Author: Ashley Miznazi

Student Spotlight: Laura
Gallardo, MBA at Houston
Class of 2021

Laura Gallardo Headshot

Laura Gallardo
MBA at Houston ’21

Laura Gallardo is a first-generation college student that learned to navigate her own way through undergrad to Texas McCombs. From applying for scholarships & aid, to registering for classes for the first time, Laura took the initiative to ensure optimal success in her professional life. She is now taking her attained journalism and public relations skill set into the business world as she works toward her MBA at Houston degree.

In October, Laura Gallardo took over Instagram stories on MBAchic  to show followers what a day in the life of a working professional student is like in our Texas McCombs MBA at Houston program.

Laura’s motivation to pursue her MBA is fueled by the desire to make her family proud. 

“My parents emigrated from Mexico in pursuit of a better life. My father’s work ethic has always resonated with me and motivated me. As a teenager, it’s so easy to be influenced by the wrong crowd, particularly in the area that we grew up. I knew that if I wanted my sister to stay on the right track, I needed to set the right example for her.”

Choosing a Business School

After completing her undergraduate degree, Laura pursued a job in journalism as a local news producer. She worked in the newsroom for six years before transitioning into a traditional public communications role at a law firm. After 11 years as a working professional, Laura realized she had to move outside her comfort zone. An MBA felt like her calling.

In recent years, I found myself making multiple lateral professional moves, when in fact I’d been vying for leadership roles. I took a hard look at my career and determined that in order to shift my professional life in an upward direction, I had to re-invest in my education. A BA in communications has served me well so far, but I am hungry for strong professional growth.

Laura says she had a gut instinct that drew her to attend McCombs. She knew she wanted to ensure that she was pursuing a degree from a school that held weight in the business world, and was drawn to the University of Texas at Austin for its recognizable name and reputation.

I made my decision to apply to McCombs after sitting through an admissions webinar series hosted by our program’s amazing admissions counselor, Jenn Cole. The webinar series was incredibly helpful in walking me through the admissions process from point A to point Z. From my very first interactions with the program, I know it could potentially be a right fit for me. 

That gut instinct was solidified after attending an open house in the spring and sitting through a class. The program’s culture immediately drew me in. Current students were extremely helpful in answering questions about the workload, schedule, and overall culture – in other words, just keeping it real! Their willingness to share was very comforting. Now as a student, I can confirm that is still the case – the class of 2020 has been incredibly welcoming and inclusive.

Work-Life-School Balance

As a mother of twin 4-year-olds, the MBA at Houston program also offered Laura a convenient weekend class schedule that worked for her family. Her husband’s job requires him to travel during the week, so they felt the program’s alternating weekend structure would be the best fit. Laura developed a routine with her husband to make the addition of the program a smoother life transition.

Laura, her husband and her two children.

“The alternating weekend structure allows my family to have our normal routine during the week, and plan ahead for class weekends. On weeknights leading up to class, I excuse myself immediately after dinner to study, but make sure to read my kids their bedtime story and tuck them in to bed.

Fortunately, now at 4-years-old, they understand why mommy is not around some weekends. As a result, we’ve had some endearing conversations as they’ve asked me questions about school based on their own experiences in pre-k, such as if we have ‘circle time’ and if I ‘learn about colors.’ I try to explain to them as much as possible about my weekend absences or having to step away after dinner to ‘do homework.’

Balancing a family, full-time career, and an MBA does have its challenges for Laura. Having limited time means missing a few soccer games and special occasions. Laura credits her friends and family for being understanding and supportive in the process and her parents for being readily available to provide child care.

“Most importantly in this MBA journey, having a support system that I can rely on for emotional and moral support has been so crucial.”

Laura’s Post-MBA Plans

“Ideally, I would like to apply my current skill set (attained from a career of journalism and public relations) to a different industry. I am increasingly interested in an investor relations role where I can use my new knowledge about accounting and finance, gained here at McCombs, and compliment it with my previous experience. If I remain solely in the communications field, I would hope to lead the marketing strategy team for a publicly traded company or a private equity firm. My long-term goal is to lead at a Fortune 100 company.”

Laura and her children posing by the UT tower

Laura’s Advice to You

“If you’ve been even remotely considering pursuing an MBA, go for it! Invest in your career and yourself. Prepare and begin the admissions process early so you’re not cramming to meet the final deadlines: study for the GMAT, request your letter of recommendation, think about how you’ll fund tuition– set the wheels in motion early. Once June rolls around, the enrollment process moves extremely fast,

Don’t let your role as a parent keep you from pursuing graduate school. Like any major life change, having the right support will be crucial when returning to school, and especially if you have a family. Between classes, projects, and studying, the program will inevitably keep you away from your loved ones, so surround yourself with friends and family who have your best interest at heart, understand, and are there to encourage you.”


Visit Texas McCombs MBA to find out more about all our programs, events and community, or take a peek into student life on Instagram. Hook ’em!

Student Spotlight: Mario Vazquez, Full-Time MBA ’21

Mario Vasquez, MBA '21

Mario Vazquez, MBA ’21

Mario Vazquez is a first-generation college student from El Paso, Texas, or what he likes to call, “The West Texas Miracle.” His journey to Texas McCombs was one of family support and inspiration.

