I will take with me a sense of true personal growth at a level I never expected. I will take with me a sense of home in the CBS community. I will take with me a set of professional and personal tools that will serve me perpetually in the next step on my career and life journey and beyond. The class of 2021 was challenged in truly unique ways, and I think we’re all stronger, better leaders because of it. I’m proud of my class and what we’ve accomplished in the strangest of circumstances, and I will take that sense of pride with me into whatever challenges lie ahead.