The Path for Success Lies in Education
Amy Hernandez Turcios shares how education transformed her life and career, from Wharton to Harvard Business School and beyond
By Frannie Sprouls
Because of where Amy Hernandez Turcios lived in Los Angeles, she was supposed to attend high school in a bad neighborhood. So, she reached out to a high school in a nicer area that had the International Baccalaureate (IB) program. She told the coordinator that she had straight As, she was an active participant in extracurricular activities, and if accepted, she would do what it took to be successful. He told her that the fact that she, an eighth grader, was reaching out to make her case showed that she had the determination to be successful.
“He let me enroll in the IB program,” Hernandez Turcios says. “I graduated as the valedictorian. That’s how and where my story starts: having that first educational opportunity at this great high school.”
Overcoming this obstacle was only the beginning for the first-generation Guatemalan American. She drew lessons of hard work from her parents. “I always wanted to do more for myself and my family,” she explains.
Her path to success was through education, first at the University of Pennsylvania’s Wharton School as an undergraduate and now at Harvard Business School (HBS) as an MBA student.
Hernandez Turcios always knew she wanted to be in business, even when she was a little girl. “I loved being my mom’s co-saleswoman as she sold Avon products,” she says. “I loved that entrepreneurial spirit she had.”
She did her research, looking into undergraduate business schools across the country when most of her fellow students wouldn’t even think to leave California. Hernandez Turcios learned about Wharton through her research and fell in love with the university.
Moving across the country to an Ivy League she hadn’t been able to visit before getting admitted was not without its challenges. One of those challenges was coming to terms with the socio-economic divide. The other challenge was imposter syndrome. Hernandez Turcios felt privileged and thankful for the full-ride scholarship she received to attend Penn, but she would question that. Was she accepted because she was Latina, because of her humble background?
“It was challenging to ask for help,” she says. “As a Latina, I was taught you have to be self-sufficient and do things on your own. I didn’t know how to ask for help.”
Hernandez Turcios persevered and overcame her imposter syndrome. For her, it was important to get validation from her successes. That meant getting internships and getting the job after graduation. She got a finance internship her freshman year. The next year, it was an internship on Wall Street. Then, she got the investment banking internship that everyone at Wharton wanted.
“These experiences validated that I did belong there, that I wasn’t an admissions mistake,” she says. “Consequently, my professional experience helped validate that I belonged in a business environment.”
In 2013, Hernandez Turcios graduated with two concentrations—one in finance and the other in operations and information management. She dove into investment banking as an analyst and what kept her going through the long hours was being the breadwinner of her family.
“The biggest challenge I confronted was managing expectations. You have a lot of people that need everything as soon as possible,” says Hernandez Turcios, who describes herself as a perfectionist who loves delivering a high-quality product.
Saying no and pushing back is very hard as a woman, she says, but if you’re the only Latina or only minority, there’s an extra element of pressure that says you shouldn’t say no. Over time, she found a balance.
The answer? “The more confidence you have in yourself and your abilities and what you can achieve, the less your identity interferes with your work.”
Harvard Business School
March 21, 2018, is one of the best days of her life. That was the day she found out she was accepted into Harvard Business School.
“I had this dream of attending, and I didn’t know if it would be possible,” she explains. “This all still feels so surreal. As a Guatemalan American who grew up in a low-income household, being able to say I am the first in my family to go to college feels incredible. Being able to say I am the first in my family to pursue a graduate degree feels like I’ve achieved the American dream.”
Hernandez Turcios starts her business school journey in the fall. She’s excited to meet her classmates, who won’t only have different professional backgrounds than her but also come from other countries and walks of life.
“Harvard Business School values different perspectives, and I’m excited to be the voice in the room for people like me,” she says.
Amy’s Lessons Learned
Amy Hernandez Turcios shares the three key things she’s learned so far.
1. Education is everything.
“Because of Wharton, I was able to have a successful career on Wall Street. With this position, I’ve been able to help other aspiring Latinos break into Wall Street. At Harvard Business School, I hope to figure out how I can bridge the Latino talent gap. I have been so fortunate in my accomplishments so far, it’s on me to ensure other Latinos have the jobs to be successful.”
2. Anything is possible, and there’s beauty in the struggle.
“If you have passion, grit, and resilience, anything is possible. The only person who can limit you is yourself. Had I not applied to HBS because I was too scared, I would not be going this fall.”
3. “Haz ruido donde vayas.”
Make noise wherever you go. “Growing up, my dad always repeated that. He encouraged me to be the voice of people who are different and the voice of people who don’t usually get a seat at the table. At Harvard Business School, I want to be that voice for Latinos and anyone else who has gone through the same hardships and obstacles I have.”