2016 Best MBAs: Emily Ruff, University of Chicago

Emily Ruff Chicago Booth

Emily Ruff


University of Chicago, Booth School of Business

“An admired and beloved leader in student government, Emily drives cohort life at Booth and works tirelessly to create programming and opportunities for “Boothies” to fulfill their potential.”

Age: 30

Hometown: Edwardsville, IL (a small rural town outside of St. Louis, MO)


College of William and Mary, B.B.A., Finance (2007)

Harvard University, Graduate School of Education, Ed.M., Technology, Innovation, and Education (2014)

Where did you work before enrolling in business school? I am actually in the third year of my “create your own dual degree” program. I negotiated with Booth to defer my enrollment to accommodate both an M.B.A. and an Ed.M. from the Technology, Innovation, and Education program at Harvard. I completed the degree at Harvard first and am now finishing up the degree at Booth. Between degrees, I worked in the MIT Computer Science and Artificial Intelligence Lab (CSAIL) as the Education Stakeholder Strategy Lead for a visual programming language called App Inventor.

Prior to starting at Harvard, I worked at Grant Thornton LLP in the Global Public Sector Consulting Practice just outside Washington, DC. I was a Manager and supported law enforcement clients within Homeland Security. Simultaneously, I founded and served as CEO of Beltway Tutoring, a tutoring company that specialized in academic support and college prep for high school students who were matriculating to colleges as NCAA athletes, especially female lacrosse players. Beltway Tutoring grew my passion for education, and I became very interested in the possibility of leveraging technology to inexpensively accommodate personalized learning needs.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2015? I interned at McKinsey & Company in Boston, MA. I worked on two projects (one in high tech and one in clean tech).

Where will you be working after graduation? Immediately after graduation I’ll return to McKinsey & Company in Boston.

My ultimate goal is to launch another company in the ed tech sector. My research at Harvard was in adaptive algorithms/machine learning for K-12 mathematics education, that is, teaching computers to teach kids math. I want to eventually launch a company to do just this, but I feel I need more practical experience in technology strategy and also that the education industry is still a few years away from the sweet spot of robust data on student learning and algorthmic sophistication.

To work toward this goal, I plan to focus my time at McKinsey on growing my strategic and operational understanding of the technology industry while staying involved in the thriving ed tech community in Boston (this community was the key driver in my office choice).

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I use my extracurricular time at Booth in four key ways: 1) to explore education technology from multiple lenses; 2) to push myself as an entrepreneur both through hands-on experience with ventures and getting a new perspective as an intern with VCs and PE funds; 3) to help create a fun, engaging, and supportive community for everyone at Booth to enjoy, and 4) to contribute to the Booth brand of the future.

  • Exploring education technology
    • Chair, First Annual Booth-Yale Education Business Plan Competition, April 2015
    • One of two teams selected for the Booth Sterling Partners Investment Thesis Challenge in Education Technology (a 4-month private equity internship)
    • Advised three venture capital ed tech funds through independent internships
    • Won 2nd Place, 2015 Kellogg Education Case Competition (week long business plan competition)
    • Polsky/Graduate Council grantee to attend SXSW edu 2016
  • Challenging myself entrepreneurially
    • Active member of Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital (EVC), Booth Hacks, and Booth Technology student groups
    • Co-Chair, SeedCon 2015 Napkin Pitch Competition (quick pitch competition at the annual EVC hosted start-up conference SeedCon)
    • Director of Technology Partnerships, Riviter

Riviter is a B2B retail technology start-up that offers a full suite of recommendation software tools powered by computer vision (image processing + deep machine learning). We allow retailers to recommend clothing items to customers based on actual visual similarity to other items they’ve looked at, not human-entered descriptive data on those images.

  • Incubated in Plug and Play in Silicon Valley in Summer 2015
  • Won 1st Place in the 2016 SXSW MBA Pitch Competition
  • Won a National Science Foundation (NSF) grant through NSF’s Innovation Corps program at the Chicago Innovation Exchange (Winter 2016 cohort)
  • Currently a semi-finalist in the 2016 Kaplan New Venture Challenge, finals are in June 2016
  • Product Development Advisor, cStyle Bracelets, PinkThink

PinkThink is a start up making STEM tools (hardware and software) targeted at K12 girls. The first tool was an online simulation game to teach girls the entire design and manufacturing process for nail polish. I came in to help with the second product – a physical bracelet that girls can program to light up, buzz, etc. with different sensory triggers using visual programming languages. This team also won an NSF grant through the Innovation Corps in the Winter 2015 cohort.

