Nothing Out of Her League
Madeleine Diagne Takes Every Opportunity to Lead
By Ashley Kilday
Madeleine Diagne is an International Business senior and a motivated professional who never allowed the expectations of others to guide her path in life—she forged her own way. That drive to succeed pushed her to take charge of her future from Houston to Senegal and back, ultimately earning her a place in Harvard Business School’s (HBS) Summer Venture in Management Program.
After graduating high school at the height of the pandemic, Diagne encountered numerous challenges early on that prepared her to navigate her future. One of these was growing up in a community that did not support her in reaching her goals. “Because I wanted to pursue my own path, I was perceived as stubborn and impractical by some of my family members,” she said. “If I was not going to get the exposure and insight I needed from those around me, I was determined to find my own way.”
Although she was born and raised in Houston, Diagne's family is Senegalese. The first in her family to pursue a college degree, Diagne attended Lone Star College via online courses from her family home in Senegal, despite the six-hour time difference. “I originally went pre-med because I wanted to be the light and the positivity in someone’s corner, but my heart wasn’t in it. International Business suited me better.” She felt her international experience was a plus for an International Business program. “The degree would allow me to broaden my horizons regarding the business industry,” she added. “UHD offered a solid financial aid package, which really benefited our single-income household.”
Moving forward despite some objections by family, Diagne transferred to UHD and returned to Houston in Spring 2022. She quickly acclimated to the intimate campus atmosphere, her first time on a college campus, and made herself at home. She received an email asking interested students to join the Black Student Association, which was at the time inactive. She immediately jumped at the opportunity and campaigned for the BSA presidency. “I wanted to fill that need to build the bond between Black students, faculty, and the community,” she said.
Diagne credits her mother for being the most supportive voice in her life: “She raised my sister and me all on her own, and I give her an immense amount of credit for shaping me into the powerful woman I am today. She’s been there in the good days and the bad days. For every new project, trip, organization, or venture, she has been there providing her support.”
Attending HBS’ Summer Venture in Management Program came about through a simple Google search, as Diagne looked for educational opportunities. Diagne immediately related to the opportunity to dive into leadership, though she was nervous about applying, given the prestige of HBS.
“The whole point of the program is to expose younger students of color to the MBA environment. It told me I have a chance to go to Harvard, it’s not just for those with the funding. Just because you’re a Black woman doesn’t mean you can’t go here. I never considered Ivy League schools because I thought only privileged children with financial resources and connections go there,” she shared. “Fast forward three years, and I was part of the 180 undergraduates chosen from thousands to attend. This beautiful opportunity came on the heels of a significant rejection, and I was so, so happy.”
The week-long program played out on Harvard’s scenic campus, with a packed schedule of class sessions, meetings with professors and scholars, and bonding with her cohort. One class that resonated with Diagne was titled “Harambe: Mobilizing Capital in Africa.”
“The class focused on developing African leaders. As Professor Sikochi came into the room for the first time, he told us he’d analyzed the program’s student directory, which had our names, majors, and schools,” she said. “He scanned the classroom and pointed out one student for having the coolest major. Then he pointed at me and told me he thought I had the best headshot and that I looked like a boss. And then he dove into the lesson for the day. It really removed the perception that these professors were untouchable.”
Overall, Diagne found the experience life changing. “This journey sparked my personal development and ignited the flame to become a well-rounded, influential leader,” she said. “The whole experience changed my outlook. There’s nothing out of my league.”
The University of Houston-Downtown (UHD) is the second-largest university in Houston and has served the educational needs of the nation’s fourth-largest city since 1974. As one of four distinct public universities in the University of Houston System, UHD is a comprehensive, four-year university led by President Loren J. Blanchard. Annually, UHD educates approximately 14,000 students, boasts more than 66,000 alumni, and offers 45 bachelor’s degrees, 12 master’s degrees, and 19 online programs within four colleges: Marilyn Davies College of Business, College of Humanities and Social Sciences, College of Public Service, and College of Sciences and Technology. UHD has one of the lowest tuition rates in Texas.
U.S. News and World Report ranked UHD among the nation’s Best Online Bachelor’s Programs for Applied Administration and Best Online Master’s Programs in Criminal Justice, as well as a Top Performer in Social Mobility. The Wall Street Journal/College Pulse ranked UHD one of the best colleges in the U.S. for its 2024 rankings, with notable distinctions: No. 1 for diversity (tied) and No. 3 for student experience. The University is designated as a Hispanic-Serving Institution, a Minority-Serving Institution, and a Military Friendly School. For more information on the University of Houston-Downtown, visit uhd.edu.