Fast, first, fair, and factual.
That’s the name of the game in the news business. You race around to break stories before anyone else. Chase down rumors. Tap sources. Sniff out agendas. Break complex and shifting dynamics into compelling bits. High profile…heavy pressure…harsh hours – a world as exhilarating as it is exhausting.
That was Elizabeth McLaughlin’s life at ABC News. At just 24, she was assigned the Pentagon beat. Here, McLaughlin competed with peers she had long admired – ones who boasted far more experience in military and foreign affairs. Initially intimidated, McLaughlin embraced the grind, covering stories ranging from the defeat of ISIS to the launch of Space Force. In the process, she earned the respect of the most powerful people in the media and public service.
TRAVELING WITH THE SECRETARY OF STATE
Elizabeth McLaughlin, University of Michigan (Ross)
It was quite the ride, McLaughlin tells Poets&Quants. “I never thought I’d fly in a Black Hawk over Baghdad, seek shelter from the cold in a yurt in Nur-Sultan, visit an airfield in Ho Chi Minh City, or produce an exclusive interview in Kyiv. But my role as a Pentagon reporter took me to 18 countries, flying with secretaries of defense and state as one of a handful of journalists invited to travel with these senior leaders. These trips became the defining moments of my career as I was pushed mentally and physically.”
Now, McLaughlin is taking on a new stretch assignment. This fall, she is joining the Class of 2022 at the University of Michigan’s Ross School. The Ann Arbor digs certainly beat Afghan airbases and Arabian deserts. Still, like all first-years, McLaughlin will face a jam-packed schedule at a ‘drinking from a fire hose’ intensity. That’s fine with her. After all, she has already shouldered heavy loads and thrived in high stakes environments as a journalist.
“I am hopeful that this kind of fast-paced, complex news coverage prepared me for business school by strengthening my ability to make decisions quickly, produce accurate reports under pressure, and act professionally in any number of difficult circumstances,” she adds.
THE NEW NORMAL BRINGS STUDENTS CLOSER TOGETHER…FROM AFAR
In business school, McLaughlin will encounter a popular acronym: VUCA. It stands for Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, and Ambiguous. That’s exactly the environment that the Class of 2022 is entering this fall. After the 2008 economic collapse, many high potentials streamed into business schools. On-campus, they were safe from the carnage, watching a live-action case unfold from the commons. This is different. In the VUCA milieu of COVID-19, disruption can hit from any corner. The virus itself has forced many students, faculty, employers, and alumni to distance themselves behind their screens. Forget coffee chats, pub crawls, recruiter spreads, and weekend trips. In many cases, the Class of 2022 is now huddled together on Zoom.
Still, this class is making the most of their opportunities despite fewer students and resources. Harvard Business School, for example, is anticipating 200 fewer students, as some recruits deferred their admission. However, choosing to remain ended up binding the “COVID class” more closely together, says Charlotte Lawson – an ER doctor who once delivered a baby in a car. It was a signal, Lawson says, that students believed in each other. The class took it upon themselves to organize their own social events. These included poker games, board game nights, and movie and book clubs – not to mention industry-specific meetings and startup brainstorming sessions. While the platform may have changed, MBA camaraderie – a product of diversity as much as ability – remained as strong as ever.
Just ask Cecilia Rios Murrieta from the University of Virginia’s Darden School. “Despite being thousands of miles away from each other,” she writes, “we have held each other through the ups-and-downs of uncertainty and anxiety that the pandemic has caused in each of our home countries. Together, we have come out of this stronger and I can honestly say I feel like I now have best friends in India, Colombia, Chile, Argentina, China and the US, and I love it! I cannot wait to see everyone in person very soon.”
Peter Kiernan, Harvard Business School
Thanks to their hardships, you won’t find the Class of 2022 taking each other for granted, either. “In some ways, starting virtually has made us have to be more intentional about getting to know our classmates,” explains Georgetown University’s Adam Kuebler. “Everyone is passionate, engaged, and willing to help and support one another.”
