Basecamp, Class of 2024

“Hi I’m Serena, I got in last night and today is my first day,” I said nervously to my classmate as we clipped ourselves into the safety lines.

He laughed, “Not a bad day to start.”

He stepped his foot on the first log suspended 15 feet above the ground. I watched him grab the cables on the side for support as he slowly made his way to the next platform and started to crawl through a small tunnel made of slats to another platform.

“You’re up,” the instructor said to me, “try to keep your feet on the logs.”

I smiled, stepped my left foot on the obstacle, then right, and immediately slipped into the open air.

It was August 16, 2022, and I was one of the later arrivals to the Basecamp Orientation session. My first day was at Camp Guyasuta, a local Boy Scout camp about a 20-minute drive from Carnegie Mellon.

Growing up in Freeport, Maine, I had been to a few of these places in elementary and middle school; suspended ropes obstacle courses, zip-line, and lots of open field space for various team challenges or competitions. For the last three years, I’ve been living in San Francisco and had picked up rock climbing, so to be honest, I thought I could handle a Boy Scout ropes course with ease.

One of the best underrated National Parks in Northern California.

Yet here I was, less than twelve hours off a flight, my legs flailing in the air, trying to walk across some firewood size logs that were intentionally and loosely secured so it would be more difficult to cross.

So, how did we end up here?

The relief we had after completing the course. Selfie courtesy of Anna.


Featuring one of my classmates, Tina, breezing through this obstacle.

Look, there are two answers I’m going to give you—today will be the Interview Answer, but when we hit Fall Break, I’ll tell you the full story of why I went for the Tepper MBA. An MBA is not for everyone, but it was the right choice at the right time for me.

Tepper has a STEM Designed MBA. STEM and Carnegie Mellon are synonymous, and its success speaks for itself.

Since I’ve been a scientist for the last six years, this was incredibly appealing to me. There are top business schools, and then there are top business schools for STEM. Tepper was one of the few schools that could understand my background and they know how to apply it in the best direction.

Our class size also appealed to me; it’s a community, not a competition.

It’s easy to get to know your classmates and because of our size and we collectively help each other out. I’ll dive more into academics in another post, but I do want to say that one month into this program, I am unbelievably grateful to all my classmates. They are so smart and empathetic. I can ask anyone for help on homework or interview prep, and everyone is always willing to make the time.

This translates further than our current cohort—the Tepper Alumni are literally everywhere and they will really stick out their necks to push us to success.

Since that day at Camp Guyasuta, my classmates have gone from strangers to friends. It already feels nostalgic, looking back on some of these photos from more than a month ago. At the time, I knew almost no one’s name, but they are now the same people I’ve laughed with as we pull together a group presentation, I text on Wednesdays to see if they’ll come climbing, or I walk with them on the way to classes.

Enjoy some snapshots of the day below. Stay tuned for the next post!

Discussing how to best place boards down to make a bridge. Crossing without dropping any boards or falling took us roughly four tries.

I have no context for this challenge but the photo made me laugh.

Serena Dao | MBA 2024
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