School: Schulich School of Business (York University)
Spending the first nine years of her life growing up in Colombia incited a passion in Luisa Celis for effecting social change. “I moved to Canada at a time when there was a lot of violence and insecurity in Colombia, and whenever I thought about the conflict, the trouble always seemed to stem from the inequality between the rich and the poor,” she says. “So what ignites the fire in my belly are the inequalities in the world and the lack of opportunities some people have.”
After earning a mechanical engineering degree from Queen’s University in 2004, Celis’s zeal for change hibernated for five years as she explored a new interest: helping others achieve their personal best. After three years spent in a technical position in the nuclear sector at Ontario Power Generation, Celis took on a management role supervising other engineers. “That’s when I realized my passion lay in seeing people grow and develop and put their best foot forward,” she says.
Celis became involved with the work of Engineers without Borders Canada, a group of engineers, students and volunteers who use their creativity and problem-solving skills to help communities in Africa, and soon left her job at OPG for a year-long position in Ghana, working with the development systems of local governments.
Celis’s work in Africa consisted of a project that focused on helping local governments provide better community services. EWB also sought to make sure the money coming in to the governments from NGOs was being allocated efficiently.
“I learned a lot about my strengths and weaknesses, and I was inspired by a lot of the people I worked with,” she says. “EWB really challenges everyone to be the best they can be and really encourages you to be critical of everything around you.”
Returning to Canada, Celis was determined to promote the same growth she experienced in others, and applied to the Schulich MBA program to hone her skills, find the right vehicle to help people locally and explore how business can drive social change. “I was looking for a school that aligned with my values and one that offered me a lot of electives and flexibility to explore.”
Celis says she isn’t sure where the program will take her, but is excited by the prospects. “You have to be willing to let the program lead to your own personal development and awareness and helping you identify what are the areas you’re really passionate about,” she says. “You’re not here to take in a lot, you’re here to determine what you want to learn and make that learning happen.”