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What Do a Polar Race, Inner City Youth, and Not Selling Out Have in Common? MBAs

To attend business school today, students no longer need to have a specific academic background or a desire to pursue only certain careers. Many MBA programs are expanding the definition of what makes up their target student bodies by recruiting talented students from diverse backgrounds. The goal? Find students who are interested in making a difference in multiple sectors.

In business schools today, there are future bankers and management consultants sitting next to budding entrepreneurs, civil servants and social activists. There are also up-and-coming explorers, restaurateurs, luxury goods experts and polyglots.

The stories of the business school students and graduates included below are just a few of the truly fascinating examples that are out there. Due to their selflessness, maturity, dedication and perseverance, each of these students is using his or her MBA in a valuable way. Their desire to incorporate the best business practices into their endeavors, and their triumphs in the face of death, inexperience, illness and rejection are inspiring for all who seek to emulate them.

The MBA That Keeps Kids Alive

"Before, I was a fish out of water. I couldn't breathe," a former at-risk student from Chicago who goes by Sunshine tells Time magazine in Fighting School Violence by Pinpointing Its Victims. "Now I have water around me, and I can breathe again."

Sunshine is referring to the impact of a program put in place by the head of the Chicago Public School System, Ron Huberman. The goal of the program (put bluntly) is to keep at-risk students from getting killed. According to the article, in the 2009 academic year, 245 Chicago public school students were shot, and 27 died.

A University of Chicago MBA and former police officer, Huberman is currently combatting this terrible issue. To do so, he relies on modeling (a skill that is often honed during business school) to determine the Chicago public school students who are most at risk of death. Based on these results, students are assigned mentors and are set up with part-time jobs to help keep them out of trouble.

Sunshine graduated in June.

The Young MBA That Won't Sell Out

At 20, Cara Gibson started her own marketing and public relations firm in New Jersey.

Almost a year later, Gibson is busy running her firm, NetGeneration Social marketing, while also pursuing an MBA at New Jersey's Centenary College. She's handled planning events, developing websites, conducting marketing research and executing social media marketing for a chiropractor, a counseling center, and a salon and spa.

Gibson has been approached by investors who are interested in buying her company, but she won't sell. She wants to grow the business to employ others. "My dad owned his own public relations firm when I was a small child, so entrepreneurism may be in my blood," she tells

An MBA Team with Polar Vision

Six years ago, Briton Alan Lock, was diagnosed with macular degeneration. The loss of eyesight ended the career of this military officer and prompted a move into banking. An MBA student at Berkeley's Haas School of Business today, Lock is organizing and getting in shape for a 2011-2012 expedition from Antarctica to the South Pole during the 100th anniversary of the Scott and Amundsen race. He wants to inspire blind and partially sighted people and raise money for charity.

"To be honest, I don't think we could be doing this were it not for our MBA programmes," another of the explorers, Briton Richard Smith, an MBA at Dartmouth, told the Financial Times in To the South Pole, with sled and MBA.

The Polar Vision team must put their business minds together to implement a marketing strategy that raises $480,000 to fund the trip--as well as devise an operational plan to ensure proper food and shelter.

They should leave in late 2011 and walk for anywhere from 55 to 70 in order to reach their destination.

Two Women MBAs, One Mission: Prevail

Shereen Tawfiq graduated with a degree in English Literature from King Abdulaziz University in Saudi Arabia and accepted an administrative position at Banque Saudi Fransi in Jeddah. She rose to become the bank's first female Client Relationship Officer.

Tawfiq is the first woman from Saudi Arabia to pursue an MBA at Wharton, the University of Pennsylvania's business school. In a comment to Tawfiq's profile published in Poets & Quants, Ahmad Baitalmal advises: "Think like a big truck with no brakes hurdling down the highway. Don't stop for anything."

Ruth Owades, also profiled in Poets & Quants, recalls her first day at Harvard Business School, where she arrived with a French Literature degree in 1973 to pursue an MBA.

"I was summoned to the dean's office, where it was explained, it seemed to me, that as a 'poet', I had been admitted more as part of a trial experiment than in any recognition of my intellect or belief in my potential," Owades said.

Today, the experiment has been proven successful. Owades built and sold two companies that are now featured in Harvard cases and are analyzed by business school students worldwide.