FIGHTING COVID-19 FROM THE FRONT LINES
No, VUCA didn’t drive the MBA Class of 2022 into retreat. Instead, the next two years are a strategic reassessment, a time to marshal expertise, resources, and allies. Reality is, many class members have been on the front lines of the rapidly-changing world. Exhibit A: Harvard Business School’s Peter Kiernan. The youngest Marine Raider in Marine Special Operations Command history, Kiernan served as the Deputy Director of Response Operations for New York Governor Andrew Cuomo’s COVID-19 Task Force. Translation?
“I [have] been coordinating and managing the COVID-19 response efforts for New York State. I was responsible for testing, supply distribution, and enforcement operations throughout the height of the pandemic.”
Morgan Bedan held a similar role at the Federal level. The Indiana University first-year previously served as the Associate Director at the White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs. For the past six months, she says, she has been operating in crisis management mode, “working with state and local governments to triage the challenges and uncertainty of the impacts of the Coronavirus.” That’s exactly what Amanda Pearson faced down every day as a charge nurse in a DC trauma center. The Washington Foster MBA candidate oversaw the transition of her ICU, which doubled in size and was then revamped to take on a surge in COVID-19 patients.
“The unprecedented overflow of patients at all-time high acuity levels strained our resources and forced clinicians to stretch like never before,” she explains. “As a nurse, I had to navigate constantly changing research, protocols, and PPE supply to care for patients hovering on the brink of death…I am amazed at how quickly my team successfully implemented new technology to overcome communication and other logistical barriers presented by the isolation requirements for these patients. This pandemic has exposed serious deficiencies in our health care system. This has…renewed my focus on leading change and innovation in the health services space.”
FROM A NUCLEAR ENGINEER TO A BROADWAY ACTRESS
Want big responsibilities? Just step into the shoes of Emory University’s Benjamin Holladay. In the U.S. Navy, he was accepted into the highly-selective Naval Reactors team, where he worked as a Nuclear Engineer. It was an intense environment, he notes, as the stakes don’t get any higher than military use of nuclear power. At the same time, Holladay adds, the role prepared him for much of what he’d face as a Goizueta MBA – and beyond.
Rachel Garforth, Rice University (Jones)
“I learned the importance of clearly and concisely articulating a position as well as the immense value that dissenting opinions provide; I learned to anticipate questions (several levels deep) but also that some questions do not need to be answered to arrive at the right solution; and most importantly I learned that the value of building strong working relationships by truly listening to someone cannot be overstated.”
Of course, Holladay can expect a little merriment and mischief in business school. After all, one of his classmates is Frank Thomas, former Director of Investing Intelligence at The Motley Fool. Alas, Thomas – a journalist by training – devised the investment strategy behind The Motley Fool’s first index, The Fool 100. Over the past two years, Thomas’s fool tool has beaten the S&P 500 by nearly 31%. Duke University’s Abby Larus also helped others have fun. She headed up event operations for pop culture fan conventions, where she managed a team of 20 that ran nine annual events that attracted nearly 200,000 people. How would you like to be Rachel Garforth? She once played Glinda (The Good Witch) in the Broadway National Tour of the Wizard of Oz, where she’d fly in from the rafters eight days a week! Oh – and she just finished off a movie for the Hallmark Channel before starting MBA classes at Rice University.
BRINGING WOMEN TO THE TABLE
Indeed, entertainment was a popular outlet for the Class of 2022. Yale SOM’s Brett Davidson – “Southern charm crossed with SoCal swagger” – worked in strategy and development for the Walt Disney Company. In this role, he has worked on productions like John Wick, La La Land, Good Trouble, and Grown-ish. Alexia Sabogal earned the perfect send-off to business school at Michigan Ross. She was recently named to Front Office Sports’ Rising 25 list – and was the only member of Major League Soccer to earn the accolade. Still, Sabogal wasn’t the only woman making a big name for herself in sports. MIT Sloan’s Riley Foreman, a PR manager for the WNBA’s Seattle Storm, has been fighting a quiet battle on behalf of female athletes.
