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Student Story: Derik Ohanian

Derik Ohanian - GSAL student

With an undergraduate degree in political science from UC Berkeley and a longtime passion for education policy and reform, Derik Ohanian, who is set to begin the MBA program at the University of Chicago Booth School in autumn 2017, spent his years after college deepening his understanding of educational quality as a Corps Member with Teach for America. After teaching social studies at an Indianapolis high school and spending time with the Indiana Department of Education as a policy research intern, he went on to serve as a White House Intern under President Obama in order to further comprehend the federal government’s policy influence. After this, he moved on to get his master’s in public policy with a focus on education.

“I wrote my master’s thesis at Vanderbilt on the levers and mechanisms that can be used to effectively change people’s behaviors,” he says. “I studied the role policymaking has in the achievements of students. From there, I went to work for the Tennessee Department of Education, optimistic and excited to be engaged at the state level with reforming educational policies and laws that seemed to me instrumental in reproducing the inequalities within the public school system.”

After two years of work with the Tennessee Department of Education, however, Derik started to get a little restless. His frustrations stemmed from his growing sense that there was not much room for change or innovation in the environment he was in. The proverbial red tape of the public sector seemed omnipresent and dismayingly omnipotent. What’s more, Derik started feeling drawn to a more densely urban, tech-centered city along the lines of New York, Chicago, or San Francisco. It was enough for McMaster-Carr to offer Derik a position in general management for him to pack his bags in Nashville and move to Chicago, undertaking a life-change he admits would have been nearly unimaginable several years earlier.

“It testifies to what I experienced and what I’d come to understand,” Derik affirms. “I can’t say the central goals or values to my life changed. I’m still idealistic and continue to be involved in politics at the local level. And until recently I was passionately involved in developing and growing a startup centrally focused on helping teachers and positively impacting education. The shift occurred because I realized there were abilities I had to sharpen. I had to strengthen my business acumen and I wanted to develop as a leader.”

In order to do this, he saw getting an MBA as a central ingredient. In particular, he saw UChicago Booth as an ideal way to undertake that. Lacking a strong quantitative background, however, Derik was not accepted on his first try. He was told he needed to strengthen his algebra and calculus skills. He was also encouraged to look into the Graham School’s Graduate Student-at-Large (GSAL) program as a way to demonstrate that he was up to the challenge of the complex analytic approach practiced at Booth. After taking two classes through the GSAL program, Derik applied to Booth again and was accepted. Today, he stands grateful for the options offered to him by the GSAL program in helping him expand his life and vision as he pursues the goals that concern him most.

Graduate Student at Large: Business