  • Team Mentor, Catapult Advisors 2015 Chicago Cohort

This was one of my most rewarding experiences at Booth. Catapult Advisors is an accelerator for high school students’ start-ups. I was one of 10 Booth students selected to mentor one of the student ventures through the three-month accelerator process. It was amazing to help them learn and practice design thinking concepts and actually build a functioning product. I loved it so much I’m going back as a judge this year for the end-of-program pitch competition April 4th.

  • App developer, EnerLet

EnerLet is currently a semi-finalist in the 2016 Social New Venture Challenge. They are launching an app that allows users to see and assess the carbon footprint of their transportation options so they can make eco-friendly decisions.

  • Supporting the current Booth community
    • Student Government
      • Vice President of Student Experience, Booth Executive Council (cabinet of six elected leaders of the Booth student government)
      • Executive Council Lead of the Graduate Business Council (student government) Cohort, Facilities, Winter Formal, and Spring Fling committees
      • Booth Representative, University of Chicago Graduate Council Social Committee
    • Active member of Management Consulting student group

This was another of my absolute favorite activities at Booth. As a first year, consulting recruiting seemed very daunting, ambiguous, and exhausting. As a second year, I loved being able to help the new first years navigate the process through coffee chats, coaching, case prep sessions, and, finally, offeree celebrations. The giving back culture is one of the best parts about being a Booth student.

  • Random Walk Leader. Led Random Walk China 2015 (a seven day trip for 16 first years and led by four second years pre-Orientation to help them feel welcome, excited, and prepared as well as make friendships in both classes)
  • Actor and Singer, Booth Follies (This is our comedy skit show each Spring)
  • Active member, Ski and Snowboard Club (fun fact: learned to ski on my first Booth ski trip and was so bad that ski patrol gave me a day of free private lessons – now I can safely say I’m intermediate and addicted!)
  • Shaping the future Booth community
    • Co-editor, The Booth Experience Admissions Blog
    • Admissions Interviewer, prospective Class of 2018
    • Group Leader, multiple events for prospective and admitted students (we call them “First Day” and “Booth Live”)
    • Dancer, First Day 2016 Flash Mob!

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m most proud of finding a way to attend both of the masters programs I felt I needed to fullfill my future goals. Cliché as it is, I feel I have to constantly remind myself of the old mantra “you don’t get what you don’t ask for.” When I was admitted to both programs, I thought I was going to need to decide between the two. The education degree is a “must have” to prosper in the industry, but after I attended the weekend for admitted students at Booth I knew I had to come here as well. I petitioned the school to defer, and my request was ultimately granted. The complement of the two degrees has exponentially increased the value I’ve gained from both. Throughout my MBA, I’ve relied on the education industry contacts, design principles, and education-specific entrepreneurship insights I gained at Harvard. The Harvard degree gave me amazing frameworks for thinking about the education industry; at Booth, I get to apply and practice those frameworks.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I feel I’ve taken full advantage of these three years to fully experiment across the ed tech sector, and especially in ed tech investing. I majored in finance in undergrad, but I hadn’t used much of my degree in my work in the public sector. As an aspiring entrepreneur, I believe that it is important to understand how investors value your company before they invest and interact with your company after. I came to Booth barely able to articulate the difference between private equity and venture capital and with a distinctly limited understanding of what investors do other than invest. To learn more about these investor roles, I applied for every education-specific internship I could find with private equity and venture capital funds. I’m most proud of the initiative I took to find not one but four internships with funds, both in sourcing and growing portfolio companies. I’m still nervous at the outset of each internship about my qualification and toolset, but I feel I’ve left each project unfathomably more knowledgeable about both investing and ed tech than I when I started it. I now have an in-depth understanding of what drives investment decisions, which has transformed the way I structure pitches and think about attracting investors.

