Growing up in war-torn El Salvador in the 1980s, Jose Rodolfo Villamariona had one ambition: to go to school in the U.S.
At times, it seemed unattainable. “When I was a kid, it was difficult to even think about studying abroad,” says Jose. “My country was embroiled in a civil war and terrorist attacks were rampant. When I was in high school, my family was going through a very difficult time, and they didn’t have the resources to pay for my undergraduate studies in America.”
But after graduating top of his class at Ave Maria University in San Marcos, Nicaragua, and professional stints at PricewaterhouseCoopers and the Ministry of Economy in his home country—Jose was able to fulfill his goal at Brandeis IBS.
“It was a dream come true for me,” says Jose, who was a Fulbright scholar and MBA candidate who graduated in 2011. “Brandeis IBS was exactly where I wanted to be. The quality of the faculty there was amazing. They have PhDs from top-notch schools and many of them have had successful careers at places I would love to work like the World Bank.”
But what was most striking, he says, was the professors’ willingness to work with students one-on-one to explain points further, and help them grasp difficult concepts. “The professors are very interested in the students—they care about your learning, and you’re able to develop close relationships with them.”
Jose was inspired to go to business school while working for the government in the capital city of San Salvador. “I had this perception of government workers as bureaucrats, but it wasn’t like that at all. It was challenging and interesting work. Every day I was doing something different,” he recalls.
His job, liaising with the U.S. government and negotiating free trade agreements between El Salvador, Taiwan, Colombia, and the Caribbean Community, exposed him to both the advantages and limitations of free markets. “I saw that free trade created opportunities for workers and small businesses, but that many of those small businesses weren’t able to take advantage of them because they lacked skills and knowledge,” he says. “I got my MBA so I could help change that.”
Jose says he focused his studies on economic development and entrepreneurship to give him a firm understanding of the challenges that emerging economies and startup companies face. “I want to create an organization that helps companies and small businesses understand how they can benefit from free trade,” he says. “I want to do something for my country.”