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ASU Thunderbird graduate transitions from health care to global affairs, aims to make impact in government


Melissa Ballesteros will graduate this spring with a Master of Global Management from Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University

Melissa Ballesteros is the recipient of the Spring 2023 Barton Kyle Yount (BKY) Graduate Student Award, Thunderbird’s highest student honor.

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April 27, 2023

Editor’s note: This story is part of a series of profiles of notable spring 2023 graduates.

Originally from Nogales, Sonora, Mexico, Melissa Ballesteros has lived in more than five countries and worked with teams in more than 12. Her interest in global affairs, strategy, business and leadership drew her to enroll at Thunderbird School of Global Management at Arizona State University. 

She was also drawn to Thunderbird's commitment to cross-cultural communication and understanding. 

"I was impressed by Thunderbird's reputation as a top-ranked business school for international management. I knew that by attending Thunderbird, I would be exposed to a wide range of perspectives and gain the skills and knowledge needed to succeed in today's complex global business landscape. The cherry on top was that it is located in Phoenix, Arizona," Ballesteros said. 

With a background in health care, Ballesteros plans to transition to the government sector after completing her Master of Global Management, with a specialization in global affairs. She aspires to contribute her skills and expertise to agencies such as the U.S. State Department or Department of Commerce.

"My Thunderbird education has prepared me well for this transition, providing me with a strong foundation in global business practices, strategic thinking and cross-cultural communication. I am eager to apply these skills in a government context, where I can work on issues that align with my values and positively impact society," she said. 

Ballesteros explained that the Thunderbird community spans the globe and generations and is incredibly tight-knit. She believes that it's rare to find like-minded individuals who share the same values and passion for global business, ethical practices and a desire to impact society positively. 

"The Thunderbird network has provided me countless opportunities to learn, grow and connect with amazing people from all walks of life. It's an honor to be a T-bird, and I feel privileged to carry the Thunderbird legacy with me wherever I go!" Ballesteros said.

Ballesteros is also the recipient of the Spring 2023 Barton Kyle Yount (BKY) Graduate Student Award, Thunderbird’s highest student honor.

Question: What’s something you learned while at Thunderbird — in the classroom or otherwise — that surprised you or changed your perspective?

Answer: The level of passion and dedication that Thunderbird faculty has for helping students succeed not only in the classroom but also in our professional lives. Seeing how much they care about our success and the lengths they go to ensure we have the tools and resources to achieve it has changed my perspective on what it means to be a truly dedicated educator.

I’ve had professors who have gone to the lengths of writing reference letters to make introductions to their network, allowing us to connect and continue to grow our network and have a genuine chance of impacting the world. I’ve been to many schools and taught in a few others, and I have never seen this level of commitment from faculty — but also the staff — to the success of students inside and outside of the classroom.

Q: Which professor taught you the most important lesson while at Thunderbird?

A: During my time at Thunderbird, I learned valuable skills from many outstanding professors. Three who stood out were Dr. Kannan Ramaswamy, Michael Moffett and Professor Sophal Ear. Dr. Ramaswamy taught me to think creatively and pivot quickly in complex business situations. Dr. Moffett taught me how to understand a company's financial health at a glance and stressed the importance of positivity and focus. Dr. Sophal Ear taught me about adaptability and resilience in the face of uncertainty. These professors had a significant impact on both my professional and personal growth.

Q: What has your experience at Thunderbird been like?

A: One of my best experiences was working on real-world projects like my Global Challenge Lab in Dubai for Habanero Foods, all of this alongside classmates from around the world. This not only allowed me to apply what I was learning in the classroom to real-world challenges, but also helped me foster a deeper appreciation for different cultures and perspectives that I had not had the pleasure of working with in my past professional experience. 

Q: What is your favorite memory from your time at Thunderbird? 

A: Thunderbird's Grand Opening and 75th Anniversary Global Reunion, an event that celebrated the history of Thunderbird and brought back many alumni from all over the world. Over a week, every night, we had different regions represented from Latin America to Asia, Europe to Africa, and the atmosphere was electric. The traditional attire was incredible, the food was terrific, the music was lively, and the dancing was unforgettable. I remember feeling so grateful to be part of such a diverse and welcoming community where T-birds worldwide could come together to celebrate our cultures and traditions. It was a special night that I will never forget, and it exemplified Thunderbird's unique and vibrant culture.

Q: What advice would you give to a student just starting a program at Thunderbird?

A: First, stay curious and take advantage of the school's unique resources and experiences. Next, engage with professors, work with classmates, participate actively in class discussions and group projects to deepen your understanding of the subject matter, and build valuable relationships and networks. And finally, stay focused, organized and resilient, and you can achieve your academic and personal goals.

Q: For what in your life do you feel most grateful?

A: My family and loved ones, including my husband and toddler daughter, have been an unwavering source of love, support and inspiration. They have instilled important values, challenged me to be my best self and shared in my triumphs and failures. Their presence has shaped me into who I am today, and I am grateful for their impact on my life. I am motivated to meet their expectations, set an example for my daughter and pave the way for young leaders like her to break the glass ceiling.

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