“I’ve sought to increase media attention for women’s sports by building out numerous databases in order to add historical context surrounding one of the most exciting eras of women’s basketball,” Foreman explains. “I view my “biggest accomplishment” more as a series of smaller wins: providing quality data and information often leads to more stories, more beat writers, more highlights on SportsCenter, and higher TV ratings.”
Speaking of data, Foreman will find plenty in common with classmate Valerie Kutsch. Growing up, Kutsch lived the peaceful farm life, raising cattle and horses and competing in rodeo pageants. In the U.S. Army, she became an Intelligence Officer who oversaw its biometrics program for Afghanistan.
“My team did everything related to biometric collection- from enrollment and training to quality control. I led the initiative to use information from our biometric database to glean relevant data and organize a reporting tool to inform base commanders on current security levels. We turned raw data into actionable information that increased protection for American soldiers. This tool provided information that was critical in informing security decisions that affected hundreds of lives.”
To read in-depth profiles from MBA candidates from 30 top business schools, go to page 4.
Breanna Spurley, Emory University (Goizueta)
PIANO PRODIGY BUYS FIRST HOUSE AT 14
What do the Class of 2022 do when they’re not working? Emory’s Breanna Spurley, for one, is a “tap dancing, violinist trying to better the world through finance and equitable education. Her funny story? She decided to push back business school after falling asleep during her first GMAT study session (who hasn’t?). She is geared up now, as is Michigan Ross’ Chris Connolly, a medical student with an interest in 3D printing, genetics, and disease treatment. And you can bet Notre Dame classes are going to be entertaining with Meghan Lally around.
“I’m like a movie score—a dynamic storyteller who helps to keep the plot exciting,” she writes.
Well, Lally would be hard-pressed to top this story from classmate Aric Stahly, a U.S. Navy Seal. “When I was in the Navy, I had the opportunity to skydive with my military K-9 strapped to my chest. He absolutely loved the view as we floated over the trees, fields, beach and traffic below us. Sharing the skies with such a great dog was an experience I hope to never forget!”
How is this for cocktail hour fodder? MIT Sloan’s Jerry Hong is a commissioned officer in both the U.S. Coast Guard and the Singapore Navy. Hong’s classmate, Sarah Black, decided to change the oil and gas industry “from within.” Turns out, they saw her coming from a mile away. “I accidentally ended up working on an offshore oil rig for over two years,” she writes, often as the only female aboard to boot. And then there is HEC Paris’ Samuel Deason, who earned his doctorate in piano performance. He considers his greatest achievement to be performing Beethoven’s hour-long “Diabelli Variations”, a test of both stamina and technical sophistication. However, many would point to a different achievement.
“If I could pick one defining moment which prepared me for business school, it would be purchasing a house with piano competition prize money at the age of 14,” he explains. “Learning about mortgages, cashflow, property taxes, and city bylaws at a young age was a fantastic learning experience.”
TEACHING PRINCE HARRY TO PASS, TACKLE, AND KICK
Deason isn’t the only artistically-gifted member of the class. The University of Toronto’s Fabiola Diaz Mier is a flamenco dancer, while Georgetown University’s Bridget Greaney directed an Off-Broadway comedy musical for five weeks. As a teenager, Washington University’s Nataly Garzon created short films and documentaries, with one being included in the 2011 Tribeca Film Festival. In Garzon’s class, you’ll also find Bryanna Brown. A professional ballerina, she has also danced to “Horton, Graham, jazz, African, Gaga – I have done them all.” The London Business School even boasts a celebrity: Alex Parker, a quarterfinalist in the BBC’s MasterChef competition. He used his celebrity to launch a “living room super club” – four course meals served in his home.
Alejandro Cadena, University of Chicago (Booth)
The Class of 2022 also includes its fair share of athletic prowess. Before Dartmouth Tuck, Briana Provancha represented the United States in sailing at the Olympic Games. The University of Chicago Booth’s Alejandro Cadena finished 2nd in Ecuador’s Karate National Tournament, while Notre Dame’s Raymond Kusch made Team USA’s National Standing Amputee Hockey Team. Before enrolling at UCLA’s Anderson MBA program, Ben Antoine — an engineer by trade — was an American Ninja Warrior competitor TV series. As a professional stuntman, Antoine’s motion capture work appeared in Avatar.
