In celebration of Pride Month, we profile David Falk, Evening MBA student, co-chair of Booth Pride and systems engineer at Northrop Grumman
Why did you choose Booth?
When I attended informational and networking events at Booth, I was really impressed with Booth’s analytical approach and the breadth of coursework. As an engineer interested in technology strategy, the opportunity to take technical courses in big data, machine learning, and application development alongside foundational courses in finance, accounting, management, strategy, and marketing really excited me. I was also really delighted by the energy of the students I met as well as the emphasis on diversity and inclusion. I’ve been able to get involved with Booth Pride, the LGBTQ student group, and also get to know students from around the world who are committed to advocating for representation in business from people of all backgrounds.
Why did you decide to pursue a part-time MBA?
I knew I wanted to do a part-time program and continue working full-time for a few reasons. First, I wanted to build up my technical skills and knowledge within the defense contracting sector. Second, when you’re in class with students who are working full-time, you’re able to see the connections between coursework and what we’re working on, and for me to get ideas outside of my field and be able to bring that back to my job is really valuable. Finally, I’ve been fortunate to receive additional early-career professional development through the Chicago Business Fellows program, and to develop those insights and soft skills now allows me to start applying them earlier than if I waited until later in my career to pursue an MBA.
Tell us about your activism within the LGBT community.
I’ve been involved with oSTEM (Out in Science, Technology, Engineering and Math) since I was an undergrad at Penn State. oSTEM is a nonprofit professional organization with the goal of promoting underrepresented groups in STEM, with a focus on the LGBTQ community. I served as secretary, treasurer, and eventually president of Penn State’s oSTEM chapter, and every year I helped send a cohort of students to the annual national conference. I was actually recruited for my current job as a systems engineer for Northrop Grumman at the oSTEM conference in 2017, and moved to Chicago in August 2018 for the position.
I’ve been really blessed to work for a company that cares for and invests so much in their employees, and I’ve been able to become a leader in PrIDA, Northrop Grumman’s employee resource group, this time as a recruiter for my employer, as a way to give back and help recruit the next generation of talent. I also volunteer now by serving on the sponsorship committee for the 2019 oSTEM National Conference.
Why is activism in a field like yours so important?
I have always been passionate about making sure that underrepresented groups have a voice at their workplaces. I wanted to make sure that even within spaces that may traditionally be more conservative like defense contracting, you can be comfortable with yourself at work and be able to provide a different perspective. I think we’re stronger when there are different voices at the table, especially when thinking of moral and ethical dilemmas. For example, artificial intelligence raises questions about using facial recognition software to target terrorists and whether training data for those algorithms may be biased. Having people at the table who ask questions and are critical thinkers is important. Once you experience marginalization in any form, you’re more on the lookout for discrimination in any form and are better equipped to speak up about it since you know what it’s like to be stereotyped or looked at differently.
Tell us about your involvement with Booth Pride.
I’m a new co-chair of Booth Pride, the LGBTQ group for Evening and Weekend students. I’m particularly excited about collaboration with other groups. There are fun social events to look forward to, but I think the purpose of the Pride group extends far beyond the fun stuff. It’s about developing leaders that have empathy and compassion and can feel confident to speak up when they see something.
It’s great to celebrate victories like the legalization of gay marriage, but we cannot forget about the work that still needs to be done when it comes to passing anti-discrimination laws, guaranteeing paid parental leave, regardless of the genders of the parents, and protecting particularly marginalized groups such as transgender people of color. As a white gay man pursuing an MBA, I have a lot of privilege that other members of the LGBTQ community do not have so I hope that at Booth Pride we can make a difference for the LGBTQ community at large. Making sure that diverse employees can feel supported in the workplace, is important not just for recruitment, but also for retention, regardless of what sector you’re in. Booth Pride has a great opportunity when we have Booth students working at companies across Chicagoland and around the world. We have an inside perspective about company policies, so what can we work to change? What can we be advocates for?
How would you characterize the Booth community?
The Booth community is very diverse, but we’re also very fortunate. I’ve had many conversations with my classmates about this. It takes not just financial, but also systemic support to be able to do something like an MBA. Some people like myself are very lucky that we have our companies’ sponsorship and support; not everyone has that. We need to make sure we’re using this amazing opportunity, this education we’re getting, and giving back, not just to future MBA students but to society at large. The students here are passionate and do not take this experience for granted. I am very thankful to Northrop Grumman, oSTEM, Penn State, and all of my teachers, friends, family, and classmates for supporting me along this journey.
Libby Smoler is a marketing specialist for the Evening and Weekend MBA Programs.