The Pioneering MBAs In The Class Of 2019

Just a few members of the Class of 2019 at leading business schools

Vishruti Jakhar is nicknamed the “mountain goat” — and she considers it a compliment. It is a testament to her sure-footed resilience. A mountain climber, Jakhar has scaled 20,000 foot peaks, with her adventures taking her from Ethiopian lava lakes to Himalayan passes. In the process, she has endured 15 hour days covering 7,000 feet, capped by burnt shoes and even hypothermia.

Such conditions prepared Jakhar well for her job: a deep oil and gas driller. Before joining Rice University’s full-time MBA program, she would spend 28 straight days on an oil rig. Of course, the isolation was the easy part. For Jakhar, the true struggle was being “a pioneer female” on many drill ships. In the end, Jakhar conquered these mountains too, relying on the virtues she practiced during unforgiving climbs at Kedarkantha or Panpatia Col: patience, optimism, and courage.

“I revolutionized the otherwise ‘harsh’ and ‘abusive’ atmosphere to a friendlier one by winning the respect of my team members and subordinates and working towards a gradual change in the male-dominated culture through soft skills of active listening and proactive training,” she shares.


Megan McGee, a former U.S. Army Captain, is now at Duke Fuqua

Jakhar wasn’t the only ‘pioneer’ among the incoming MBA students in the Class of 2019. In retail, Nivedita Kohli unleashed her creative juices at Ralph Lauren, designing and launching new lines responsible for $40 million in revenue. It was a poet’s introduction to hard fundamentals of data analysis, project management, and negotiation. Even more, it was a stunning reminder of how quickly humble ideas can take hold in business — and beyond.

“Witnessing customers buy into my ideas, seeing the designs I had sketched on paper come to life on websites, in the windows of retailers such as Bloomingdale’s and Macy’s, on TV shows, on people I’ve always admired and most importantly on the general public was exhilarating,” the Columbia Business School first year exclaims.

Incoming MBA candidates weren’t just pioneering in the private sector. Look no further than Duke’s Megan McGee, whose example opened doors for women to serve in new roles in the U.S. military. In 2010, she was assigned to the 82nd Airborne Division in military intelligence, where she was the only women in an 800 soldier regiment. Thanks to her guile and grit, she was eventually promoted to Captain, setting the bar for the women who followed her.

“While in Fort Bragg and Afghanistan, I proved that I could analyze intelligence, work in diverse teams, and keep up with the physical rigors of an infantry regiment,” she writes. “Four years later, I took those experiences and helped integrate the first 10 women into the infantry as the Gender Integration Officer-in-Charge for the Army’s Chief of Infantry. I advocated for women in Ranger school and combat arms jobs by providing personal experiences and professional feedback.”


Indeed, this pioneering spirit defines the Class of 2019. Think of them as change agents who don’t shy away from unconventional paths, long-standing conflicts, or opaque outcomes. They are dynamic risk takers who are using business school to channel their experience and know-how to make a real difference in the world. This fall, Poets&Quants will again be introducing readers to more than 40 different classes, spotlighting first years from programs ranging from Wharton to Washington (both Foster and Olin). Our goal with the series remains the same. We hope to show prospective MBA candidates what makes each school so unique. What’s more, knowing that today’s fretful first year is tomorrow’s self-assured second year, we want readers to see the types of role models and mentors they’ll encounter when they join the 2020 Class — and beyond!

Chris Shen, an accomplished musician, is at Yale SOM

Who is the Class of 2019? One thing is certain: Boy, can they turn a phrase!

Dartmouth Tuck’s Katie Donovan, for one, describes herself as “equal parts Ohio redneck, New England prepster, Vermont hippie and Silicon Valley techie.” Duke Fuqua’s Julio Zambrano, who’s currently writing a graphic novel, equates himself to the Mexican wine country: “understated, surprising, innovative, and on the rise.” Kaavya Gupta, a lead vocalist when he isn’t building his Alterbeat startup at MIT, is a “blended harmony of entrepreneur, marketer and musician.” If you want a day to remember, be on the lookout for the University of Washington’s Kate Neupert: “I aspire to live my life in all caps.”