That said, Drew McKnight’s best work was restricted to the sidelines. “When I was an undergraduate, I was part of a small team that put on a private clinic to teach Prince Harry the basics of American Football,” writes the Michigan Ross first-year. “It went well…but not well enough to get invited to the big wedding.”
THE BIG MOMENTS IN LIFE
An unforgettable event, no doubt – much like the defining moments that shaped this class. For some, those moments evoke pleasant memories. Georgetown McDonough’s Maya McWhorter, for one, increased her GMAT by 110 points over four weeks. In contrast, UCLA Anderson’s Sami Sciacqua’s moment came when she “commanded the attention of the room” – when the room was “full of executives, majority male, all with 20+ more years of experience.”
That’s not to say these moments were all bright spots. Catherine Romero, a senior private wealth analyst before enrolling in U.C.-Berkeley’s Haas program, was transformed by the most important people in her life losing everything.
“When I was in college, my parents declared bankruptcy on our small business, and unfortunately, our home was foreclosed. This life event sparked my interest in finance and pushed me to teach financial literacy to my community. Since then, financial inclusivity and representation are at the core of every decision I make and every project I take on. This prepared me for business school by giving me the confidence to question our financial systems and help align profit and impact to benefit everyone equally.”
Falling short actually laid the groundwork for Aric Stahly to re-define himself. Despite an 80% quit rate in SEAL training school, Stahly believed he possessed the mental toughness and physical stamina to make it through. After all, he had succeeded in everything else. After washing out – and watch a select few of his peers graduate – Stahly re-doubled his efforts.
Aric Stahly, Notre Dame (Mendoza)
“That moment in my life defined me. I had let myself down by giving up on the one goal that had motivated me in life. I was determined not to let that personal failure define my future. After serving elsewhere in the Navy for a couple years, I returned to the basic SEAL training school determined to succeed. I committed to doing everything in my physical and mental power to overcome every challenge. That mindset carried through training and on to graduation. Since then, I have applied the same mindset to every challenge that stood in the way of my goals, and I have enjoyed many other successes as a result.”
You could say the same about the rest of the Class of 2022. Before enrolling at the University of North Carolina, Dan LaSorte was managing $190 million dollars of investable assets for high-net-worth clients. Georgetown University’s Sean Ginter launched Amazon’s first fulfillment center in New York City. Impressed? How about this number: Northwestern Kellogg’s Roberto Chavez Flores was charged with opening 1,501 retail stores Anheuser-Busch InBev in one year. He ended up beating the mark with 1,514 stores!
In New Zealand, the London Business School’s Alexandra Lipski founded the nation’s first social enterprise devoted to closing the investment gap between men and women. Partnering with WWF-Australia, MIT Sloan’s Sarah Black developed a roadmap for the government to reduce the use of environmentally-damaging, single-use plastic. At the same time, Tomas Campos – a project manager who joined Berkeley Haas – helped “transform Latin America’s largest coal generator into a renewable energy company.”
That wasn’t the only transformative campaign notched by a Haas first-year. Sevita Qarshi worked with Nike to create a social media series to spotlight female Muslim athletes. “This was the first time I had worked on stories that were similar to mine,” she writes. “These athletes were relatable to anyone who’s been the underdog, but to hear their nuances felt like I was hearing my story on the screen for the first time.”