Favorite MBA Courses? Sports Analytics (I’ve waited five quarters for this class to be offered and so far it’s even better than expected), Big Data, Taxes and Business Strategy, Managerial Cost Accounting (another surprise to me, chiefly due to another amazingly engaging professor: Joseph Gerakos)

Why did you choose this business school? Flexibility and people. I value flexibility above most else in a curriculum for two reasons: 1) selection and 2) sequencing. I attended an undergraduate business school and had already had the suite of core introductory business classes through that. There were certain areas in which I knew I needed an introductory refresher (e.g., competitive strategy) and others where I wanted to jump immediately into the more advanced topics (algorithmic marketing couldn’t come soon enough). That’s a unique advantage of the Booth model.

Sequencing is even more key. I was able to sequence my courses to take intermediate classes in my first quarter that were specifically relevant to my recruiting tracks. Thus, I could go into my internship interviews in the beginning of my second quarter with a more advanced understanding of relevant subjects.

The second reason is the people. Since my admitted students’ weekend in Chicago in 2013, I’ve continued to become more and more impressed with the students here. I think Booth attracts students who are academic, intelligent, passionate, and helpful – all excellent qualities to have in one’s classmates. A bonus is that the because of the sequencing flexibility at Booth, it’s possible to interact with 1755+ students in your classes, groups, and social events (that’s three classes of students).

What did you enjoy most about business school? Exploring different areas and activities. I’ve been able to experiment in many ways – from classes outside my comfort zone to student government which I’d never participated in before to my private equity internships. I feel like I’ve never had such an amazing opportunity to explore with such limited risk.

What was the most surprising thing about business school? The involvement of my classmates. I was really surprised by everything Booth students do. I feel more busy now than when I had a full-time job and a start-up, and I don’t think I’m unique. Every student I know seems to always be participating in a case competition or planning a conference or organizing a trek.

What was the hardest part of business school? Interest management. One downside of a flexible curriculum and an involved student body is that it is very hard to curate and manage your commitments and experience. It’s been difficult to make choices to balance the fun of exploration and a commitment to what will really help me in the future.

What’s your best advice to an applicant to your school? Know “why Booth” before you apply. Booth takes a very different academic approach to the MBA than many of the other programs, and it’s important to understand what that would mean for you.

I knew I wanted to go to business school when…I realized I wanted to transition to the private sector and I’d never had a client with a competitor.”

If I hadn’t gone to business school, I would be…Working in my lab at MIT or designing curriculum to teach kids in K12 to code.”

What are your long-term professional goals? As mentioned above, I want to create ed tech solutions that use ever-improving artificial intelligence to improve the quality, efficacy, and affordability of after school learning.

Who would you most want to thank for your success? My paternal grandmother. My father passed away when I was little and my mom is legally blind and had some trouble dealing with my father’s death. The oldest of four children, I would call her in Florida every morning for advice on how to cook, clean, plan my goals, think about my options, and generally care for my siblings. She’s an accomplished and amazing woman, who went to college in a time when few women did and ended up a leader in the “Meals on Wheels” organization (while simultaneously raising five children). Now she coaches me through difficult professional situations, and we still talk every day.

I would also need to thank my friend Tom McGinn. He’s the first person who pointed out to me that I wouldn’t get anything if I didn’t ask.

Fun fact about yourself: I sing opera.

Favorite book: Atlas Shrugged by Ayn Rand

Favorite movie: The Sting (Paul Newman and Robert Redford)

Favorite musical performer: Taylor Swift

Favorite television show: Sherlock (BBC)

Favorite vacation spot: Melbourne Beach, FL (my grandmother’s house)

Hobbies? Fishing, running marathons (this year’s Chicago marathon was my 5th), app and web development, tutoring (especially K-12 math), home bartending, and cheering for the St. Louis Cardinals

What made Emily such an invaluable addition to the class of 2016?

“An ed-tech innovator turned consultant, Emily brought her experience from MIT’s Artificial Intelligence Lab and HarvardX to the education community insider Booth (“BoothEd”) and led the first Education Business Plan Competition at the School. An admired and beloved leader in student government, Emily drives cohort life at Booth and works tirelessly to create programming and opportunities for “Boothies” to fulfill their potential.” — Stacey Kole, Clinical Professor and Deputy Dean, University of Chicago, Booth School of Business


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