When Bianca Bouchonnet (MBA ’21) decided to pursue the Broad Executive MBA, she had a decade of experience at Whirlpool and her first baby on the way. She started the weekend program while she was pregnant, and when her daughter, Ava, was born, she went right back to the classroom. The flexibility of the program allowed her to complete her degree while working full-time and enjoy her daughter’s first year comfortably and confidently.

Bianca Bouchonnet wearing cap and gown for graduation while holding her daughter.

Bianca Bouchonnet (MBA ’21) with her daughter, Ava

Before her journey began, Bouchonnet took time to research the right program based on academic curriculum and the weekend structure. She had obtained her undergraduate degree from Michigan State University, so she was familiar with the rankings, but she wanted to make sure she could have a child and still be successful in the rigorous program.

She said, “I did start [the program] in my third trimester of being pregnant. If you have the right support system in place, you can navigate and be clear with what it’s going to mean — you can definitely achieve success.”

Some of her support system came from the faculty who accommodated her needs as a breastfeeding mother. Bouchonnet was able to step out of class when she needed to pump, and staff members provided her a welcoming space. She also had the support of her husband, who helped her with Ava while she attended class in East Lansing.

By the time Bouchonnet reached graduation, Ava was already a year and a half old. Looking in the crowd, Bouchonnet saw her daughter as she walked across the stage to accept her diploma, making the hard work worth it. When reflecting on her time in the program, she said resilience, determination and perseverance defined her Spartan experience. Those same three words can easily be used to define motherhood as well.

Rachel Gonzalez (MBA ’18) started the program thinking it was the perfect time to pursue her advanced degree. A couple of months in, she learned she was pregnant. While balancing work full-time and two other children at home, Gonzalez understood the importance of education by not wanting to put her professional goals on hold.

She said, “Sometimes, as professional women, it can be difficult to take time to focus on our own needs and priorities. I was an HR specialist with a desire to do more. I became a manager. I started to develop my skills. And at that time, I decided to pursue the Broad Executive MBA program. I needed a program that had a little bit more flexibility. I found that the Executive MBA program integrates well with people who have families and for people who live busy lives.”

Gonzalez shared how parents in the program need to set their expectations up front. She said, “For me, it was waking up early before work and before my children were awake on the weekends. It’s about pushing yourself and pushing through those boundaries that you didn’t even know existed.”

The week leading up to graduation, she was offered a position that advanced her career. Her responsibilities increased, and she managed a much larger team thanks to the leadership skills she developed in the program.

Becoming a parent is a lifechanging milestone that is celebrated within the Executive MBA cohort, which emphasizes how the program maintains a strong community focus. Last month Class of 2023 students hosted a baby shower for soon-to-be dad Carlson Ngong Chia. The baby shower included a diaper raffle, baby food tasting and, of course, cake. Two weeks later, he and his spouse welcomed a baby girl named Vera.

Chia is now in the same position that Bouchonnet and Gonzalez were in years before — balancing work, parenthood and the Executive MBA.

He said, “Becoming a parent has been a blessing. The only appropriate way to describe how we are balancing this is Ubuntu; I am because we are. I have an incredible spouse, family, teammates and cohort peers. Their love, care, advice and support have not only filled me with gratefulness, but it has also inspired me to keep going and set an example for baby Vera.”