A STORYTELLER AND AN ENTREPRENEUR
Ming Liu, Cornell University (Johnson)
Like Otosi, IESE Business School’s Zhu Shang is a storyteller. In fact, he already has two films credited him. A “culture chameleon,” Shang has even worked with the China Film Group Corporation and been mentored by Zhao Haicheng, whom Shang describes as the “Tsar of the Chinese movie industry.” Despite his accolades and connections, Shang hopes to leverage business school to boost his long-term impact in China and entertainment
“At a certain point of my career, I realized that if I continue to do what I was doing, I may eventually meet my ceiling in my 40s,” he explains. “I could keep on and become a more promising and money-making storyteller, but this kind of role wouldn’t fulfill my wish to really have an impact on the foundation of the industry. When I pulled myself out and observed the whole business with a more objective view, I found that there is so much more we could do to improve the industry. An MBA may provide some solid answers to my questions, while opening doors to new tech, new industry ecosystems, and new ideas for entrepreneurship.”
One of those big ideas may have come from Cornell University’s Ming Liu. In China, she started a business which served children with disabilities through therapeutic horseback lessons. For Liu, the enterprise was means to reduce the stigma around being disabled along with giving a shot in the arm to the nation’s fledgling equestrian industry.
“Understanding the demands of the local market and adapting our approach accordingly, identifying common interests across different stakeholders, and continuing to push against the status quo were some of the most important lessons I learned from the experience.”
Lucia Donnangelo, London Business School
ON POLITICS AND POLICY…
Chances are, Lucia Donnangelo absorbed similar lessons. The London Business School MBA candidate was enjoying a comfortable living as a research economist at CERES, Uruguay’s top think tank. And then her boss, Ernesto Talvi, decided to run for President – and she became his policy director. Here, she led a 300 member team to build Talvi’s policies in 50 different areas. While Talvi ultimately lost, the experience proved life-changing for Donnangelo.
“I was entrusted to lead and, in doing so, refined my personal and professional goals. I’m grateful to have met so many people driven by the desire to contribute and impact a country’s development. It is gratifying to know that this policy unit is still active, with some of its members in government roles.”
Sometimes, it can be just a kind word from the right person can make all the difference. That was the case for the Yale School of Management’s Ethan Everett Boswell. At the International Monetary Fund, he worked alongside Christine Lagarde to produce presentations to finance ministers and central bank governors around the world – the kind that help shape global policy.
“Mario Draghi, the former president of the European Central Bank, called the presentations “fantastic” and “done with a professionalism I’ve never seen in any other institution,” so it feels good to know they were memorable,” Boswell writes.
REASONS VARY FOR RETURNING TO SCHOOL
Despite such access and accomplishment, the Class of 2022 still streamed back to campus to pursue their MBAs. Roberto Chavez Flores, for one, intended to pursue the executive MBA route. However, he headed to Kellogg’s one-year progam after COVID-19 shut down many of his real estate projects in Mexico. “I quickly realized the impact an MBA could have at such critical time, allowing me to accelerate out of the gates when the initial impact subsides.”
The University of Texas’ Caroline Peterson also shouldered heavy responsibilities early in her career in tech. Her career path also gave her an inside look at both a senior executive’s role and the demands of navigating large and diverse organizations through VUCA environments. That made an MBA degree an immediate requirement over an eventual goal for Peterson.
“I quickly realized that the most effective leaders didn’t just command exceptional business acumen, but also commanded a room and inspired teams to execute on a vision. My most recent role as Chief of Staff to the CEO helped me develop an appreciation for the complexity of managing a growing organization on the executive level.”
Bo Chan’s interest, she says, was piqued when she moved into management – and realized she needed to expand far beyond her area of expertise. “I realized that to be an impactful and compassionate manager, I needed to broaden my skillset and knowledge to lead effectively and confidently,” writes the MIT Sloan first-year. “While I had spent the last five years honing my skills in brand and customer marketing, there were aspects of the business that I needed more exposure to such as operations and finance. Without a thorough understanding, it was impossible to represent both my team and be an effective changemaker within my organization.”
Mehmet Kaan Serdar, Georgetown University (McDonough)
DIFFERENT PATHS TO PREPARATION
The Class of 2022 also adopted a variety of strategies to prepare for the MBA rigors. Georgetown University’s Mehmet Kaan Serdar has spent the summer working closely with school advisors on career-related items like resume and networking strategies. He has also supplemented these efforts by taking online courses on quant areas like finance, accounting, economics, and statistics. Akhil Pawar took on a secondment with the World Economic Forum to increase his exposure to social enterprise before London Business School. To hit the ground running McCombs’ Caroline Peterson enlisted a career coach.
