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Oct 19, 2023 2023-10 Accountancy Alumni Business Administration Finance Student

Three Gies Business siblings come ‘home’ to campus

The Business Instructional Facility (BIF) is a familiar setting for the Mitchell family. Since 2016, it’s served as a home away from home for one or more of the siblings – all three of whom came to Gies College of Business as Gies Scholars in the honors program. With the youngest sibling set to finish her finance degree in 2024, the trio recently met at BIF to reminisce ahead of Illinois Homecoming. 

Robert Mitchell, who graduated with a degree in finance in 2020, was the first to choose the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign. With interests in math and business, and a desire to stay close to family, Robert found a natural fit at Illinois – it offered a strong business school a few hours from his hometown of DeKalb, Illinois. He also received a prestigious Stamps Scholarship that paid his tuition.

Robert persuaded his younger brother, Michael, to join him one year later. Michael, who describes Robert as his best friend, didn’t need much coaxing. Michael was intrigued not only by living with his older brother but also by the idea of international travel.

“This is kind of the perfect opportunity to be with Rob, have a good time, and also be a part of a university where I’d have the tools I need to be successful,” Michael said. “A really big draw was a lot of Gies students travel abroad, and that was such a big fascination that was very unique compared to other universities we’d been exposed to.”

Michael double majored in supply chain management and marketing, earning his degree in 2021. He lived with Robert for parts of three academic years, spending most of that time at Nugent Hall. When Robert graduated in Spring 2020, Michael wasn’t alone long. Their younger sister, Nina, joined Michael on campus in Fall 2020.

Nina, who plans to pursue a law degree in the future, came close to choosing a different university. As valedictorian of her class at DeKalb High School – the first Black female valedictorian in her school’s history – she strongly considered Harvard. But after earning the same scholarship that Robert earned years earlier and after receiving a photo of Michael and Chancellor Robert J. Jones, who leads the Urbana-Champaign campus, holding a sign that said “Nina, we want you,” Nina chose Illinois.

"My goal is to attend law school after graduation, but I knew bolstering my knowledge with an educational experience would give me a comprehensive perspective," Nina said. “You can apply business education to any field you go into, so I decided to be the third Mitchell to carry out the Illini tradition. Gies and U of I have treated us with open arms for our entire Mitchell family years here, so I just thought it would be a great school to go to.”

Like her brothers in their earlier years, she moved into Nugent Hall, living across the street from Michael’s one-bedroom apartment. She came to campus during the pandemic, so she spent a lot of time watching movies and eating at Michael’s apartment. Nina, who admits to not being a great cook, was grateful to eat with Michael – the best chef of the siblings, according to both Robert and Nina, who said the talent comes from their mother.

Nina is finishing her finance degree while minoring in political science and is currently completing an experiential learning program in the nation’s capital. The Illinois in Washington program is a semester-long university initiative that requires specialized coursework and an internship component. She’s also enrolled in Gies Business courses this semester and was selected to the 2023 Illinois Homecoming Court, an honor Michael earned in 2020. 

Robert is now an associate at GTCR, a private equity firm in Chicago, and lives with Michael once again. Michael went into consulting after graduating but soon realized his purpose was somewhere else. He joined the University of Chicago Police Department in 2022, following the path of his father, who is the chief of police at Northern Illinois University.

The siblings cherish their Gies Business memories. Along with the honors program, they were each inducted to the Phi Gamma Nu business fraternity. And both Robert and Nina were chosen for the Investment Banking Academy. All three siblings studied abroad. Robert spent a semester in Barcelona, Spain, and Michael and Nina studied in Singapore.

Robert was named to the Poets&Quants 100 Best & Brightest Business Majors of 2020, and Michael was one of 60 US students chosen for the prestigious Fulbright UK Summer Institute in 2018, studying at the University of Westminster in London.

The Mitchells credit their parents with helping them get to where they are today, but they also share their gratitude for Gies Business and its purpose-driven focus. Robert described the excitement of a favorite memory from his time on campus, the College naming ceremony in 2017, highlighting the purpose and passion behind Gies College of Business.

I remember coming here for the ceremony and seeing Larry Gies,” Robert said. “I could just tell that’s the passion I one day hope to emulate for U of I. Paying it forward is one of the biggest priorities that I have in general. I’ve been taught by my parents growing up as well as seeing it from alumni here. It’s great to see that alumni have that passion here.”

Continue reading for advice and purpose-driven insights about Gies Business from the Mitchells. 

Mitchell Family Q&A

What’s something you know now that you wish you had known when you started your college journey?

Robert: Keep in mind that someone has been there before you, whether it’s a hard class or trying to apply for an internship or job. Always feel free to reach out to older students. I came to the school not really knowing what investment banking was. I learned about it through older students. Talk to other students and use them as a resource, and you can pay it forward and help students after you. U of I’s alumni network and student population are so large that there’s likely someone who’s been successful in the area you want to enter.

Michael: Don’t be afraid to try new things. You may come in and try to emulate what everyone else is doing without figuring out what you want to do and what your own passions are. You might feel like you have to fit a mold, but I would encourage you to sit back and think about what you want to do and what drives you and then figure out what you can do at Gies to bolster those passions rather than feel like you have to fit a mold. If it interests you, do it. Don’t think you can’t or shouldn’t do something simply because it’s not where you think you should be operating.

Nina: Lean into the pay-it-forward mentality. When you’re an underclassman here, be willing to take from the mentorship and advice that you’re given. Ask for help. Join organizations. Start buying into it early. Just be an active member of the Gies community. As an upperclassman, you are the other half of it. You are now the one paying it forward.

What draws you back to campus?

Robert: Gies and Illinois in general do a great job of making you feel like you’re a part of something bigger than yourself when you’re at Illinois. They do that from the second you are on campus. You continue to feel like you’re a part of it, so you feel empowered to come back.

Michael: It seems like campus is constantly upgrading, so you’re coming back to a new campus. You’re seeing this new experience that students partake in. I love the energy that Illinois has built for students and alumni. I love Illinois, and that’s why I come back.

Nina: I want to keep coming back because of the community we built here. Having two older brothers, I got to be exposed to people at U of I from a younger age. The connections I made will last wherever I go. I still have a semester left to leave an impact, and I still want to do a few more things to help the future generations here. I’m excited to keep paying it forward.

What does the Business on Purpose promise mean to you?

Robert: It’s being very intentional about what you want to accomplish. It’s very much going into something with the intent of getting better at it and then making it better for people who come after you. It’s an overall mentality that, collectively as an organization, drives everyone forward. And it’s an intangible that’s helped drive a lot of my own decisions to get from a student who knew nothing about accounting to ultimately where I am today.

Michael: It’s finding meaning in what you do, whether that’s your coursework, your organizations, international travel, or starting a philanthropic community. It doesn’t necessarily have to be business. But whatever you do – in the college, in the community, once you graduate and take the next step – it’s continuing to find the meaning behind what you’re doing.

Nina: Even if you don’t know exactly what you want to do, every step you take is your purpose. That’s something that has really guided me, especially as I explore going into law. I question why I am diverging from the path. But “business on purpose” isn’t about specifically doing consulting or banking. It’s about taking the principles Gies has taught us and going and changing the world with a purpose-driven focus.