Paola Blanco, MBA 19, on helping her community after Hurricane Maria

In honor of Latinx Heritage Month, we’re featuring interviews and profiles with members of the Latin American community. For our fourth interview, we caught up with Paola Blanco.

Blanco with her family
Paola Blanco (left), MBA 19, celebrating the first Christmas with her family in Puerto Rico following Hurricane Maria.

Paola Blanco, MBA 19, was in her first semester at Haas in September 2017 when Hurricane Maria struck Puerto Rico. It was devastating to Blanco, who was born and raised in Ponce, on the island’s southern coast; she did not hear from her family for five days.

The Bay Area Puerto Rican community quickly came together to organize collection drives in Oakland and share the latest recovery news. Blanco found encouragement from her classmates.

“Everyone at Haas was so supportive,” she said. “My classmates asked, ‘Are you ok? How’s your family? How can I help?'”

While Blanco was heartened by the local community support, she found the U.S. government’s response frustrating. “There was a lot of suffering and a lot of inaction,” she said. “I had to really quickly figure out what people here could do about it. I went from trying to help my family to helping our community.”

Blanco, left, with her sister, Pati, celebrating Paola's acceptance into Berkeley Haas in Puerto Rico.
Blanco, left, in Puerto Rico with her sister, Pati, celebrating Paola’s acceptance into Berkeley Haas.

When Blanco  returned to Puerto Rico a few months after the hurricane, she was shocked by the changes. “You walked around streets of San Juan and all of these small businesses were closed,” she said. “At night, all conversations come back to Maria, and the level of trauma people went through.” Now, she said, the island is recovering and people are living a new normal.

Paying it forward

Blanco earned an engineering degree at the University of Puerto Rico at Mayaguez before coming to Chicago in 2011, where she joined a rotational program with Abbott Laboratories. Chicago was a bit of a culture shock. “I moved in the middle of a winter storm and we didn’t even have shovels,” she said. “We used pots and pans to shovel the snow.”

During her time at Abbott, she led a team charged with recruiting talented Puerto Ricans to the company’s internship program, prioritizing these efforts to give back to her community.

Blanco said she decided to pursue an MBA to broaden her perspective and develop a more strategic mindset. As a Consortium fellow, she is involved in multiple initiatives at Haas that help lift the underrepresented minority (URM) community and promote diversity and inclusion. “My commitment to the cause is rooted in the fact that I am a product of similar efforts and I want to pay it forward,” she said.

Blanco with her mom, Sandra
Blanco with her mom, Sandra, during a Bay Area visit.

As a Puerto Rican, she shares her love of her family and her culture—from music to sports—with her friends.

“I’m very proud of my Puerto Rican heritage,” she said. “Everything about the way I approach things in my career and my personal life are influenced by the way Puerto Ricans approach life: with passion. We’re very resilient and passionate about things we care about.”