“My coach helped me reflect on my prior experience, identify my strengths, define my values, and roadmap the next few chapters of my professional (and personal) life. These exercises have already proven invaluable as I prep for interviews and fill out my schedule with extracurriculars.”
Then again, Leo Flores decided to take time off before embarking on the Rice MBA. “I know business school is going to be a rewarding but intense experience, so I’ve taken the time to re-center myself as I enter this new stage in life. I spent this summer relocating from the Bay Area to Houston, so I’ve taken some time to settle into the swimming pool lifestyle!”
FACING DOWN UNCERTAINTY AND FEAR
Myryah Nicholas, New York University (Stern)
Chances are, Flores is paddling in the deep end as the core coursework now kicks in. Indeed, there will be plenty of late nights and doubts for the Class of 2022. That happened to NYU Stern’s Myryah Nicholas, who wondered if she could make it in New York City – let alone the beauty industry. That’s when she came across an advertisement…and reflected back on her original purpose — and knew everything would eventually turn out right.
“I stumbled across a Mother’s Day billboard that read, “I didn’t go nine months without chardonnay for you to hate your job.” While the sighting initially provided a good laugh, the message stuck with me. I knew I owed it to the people who supported me and, more importantly, myself to pivot into a career path I loved. On the plane ride home, I vowed to take the risks I needed to achieve my goals. Four months later, I was living in New York—the epicenter of the beauty industry—and one step closer to making my dreams come true.”
Yes, the Class of 2022 arrives to a VUCA world, replete with rivalries and riots, lethal disease and economic disintegration. Who would blame them if they responded by shying away, hesitant to engage and afraid to commit. Frank Thomas was once afraid too when he took a gap year after high school. The Emory MBA moved across the world to New Zealand, “leaving every person and place I know to start an entirely new chapter of my life.” It turned out to be his shining moment, as uncertainty gave way to possibility, changing him into the “fiercely independent, adventurous person” he is today.”
Now, the process repeats anew for Thomas, as he joins his peers in the MBA Class of 2022. This time, he knows what to expect – and he can’t wait for the journey to begin. “I’ve left a wonderful company and wonderful friends to start from scratch, in a city I don’t know, during a particularly volatile time in the world. It is scary, but as my time in New Zealand – and elsewhere – taught me, uncertainty and fear are the dysfunctional parents of opportunity and adventure.”
To read in-depth profiles from MBA candidates from 30 top business schools, go to page 4.
DON’T MISS: Meet The Class of 2021: The Complete Collection
Meet The Class of 2022
Venture Garden Group
Newport Beach, CA
Montego Bay, Jamaica
BDT & Company
Catholic Charities of Evansville
Hong Kong, China
University of Chicago
African Leadership College
Chapel Hill, NC
Charleston, West Virginia
The Motley Fool
Trail Mix Ventures
Office of Governor Andrew Cuomo
The Glenn Gould School
Communication University of China
China Film Group Corporation
Grosse Pointe Park, MI
Saint Mary’s College (Notre Dame, IN)
The White House Office of Intergovernmental Affairs
Yunus Social Business
Manhattan Beach, CA
University of Michigan
U.S. Military Academy
Old Dominion University
Tec de Monterrey
U.S. Military University
St. Stephen’s College, Delhi University
Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute
Johnson & Johnson
Carnegie Mellon University
The Boeing Company
Virginia Beach, VA
University of Virginia
Mexico City, Mexico
MedStar Washington Hospital Center
Georgia State University
Teach For America
East Cobb, GA
University of Southern California
International Monetary Fund
Editor’s Note: This fall, Poets&Quants will be profiling some of the most promising MBA students at over 40 top business schools, including the programs featured above. Please note that INSEAD and the Wharton School were unable to furnish a student representative by deadline. Stanford GSB submits Class of 2022 candidates in January.