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Meet the USC Marshall MBA Class of 2018

MBA students in the Class of 2018 at the University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business

To land a dream internship, you need every advantage. Just picture your competition. Many have been prepping for a shot at Bain or Google before they even set foot on campus! Right now, they are networking with alumni at these firms, gaining experience as they rack up case competition wins or lead clubs. You’ll even find brave souls camped out in their career centers buffing out their rough edges. Bottom line: you’re going to be interviewing against the best; your rivals are the proverbial “high pos” at the top MBA programs.

How do you compete with that? At USC’s Marshall School of Business, the strategy is to give first years a head start over peers at other schools by finishing the core coursework earlier, says Dean James Ellis in a 2015 interview with Poets&Quants. “We found that they needed to be prepared for their interviews,” he says. “If interviews start at the end September or in October, we brought them in at the end of July to then spend the month of August and September, getting them ready. They understand vocabulary. They understand concepts. They’re prepared for those internships. Second semester of their first year, they can then prepare to go to work in those internships. If they know what the internship is and what industry it is in, they can focus on that when they’re studying in the second semester. So they’ll really be prepared when they start that internship in the summer.”

TROJAN NETWORK PULLS OUT ALL THE STOPS FOR MBA CANDIDATES

That isn’t the only advantage that USC MBA candidates enjoy in the job hunt. By enrolling at Marshall, they also become charter members of the vaunted “Trojan Network,” which includes 80,000 alumni spanning 123 countries. However, the network’s size and scope pales in comparison to its enthusiasm. Ellis equates the network to a support group behind the students. Aside from always being on the lookout for jobs and opportunities for MBA candidates, Marshall alums are known for generously volunteering to help with interview prep.

Dean Jim Ellis with P&Q Editors-In-Chief John A. Byrne

That’s no surprise to Ellis, who traces this alumni involvement back to their time as students.“The special sauce is that we start with these kids when they are first day MBA students and we talk about giving back,” he explains. “And part of giving back is helping those behind you create careers that they want to create just like you did yours. It’s one of those things that everyone wants Trojans to be successful. It’s a great network.”

That isn’t to say that the network is willing to help out just anyone, Ellis adds. “They are critical. They want them to be prepared because they represent their alma mater. If you’re going to represent my alma mater, you’d better be prepared. They’re tough, tough, and that’s great.”

In The Economist’s 2016 survey, students ranked the Marshall MBA 5th in alumni effectiveness. At the same time, the program finished 5th among students in overall satisfaction with Bloomberg Businessweek, a barometer that future classes can count on the same level on alumni fervor. For Mumbai’s Niranjan Kasi, a member of Marshall’s 2018 Class, the Trojan Network added an intangible that was impossible to find anywhere else. “Business school is not an investment for two years, but something which you carry for the rest of your professional career. The strong Trojan network in which you are permanent member once you join Marshall played a crucial factor in my decision.”

FROM HIGH FASHION TO A DUAL MD-MBA

How strong? The alumni roll features big names ranging from billionaire Tom Hicks to ESPN personality Michelle Tafoya.  That doesn’t count undergraduate business alums that boast founders and CEOs of firms like Salesforce.com, Kinko’s, Warner Brothers, MySpace, and Trader Joe’s. Chances are, you’ll find some standouts someday from the Class of 2018 as well.

It’s hard to even know where to begin with this class. Elizabeth Blotky has been a winner wherever she has traveled. A Harvard grad, she was captain of a volleyball team that earned the school its first Ivy League championship.  After graduation, she moved into the world of high fashion at Polo Ralph Lauren and Clemency London, where she was the driving force behind impressive growth at both brands. Despite her success, she lacked a sense of fulfillment, which led to volunteering in a London hospital and eventually completing a premed program at Columbia University. Now in her fourth year at the USC’s Keck School of Medicine, she is slated to earn a joint MBA-MD degree in 2018.

Sounds simple enough, right? Think again, says Blotky. “Having the courage to question my status quo was not easy especially as I knew it would impact not just my own life,” she points out while adding that her leap of faith involved uprooting her life and “tremendous soul-searching” (not to mention a long distance marriage). “Turning my back on the easy life I knew in favor of the financial, emotional, and locational uncertainty that came with pursuing my dream of a career in medicine was truly daunting. However, this experience taught me the importance of trusting my instincts as it proved to be the right decision and one that I welcome every day.”

LEAP OF FAITH TURNS ONE MARSHALL MBA INTO A COOKING CELEBRITY

In fact, the class is packed with risk-takers like Blotky who beat the odds to make a difference. One is Daniela Bertolla Rocha Aboud, who ditched a steady gig at Brazil’s largest bank to follow her passion and become a food blogger. Despite the risk, she eventually built a personal brand that rivals the big names in her home country. “I learned the hard way that blogging demanded time, commitment, and discipline. Due to my hard effort since its launch, I gained 30,000 followers within a few months. Today, I am blessed with over 120k followers, ambassador for some international brands, and even presenting on a daily public TV program. And more recently, I launched a channel on YouTube, four e-Books and my own Website.”

She isn’t alone. Richard Baynes led a team at Accenture that expanded health care insurance access to 170,000 consumers. At Green Dot Public Schools, Valerie “Claire” Jadulang spearheaded a $14 million dollar grant effort that touched 3,000 students by building 20 new schools in three states. Paralyzed from the chest down in a teenage surfing accident, Michael Fritschner moved into the medical field, answered his CEO’s challenge to champion a dying product line back into a money maker. His solution? He went back to the roots by conducting hours of meticulous research with stakeholders and working closely with various teams to fix the faulty parts that he learned were hampering product performance — all while nearly doubling sales in his territory from the year before.

However, the Class of 2018’s success has also been tempered by service. Sam Rowen was responsible for designing and building the first library in southern Cameroon. As an intelligence officer in the U.S. Navy, Nick Boyer ran a team that found survivors through analyzing photos and other assets after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami in Japan. Similarly, Pasadena’s Miles Nash served two tours in Afghanistan, becoming a team leader in the Green Berets in the process.

Outside of work and class, they are equally impressive. Jadulang, who describes herself a “high school teacher turned martial arts instructor who bakes a mean chocolate chip cookie” is a classically-trained soprano. “I’ve sung for 16 years,” she shares, “and my favorite performance to date was in a choir of 900 singers, with the Los Angeles Philharmonic and the Simón Bolívar Symphony Orchestra, under Gustavo Dudamell,” she beams. Perhaps she could team up with Juliana Tashiro, who plays the violin, piano, flute and recorder. Speaking of being versatile, Boyer is fluent in four languages besides English: Korean, Italian, French, and Mandarin Chinese. While Fritschner may be the class sales pro, he’ll find competition in the persuasion department with Rowen, who somehow managed to hitchhike across Central Africa by motorcycle.