A passion for building relationships
Before business school, when Ashley Thurmond Abraham ’22 was teaching in Baltimore as part of the Teach For America program, her school was struggling with low attendance. The teachers would create great lesson plans, but those plans weren’t worth much if students didn’t show up to class.
The teachers sat down together, frustrated but hopeful, and asked the question: How can we encourage and support students to show up to school every day?
An idea came. The teachers had all grown up with great extracurricular activities — things that kept them coming back to school even on days when they didn’t necessarily want to come. The school they were teaching at didn’t have many activities, so the teachers created their own.
Abraham and a co-worker started a dance team, while another teacher and Abraham started a yearbook club. The kids began coming to class more often, she said, and the school felt more like a community.
“For our dancers, we had to check their attendance and make sure they came,” she said. “They were excited to be at practice, but they knew that if they hadn’t shown up to their classes, they were going to have to talk to us later so we could work together to improve their attendance and academic performance.”
Years later, Abraham — now a Full-Time MBA student at the Kellogg School of Management — realized that this initiative was a small-scale example of what she’s learning in her classes about the social impact space. “If we could just scale that and give people more resources, I think it would make such a big difference,” Abraham said.
Abraham has felt the impact of support from others throughout her career. As a Posse Scholar in college, for example, she received a full-tuition scholarship and connections with peers.
At Kellogg, Abraham feels the impact of other people through her own extracurricular activities. She’s an F.C. Austin Scholar, a member of the Net Impact Club, co-president of the Public Policy Club, and the allyship director of the Black Management Association, among other roles.
Abraham was also an MBA intern with the city of Chicago, where she completed a field study with the deputy mayor for economic and neighborhood development. In addition, Abraham runs her own startup, Reinforcements — part of The Garage, Northwestern’s startup incubator — which serves as a staffing agency to help businesses in the local community.
This list may sound exhausting, but for Abraham, it’s enthralling. These groups and activities have all had an impact on her, she said, and she hopes that she’s had an impact on others too. The opportunity to get involved was also a big reason why she decided to attend Kellogg.“I wanted a community that was very supportive and collaborative — a place where I could learn from my peers, where I could ask all the questions that I had, and also where I felt like I could offer a lot,” she said. “I felt like Kellogg was a space that really values the student voice.”
After she graduates this year, Abraham will work as a consultant with Boston Consulting Group, where she hopes to keep making a difference on a person-to-person level. That’s what impact means to her: having genuine, authentic relationships and always learning from one another. To Abraham, it’s about adding support where it’s truly needed.
“When I think about the impact I hope to make in the future, I want to bring my full self,” she said. “And that includes all the people I’ve interacted with.”