You’re applying to Harvard Business School. We can see your resume, academic transcripts, extracurricular activities, awards, post-MBA career goals, test scores, and what your recommenders have to say about you. What else would you like us to know as we consider your candidacy? Use your judgment as to how much to tell us. We don’t have a “right answer” or “correct length” in mind. We review all the elements of your written application to decide who moves forward to the interview stage.
A dying chicken lay at my feet, twitching in its last moments as I looked on, horrified at the blood. It was the summer of my junior year at college, and I was camping in Cameroon’s tribal villages to assess how microfinance programs might increase farm yields. While the extreme poverty I witnessed reinforced my desire to help alleviate world hunger; the struggle to butcher my dinner left an impression that changed my life.
I had never seen a live chicken. Instead, frozen chicken tenders were staples of my diet: my parents, recent immigrants, were confused by foreign products at the grocery store and too busy working to prepare meals. When I learned that the villagers had toiled all year to cultivate one animal, it seemed unlikely that natural processes produced my daily chicken tenders. I learned about the preservatives that made convenience foods abundant and the negative impact a processed diet had on people’s health. This stoked my passion to educate others. I had already seen the long-term effects of bad nutrition: My older sister and I gained excess weight as we matured; she fell victim to eating disorders and depression; my father’s suffered from high blood pressure. While my unhealthy relationship with food was difficult to overcome, the experience established the central role that food plays in my life and allowed me to appreciate the transformative power of a healthy diet as a result of increased awareness.
At university, I witnessed the power of food in overcoming relationship barriers. I was a leader at my college church when I noticed attendance at services was dropping. I invited truant students to my dorm room for a home cooked meal as a way to reconnect with them: the invitation had a dual purpose, as I had just returned from Cameroon and was teaching myself to cook. In my conversations, I noticed that the underclassmen de-prioritized church events when overwhelmed with having to care for themselves: many of them subsisted on instant noodles. What if I could ease their homesickness and burden of living on their own by sharing the Japanese recipes I was learning? Though my bathtub became a soaking bin for pickled cabbage, the common need for a culinary education created a community students were eager to partake in, overcoming their instinct to stay at home. The experience taught me that food education could be used not only to improve eating habits but also to create a powerful group identity.
When I graduated college and moved to North Carolina, I began to teach cooking classes at a senior center and women’s shelter. While the institutions faced nutritional limitations due to resource constraints, I believed these channels were an opportunity to have scalable impact. I garnered administration’s support to replace their existing meal plan with my cooking class once a week by agreeing to stick to their budget. The food I cooked in my classes not only improved the resident’s nutrition, it also had a domino effect on the mood of everyone in the house. Each week, the administrators recalled how the residents talked nonstop about their cooking accomplishments from our previous session. Enthusiasm opened the doors for further conversations on the value of investing in nutrition to improve the residents’ quality of life. I seized an opportunity to teach institutions that traditionally do not rely on nutritional values for meal preparation, about the potential for fresh food to improve well-being.
Food can transform societies, and there is a need to reeducate many Americans whose definition of nutrition is limited to processed foods, fat free foods, or even Whole Foods. I need business school to build on my successes at a local level and take my passion further. By turning the value of nutrition into a commercial concept, I can change the habits of consumers and reconfigure the priorities of food production in the United States.
As I seek to transform this passion into my career, I am inspired by the initiatives already underway at HBS. HBS is supporting programs along the entire spectrum of potential solutions: entrepreneurial startups, proposed changes to regulation and policy, and cross-discipline initiatives. It would be invaluable to take part in the Antares program, to address public health challenges using commercial solutions. Within HBS, my peers are already developing mechanisms to facilitate the cooking skills that I have been working on in my community: a company that came out of YYY’s launch day this year was XXX, a service that delivers ingredients for dinner and eases the burden of home cooking for busy or novice cooks. In learning about these initiatives and the enthusiasm with which they are met on campus, I am eager to be part of the innovative solutions that can shape communities and decrease the demand for engineered foods.
A changed view of food production has the power to transform the United States’ – and ultimately the world’s – view of responsible consumption. HBS’s demonstrated impact on social responsibility and its focus on leadership across all programs makes it the best place for me to hone my passion for food culture reform and start a movement that goes beyond business.