Making a Career at the Intersection of Politics and Business

Making a Career at the Intersection of Politics and Business


UCLA MBA student Valeria Sandoval (’25) also leads the charge to increase diversity

OCTOBER 27, 2023

  • UCLA Anderson MBA student Valeria Sandoval is a Latina first-generation college graduate and an alumna of the Riordan MBA Fellows Program
  • Sandoval’s professional background is in public policy and tech, and is interested in where politics and business intersect
  • The Riordan Programs helped her make a calculated decision about her career goals and the ROI on her graduate education

Her fifth-grade teacher said she was a “born lawyer.”

That’s how long ago UCLA Anderson MBA student Valeria Sandoval (’25) began considering a legal career. “All my life, I thought I was going to go to law school to be an attorney,” she says.

Raised by a single mother in Anaheim, California, Sandoval says she was “on her own” academically starting in elementary school. Her mom achieved only a fourth-grade education but, as a small business owner, influenced her children to be resourceful and entrepreneurial.

This, in part, explains Sandoval’s evolution from would-be lawyer to business school student. But a lot happened in between — including extensive study abroad in Europe and Asia, many years in Washington, D.C., serving both the U.S. Senate and the U.S. House of Representatives, and forays into social impact consulting and big tech. And, not least, a formative experience in Anderson’s Riordan MBA Fellows Program.

A first-generation Latina college graduate who was — and is — passionate about “moving the needle on diversity,” Sandoval, who self-identifies as Mexican-American, studied political economy and public policy at UC Berkeley. As a student, Sandoval felt instinctively that direct involvement in policy and politics was the best way to create social change. And, following her graduation in 2016, she headed straight for the Hill.

She has worked as a legislative staffer in both the U.S. Senate and U.S. House of Representatives. In 2018, she was a Congressional Fellow in the Wilson Center’s prestigious Cybersecurity Lab. She led chairman of the Senate Intelligence Committee Mark R. Warner’s (D-VA) appropriations and homeland security before the Senate Budget Committee. In the House, Sandoval led the technology and telecom portfolio of Congressman Lou Correa (D-CA-46), known for his work on the Homeland Security Committee and in appropriations and immigration. Sandoval has also worked in immigration advocacy, leveraging her native Spanish skills to assist DACA recipients.

In D.C., Sandoval served as president of the Congressional Hispanic Staff Association, the largest non-partisan organization in Congress. She led the charge to increase diversity among staffers across party affiliation, committed to organizing inclusive environments for Latinos on Capitol Hill. At the same time, she began to realize that working boots-on-the-ground in Washington was only one pathway to creating social change. “I’ve always been interested in the intersection of politics and business,” she says. “Policy impacts business. Congress’ decisions matter.” This tug is what drew her in 2021 to the Riordan MBA Fellows Program at Anderson.

When she started the program, which helps recent college graduates considering business school to cultivate their networks, build leadership skills and expand their community service profiles, the prospect of law school was still on the table. “The Riordan MBA Fellows Program helped me make a calculated decision about my long- and short-term goals and the ROI on my graduate education,” she says. “It also exposed me to how people from nontraditional backgrounds have a place in the business world. I learned to market myself, to craft a story that communicates ‘value-add’ for business purposes. I can translate the same story for different audiences.”

“UCLA is positioned so well in Los Angeles, which is majority Latino. The institution should reflect that.”

Particularly influenced by the class she took from Terry Kramer, faculty director of Anderson’s Easton Technology Management Center, Sandoval began to connect technology with social impact and business, adopting a different perspective than her previous political lens. She was at the time managing client accounts for social impact strategy firm Propper Daley. Her next professional move was to tech giant VMware’s D.C. office, where she was manager of federal government affairs and public policy. Bringing her policy experience to a major corporation, she says she “helped colleagues understand why and how government work is relevant.” Meanwhile, she says, “I got a business tool kit from VMware.”

She’d stayed connected to Riordan executive director Roxanne Mendez, who had always been a mentor and advocate, and who boosted Sandoval’s confidence when she took the GRE. The storytelling training in the Riordan MBA Fellows Program — along with the expansive network Riordan introduced her to — served her when she was writing her Anderson application materials. The student-led Alliance for Latinx Management at Anderson (ALMA) was very supportive, too, helping her prepare for her b-school interviews.

Now Sandoval, a Forté fellow and a fellow in the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, is in her first quarter at Anderson, delving into product development and business strategy classes, and laying the foundation for an eventual marketing and strategy role. “I’ve built a network among fellows who have dispersed to other business schools,” she says, and it’s helping her in anticipation of the recruitment period for summer internships.

MBA Fellows Enjoying Happy Hour
Sandoval has stayed connected to her 2021 cohort in the Riordan MBA Fellows Program

She’s invested in UCLA’s goal to become a Hispanic-serving institution by 2025. “UCLA is positioned so well in Los Angeles, which is majority Latino. The institution should reflect that,” says Sandoval. “It’s important at the graduate level as well as the undergraduate, especially for women.”

Sandoval is making her own campus contribution by volunteering with the Riordan Programs to help coordinate program mentors, which include Riordan alumni, Anderson MBA students and business leaders in key industries. She aspires to serve ALMA in a leadership role as she advances through her degree.

“I learned to market myself, to craft a story that communicates ‘value-add’ for business purposes. I can translate the same story for different audiences.”

She regards National Hispanic Heritage Month as “a wonderful time of the year to recognize our voices and a great opportunity to come together as a community. The effort should be ongoing to help people understand the diversity within ‘Latino’ and ‘Hispanic.’”

When it comes to representation in the classroom, Sandoval is committed equally to honoring her roots and asserting who she is as an individual. “We have different starting places,” she says of people across underrepresented groups. “Even when you have qualifications, lack of means might impede your access. But giving someone an opportunity to excel is not the same as taking away an opportunity from someone else.”