His parents grew up in Matamoros Tamaulipas, a border town in Northern Mexico. They moved to the United States after his dad was offered a job as an electrical engineer in El Paso.  

Mario was born three years later. His parents wanted him to have the best education possible, so they started researching schools and colleges when Mario was only a baby. His mother was especially dedicated to his future and went above and beyond for his education.

My parents, in their mid 20’s, moved to a new country with almost nothing to their name. I often think about how exciting and terrifying the move must have been. They did everything within their power to give me a chance at a better life. My mother learned of a grade school that was known for its strong academic reputation but when she inquired about enrolling me, there were only two spots left and they would be given on a first-come first-served basis at 7 a.m. the very next day. Undeterred, my mom spent the night in the parking lot of what would become my grade school. When the doors opened at 7 a.m. the next morning, she was the second parent in line and I was the last student registered.”

Young Mario with his mother

When it was time for Mario to enroll in high school, his parents weren’t familiar with the American high school to college pipeline. Mario and his parents researched together and discovered that Cathedral High School, a private, Catholic high school in El Paso, maintained a 100% college acceptance rate, but tuition was expensive for the family.

“In El Paso and Matamoros, college is more often a dream than a possibility. My mom, with the same tenacity she showed in enrolling me for kindergarten, found every single scholarship I could apply for and by the first day of school, I was an enrolled student at Cathedral High School and on my path to college.”

Mario eventually enrolled at Stanford University, graduating in 2013 with a B.A. in Science, Technology, and Society. While he was there, he joined and led an organization dedicated to providing need-based scholarships to graduating high school students attending two-year or four-year institutions.

“Being a first-generation, low-income student of Hispanic descent in higher education was the exception, not the norm. I looked for a community of individuals with backgrounds similar to my own, which I found in joining and leading an organization called Los Hermanos de Stanford. As a group, we fundraised annually to provide need-based scholarships to graduating high school students attending two-year colleges and universities. I felt that I was reciprocating the investment so many people had made in me over the years. At that point, I knew how I wanted to use my life– helping students from difficult circumstances earn access to life-changing opportunities.

Mario and his family at his college graduation in 2013.

Mario and his family at his college graduation in 2013.

After college, Mario accepted a position with Teach for America as a 1st-grade language instructor. He loved working with students and noticed how they were impacted by family circumstances or obstacles that he could not help with through teaching alone. He realized that he wanted to scale his impact beyond the classroom. He returned home to work at his alma mater,  Cathedral High School, as the Director of Admissions.

“For those three years at Cathedral, I conveyed the dream of a better life to every student and parent who walked the halls of our school. Throughout my tenure at Cathedral High School, I succeeded in increasing the number of underserved students and the dollar amount of scholarships that we could provide them. On a daily basis I had the opportunity to help change the course of a young person’s life. Working at Cathedral was an honor, the most fun I have ever had, and will forever be one of my proudest accomplishments..”

Mario’s “Why McCombs?”

Mario never imagined he would end up in business school. But while driving around El Paso, he would see a Texas McCombs MBA billboard, and it stuck in his mind.

“Truth be told, I did not think I’d get into business school. I wasn’t sure if top business schools would see the value of my experience in education. I was hard on myself, thinking that perhaps I wasn’t good enough. But my friends and colleagues encouraged me to put forth my best effort and believe in myself– and so I did. I reminded myself that I was worthy and deserving of receiving additional education. I’m blessed to be surrounded by good people, and I’m so grateful I didn’t give up.”

Mario says what sealed his decision to come to McCombs was his experience at Discover McCombs: Diversity Weekend and the opportunity to apply to McCombs through The Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, an alliance of top business schools and companies committed to enhancing diversity and inclusion in global business education and leadership.

“When I came to Austin for Diversity Weekend, I had not applied to The Consortium, an organization that provides access to MBA admissions resources for underrepresented students. Jaden Felix, my McCombs admissions officer, took note of that and vehemently encouraged me to apply. To me, someone who has always looked for a community, it was a sign that I would be cared for here at McCombs.

Mario had seen first-hand that even a well-funded, prestigious school like Cathedral couldn’t circumvent every challenge that students face or provide enough aid for every student to attend. He hopes that business school can help him achieve his goal of launching and operating a school that houses an ecosystem of academic and non-academic support for its students and their families. 

For every student I was able to enroll at Cathedral or secure a scholarship for, there were at least a handful more that I could not because of socioeconomic reasons, lack of school resources, etc. Cathedral does a lot of good for so many students, myself included, and all kids deserve a good school with people who genuinely care about their success. I decided to pursue an MBA because I want to dedicate my life toward scaling the impact of schools located in underrepresented and underserved communities.”

Mario’s Advice to You 

“The great thing about McCombs is that the people here, from the staff to students and alumni, have reiterated one common phrase: ‘Don’t forget why you came here.’ To me, this phrase serves as a constant reminder to remember how I have benefited from the kindness and help of others, and my responsibility to do the same.”

“Don’t devalue your experiences and don’t worry about not having the perfect academic or professional profile. I like to think that Texas McCombs, more so than other schools, tries to find people who have made a real impact in whatever capacity they served and genuinely want to do good in the world.”


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