“I feel like I have found the challenge that I wanted. I am growing in ways I never have before.”
Rodrigo, Pomona College and Stanford Graduate School of Business
Hometown: Miami, Florida
Born in Guatemala, Rodrigo De Leon came to the United States with his family when he was just ten years old. “When the time came to consider higher education, I was very unsure of where I could turn to find financial aid,” Rodrigo explained. “My mom and I talked, and we started wondering if this was it – maybe this was where it stopped making sense to stay in the country.”
Fortunately, over the course of his senior year, Rodrigo was admitted to Pomona College through the National College Match. “When I moved [to Pomona], having the QuestBridge Scholars Network (QSN) from the start was huge,” Rodrigo shared. “That made it all not as intimidating as I would have thought.” During his four years at Pomona, Rodrigo discovered an interest in economics, maintained two part-time jobs, and participated in Pomona’s Chicano Latino Student Affairs Office.
After graduating in 2017, Rodrigo connected his background in economics to a growing passion for education. He accepted a Teach for America position. Over the next five years, Rodrigo worked at a high school in Memphis, Tennessee, first as a mathematics teacher and then as an ESL Coordinator. “The original commitment was two years, but a local education leader invited me to stay on and support in founding a brand new school,” Rodrigo explained. “I became very involved with both students and families, so I wanted to stay and watch that first class graduate.”
When Rodrigo was ready to chart a new course outside of the classroom, he wondered what the next steps might be. “In time, I realized that while [teaching] was a very fulfilling job, I still wanted something even closer to my college major in economics. I also wanted to make sure that I could support my mom through her retirement,” Rodrigo said. “It was at that point that I received an email from QuestBridge about the Graduate School Match: MBA. Up until then, I had not thought it was possible – I couldn’t afford it out of pocket. QuestBridge’s email was the sign for me to apply.”
Over the next few months, Rodrigo worked on his application for the Graduate School Match: MBA. “This was QuestBridge’s first year of offering an MBA match, so it was incredibly cool to be a part of that pilot,” Rodrigo said. “Even if it might not work out, it felt really good to take this risk.” Later that year, Rodrigo was thrilled to learn that he was admitted to the Yale School of Management with a full-tuition Match Scholarship and was also admitted to the Stanford Graduate School of Business through Round 1. Rodrigo had a decision to make: “It was a really tough choice, but I [ultimately chose the Stanford Graduate School of Business] because I thought it was the place where I would grow the most. … It felt like a natural continuation of Pomona. I would be going back to a similar environment on the West Coast where I could focus on my leadership skills right in the middle of Silicon Valley.”
In fall of 2022, Rodrigo returned to California for his MBA. “I feel like I have found the challenge that I wanted,” Rodrigo explained. “I am growing in ways I never have before. I’ll admit that it is somewhat intimidating to not come from a traditional work background, but people have surprisingly been really curious about my time teaching. It has actually only added to the experience.” Outside of the classroom, Rodrigo is active in a number of clubs, has secured a summer internship with McKinsey & Company, and is training to serve as an Arbuckle Leadership Fellow in his second year, so that he can mentor and coach the next incoming class of first-year MBA students. “I am very glad I took this gamble,” said Rodrigo.
Looking forward, Rodrigo describes his career path as hopefully following that of Laszlo Bock, the former Senior Vice President of People Operations at Google: “He went into consulting after his MBA and then headed to Google where he created the culture they are known for today. What Teach for America and Stanford have shown me is that people are always at the core of wherever I want to go. My goal now is to become an expert in people in the workplace.”
When asked about the most important lessons learned throughout his QuestBridge journey, Rodrigo offered three pieces of advice to those who may one day be in his shoes: “Dare to be yourself; be ambitious; and know it’s going to be alright.”