Sep 29, 2020

Being a Mother and an MBA Student at Tuck

By Kazuha Cortes T’21

By Kazuha Cortes T’21

This is the first of a series of student perspectives leading into the 26th annual Tuck Diversity Conference, taking place from October 30 through November 1.

Every evening, after dinner, I give my two-year-old daughter a bath with her friends (baby turtle, dolphin, crab, starfish, and sunfish dolls). I put on her pajamas (“I want pink pajamas, not yellow!”). I brush her teeth (it takes 10 minutes just to motivate her enough to open her mouth). I read her books with plenty of Q&A sessions (“Why is the lion crying?” “Where does the rain go?” “Why is the tree green?”). And then I put her to sleep. She falls asleep within 15 minutes if we are super lucky, but it often takes up to two hours.

Once she finally sleeps peacefully, it’s the time for me to study. Two hours later, when my brain is working at the most efficient speed, a voice echoes through the house.

“Moooommyyyy!!! Where are you???”

I go back to her room, hug her until she falls asleep again, and then finally, get back to studying. I finally finish (or give up) a mountain of assignments and then go to bed at 2 a.m., hoping not to hear another ‘Mooommyyy!!!’ before 5 a.m.

An MBA student’s life is tough. A parent’s life is also tough. We have only 24 hours in a day and much of that time is dedicated to unpredictable situations. However, at Tuck, you can be both because there is such an empathetic and supportive community. Many of my classmates are raising kids, and I am having a great experience with the tremendous support from my wonderful classmates, their partners, faculty, and the overall community. Prior to COVID-19, Tiny Tuckies played a beautiful role in Tuck life. They would run around campus and become honorary study group members.

While life as an MBA mom is manageable, overcoming the psychological pressure has been quite the challenge. I have struggled a lot with that internal pressure, and I would like to share my two learnings here, hoping that they might be helpful for future professional moms (and of course dads).

1. No family is perfect.

Before joining Tuck, we were living in Tokyo, Japan, and both my husband and I were working full time. When we decided to move to Hanover, my husband who has been very passionate about his professional life, had to leave his job in Japan. A wife making her husband leave his work and a mother taking her baby to a continent far from home is seen as a surprise. I made a conscious effort not to hear direct and indirect comments and criticism on my decision. I realized, however, what caused the most stress was the guilt and doubt I felt regarding my decisions. Am I disturbing my partner’s career? Is my daughter less happy because I am studying/working? Am I a bad wife and a bad mother? Seeing my daughter cry because she wants to spend more time playing with my husband and me while we were facing a big life change led to a lot of self-doubt.

What I realized after my first year is that no family is perfect. Perhaps it is true that my decision requires extra effort from my family now. At the same time, I am sure that this MBA journey will allow me to support my partner’s future career choice and continue loving my daughter with a profound view of life in the future. No family is perfect, and we strengthen the bond through overcoming ups and downs together.

2. We become stronger when we work for others.

My daughter’s birth definitely inspired me to realize my life goal: to create a more inclusive society where people receive opportunities based on their will. I dreamed about creating social and economic impact in developing countries since I worked in Kenya in my early twenties, but this is no longer a dream and it becomes a concrete objective. The presence of my daughter strongly encouraged me to join the hard MBA life and keeps me working hard for the next generation.

Another change I became aware of is that my little life story could inspire others. I was surprised when I heard that some of my wonderful and inspiring classmates are worried about managing a family and children while also trying to achieve their career goals. It feels great that living a full life every single day could encourage others. It is surely a tough path, but worth trying. The more visible MBA parents are, the more young professionals will be inspired to keep changing the world.

Being surrounded by a very positive and supportive community like Tuck makes me feel better about my choice. Sadly, there are certain cultures, industries, and people who hold a negative view of working mothers. We cannot navigate this world if we do not stand firm in decisions. My first year at Tuck added an important and great element to my family and me.

It is 2 a.m. now and time for me to go to sleep. The journey as a mother MBA continues!


Roderick Milligan and his family

Prior to Tuck, Kazuha Cortes T’21 worked for a nonprofit in Kenya as project coordinator; in business development for a Japanese manufacturing company; and negotiated for social infrastructure construction projects with foreign governments. She is a Nonprofit Board Fellow and co-chair of the Asia Business Club. Post-Tuck, Cortes is aiming to launch social infrastructure business in developing countries and create positive social and economic impacts in the region.