The class is no doubt colorful. MIT’s Lara Ortiz-Luis started out as a biologist before investing in startups and teaching design thinking. UCLA’s Adi Rajapuram can speak seven languages, while Yale’s Christopher Shen can play eight instruments — and even produce his own music. Sergio Álvarez García-Peñuela, a plastic surgeon enrolled at the London Business School, admits that he is afraid of needles (but apparently not scalpels). Not to be outdone, Washington University’s Rina Amatya adds that she is a study in irony: a “major germophobe” who researches infectious diseases and aspires to be a paediatrician! And Alex Chi brings the perfect mental makeup to a blue chip MBA program like the University of Chicago: “I’m the kind of guy who always looks composed even when he’s freaking out inside.”


For some, business school is like embarking on a grand adventure, a time packed with endless opportunities, intriguing people and transformative ideas. That said, there are several first years who could use this time to actually catch a breath from their crazy lives. The University of Chicago’s Atsushi Yamazaki has made it his personal mission to reach the summit of the highest mountain in each continent — and he can cross Africa’s Kilimanjaro, Europe’s Elbrus, and Australia’s Kosciuszko off his list. This summer, the University of California-Berkeley’s Michael Devlin gave his best Forrest Gump impression, running from San Francisco to New York to raise money for ALS research. Emory’s Dave Greenberg, a U.S. Marine, has been able to enjoy some friendly fire in Buñol, Spain, which hosts, in his words, “the world’s largest food fight, the Tomatina, which involves approximately 40,000 participants and 40,000 metric tons of tomatoes.” If you’re part of North Carolina’s incoming class, be careful about saying “Yes” to Colleen Parra. “I’m an adrenaline junkie — sky diving, zip lining, bungee jumping…you name it,” she gushes.

Nicole Robertson of Wharton sang a duet with Diana Ross

Not surprisingly, this class of future business leaders started very fast — and very young. By the time she was seven, UCLA’s Bharti Bhargava had earned her blackbelt, which won acclaim from Guinness World Records. A year later, Harvard Business School’s Anirudh Banarji was writing code. When she was four, Duke’s Winny Arindrani started playing classical piano. Fast forward a dozen years and she was  competing on Indonesian Idol as its youngest contestant. As a child actor, Georgetown’s Jennifer Rose Schwartz appeared in episodes of Saturday Night Live and One Life To Live. How is this for a memory? At one of her first concerts, Wharton’s Nicole Robertson sang a duet with Diana Ross — at Madison Square Garden no less! If the theme song to SpongeBob SquarePants gives you an automatic migraine, blame Cornell’s Gina Tucker. She was part of the children’s group that recorded it.

As adults, many had brushes with celebrities — or became celebrities in their own right. Before starting at Dartmouth, Orlando Gómez made a pitch to Flava Flav. His classmate, Darryn Lee, was a finalist on Fear Factor. Better yet, Vanderbilt’s Julia Brown made the “Showcase Showdown” on an episode of The Price Is Price. Harvard’s Mike Hunt appeared on Glee as part of a rival a cappella group, while Michigan’s Greg Phillips played guitar for a band that once opened for Smash Mouth. And Northwestern’s Alyssa Pasternack even has a celebrity in the house. “My family dog holds the world record for being the fastest dog on two front paws,” she jokes.


Of course, not every incoming student has been so lucky. “Animals love me, sighs UCLA’s Luiza Niemeyer.  “Maybe too much. I have been bitten by a sloth in the Amazon rainforest, a monkey in Bali, and a goat in Chile.”

Carnegie Mellon’s Puja Patel Iyengar had better luck. She learned the art of the deal after a wild monkey stole her glasses. “We managed to get them back unscathed by offering snacks as a fair trade. And that was my first lesson in business negotiation,” she recalls.

To see Class of 2019 stats for to MBA programs, go to page 2.

To see 30 in-depth profiles of top MBAs from 30 programs, jump to page 3.

Related Stories In Our Meet The Class of 2019 Series: 

The Pioneering MBAs In The Class of 2019

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business

Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business

Vanderbilt University’s Owen School of Management

London Business School

University of Southern California’s Marshall School of Business

Notre Dame University Mendoza College of Business

UC-Berkeley’s Haas School of Business

New York University Stern School of Business

University of Texas-Austin McCombs School of Business



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