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Renita Chaney
Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management

MBA Class of 2013

Renita Chaney ’13 never backs down. Facing every challenge, she finds lessons in experiences and satisfaction in accomplishment.

At the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management, the Los Angeles native discovered both.

“I wanted to approach graduate school with a different mindset,” she says, after reflecting on her years at the University of California, Berkeley.

Involved in community activism since the age of 14, she chose to move far from home and attend UC Berkeley. Raised in south central Los Angeles, almost everyone she knew was African-American or Hispanic, but at UC Berkeley, she found little diversity.

“It lit a fire under me,” Chaney recalled. “I chose that school, thinking that it was an experience I wanted to have, but I didn’t understand how difficult that would be.”

Discovering her passion

While her time at UC Berkeley was emotionally difficult, it also drove her to become highly involved in diversity and minority recruitment. After graduating Chaney began a career in public service. Before applying to graduate school, she worked for public housing programs in Los Angeles and for the New York State Unified Court System in the Brooklyn Family Court.

Thinking that she wanted to work in human resources or in the area of diversity and inclusion in the business world, Chaney researched graduate schools and studied for her GMAT. After reaching the 99th percentile on the test, she applied to Cornell, was accepted, and received the Roy H. Park Leadership Fellowship, a prestigious award given to 25 members of each of Johnson’s entering classes.

“I felt like the people from Cornell thought I had something unique,” she says. “They were encouraging me before I even got to campus.”

Making a difference

When she arrived at Cornell, Chaney was determined to approach graduate school differently than she had approached her undergraduate years.

“I only wanted to do the things that I wanted to do,” she says, and the list was long.

Approaching each challenge with her typical determination, Chaney immediately began serving the Johnson community. Never losing her passion for diversity, she served as chair of the third annual Diversity Symposium. As chair, she expanded the scope of the conference in an effort to make it more inclusive and representative of the student body.

“It was important for me that people who didn’t identify with a minority group came to the event because diversity means that everyone is involved,” she explains. “Getting people out of their comfort zones was crucial.”

In the same spirit, Chaney helped launch the Johnson Community Dinners. These informal, open gatherings allow students to talk openly in a comfortable setting about the differences that make them unique.

“The way you start breaking down stereotypes is by exposing people to things that are different, educating them on the importance of tolerance and emotional intelligence when interacting with one another,” she says.

Seeing people open up to one another and then continue to develop relationships makes each dinner worthwhile, Chaney says.

On the fast track

During her time at Cornell, Chaney continued to develop her management and leadership skills as the admissions ambassador lead for Destination Johnson, the Samuel Curtis Johnson Graduate School of Management’s premier admitted-student hosting weekend. She also served as a vice president of the Black Graduate Business Association and a member of student council, and volunteered as a Diversity Council student member in 2012.

Chaney studied abroad and took advantage of internship opportunities in a rigorous leadership development program with Davita. “The people who are accepted have been identified as people who are able to be part of a fast track,” she explains.

Her family, including her 11 siblings, could not be prouder.

“This summer, I was in Los Angeles for my internship, and I took my younger sister to get her hair done. The gesture made her ask me if I was rich. Am I rich?” Chaney laughs, “Not in the least bit.”

But, she is rich in experience and knowledge. And, for her siblings, Chaney says, “I know I’m someone they can look up to.”

As the second oldest of the children in her family, Chaney found her own way to higher education.

“Neither one of my parents went to college,” she says, “but they always told me: ‘You can do anything you want to do and be anything you want to be’—and I kind of had to figure that out myself.”

If you work hard and don’t back down from a challenge, Chaney advises her siblings, you can succeed.

“It’s a blessing to be here,” she says. “I can’t take these things for granted.”

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