Meet USC Marshall’s MBA Class of 2019

Some of the incoming MBA students in the Class of 2019 at USC’s Marshall School of Business

Word gets around fast in MBA circles. From conferences to bulletin boards, applicants are comparing notes on their favorite programs. Forget taglines and popular opinion. MBAs want a real community – advocates who’ll take their calls and open doors to the right people throughout their careers.

USC’s Marshall School of Business is centered on just that. The program is best known for its “Trojan Network” or “Trojan Family,” an accomplished and accessible alumni base committed to paying it forward to MBAs who follow in their footsteps. Think of it as 75,000 business grads always on the lookout to support fellow Trojans – past, present, and future.

APPLICATIONS UP 25% IN 2016-2017

Such engagement and advocacy is rare – and one reason why Marshall has surged in popularity. During its latest admissions cycle, the Trojan Network found plenty of new takers, with applications rocketing from 1,600 to 1,998 – a 25% boost. At the same time, the incoming class’ average GMAT jumped by 11 points.

Evan Bouffides, the assistant dean and director of graduate and MBA admissions, traces some of this progress to investments made in the school’s admissions and recruitment process, including implementing a CRM system. In turn, this enabled the school to amplify its message by communicating with prospective students more systematically. “As you might imagine,” Bouffides explains, “Marshall has not altered its mission nor its philosophy from one year to the next. The trick is that we now communicate our stories – of Marshall, of USC, and of LA – to more candidates than in the past.”

The message has been getting out in other ways too. In 2016, Marshall recruited Mark Brostoff to serve as assistant dean and director of graduate career services. A key figure behind the near perfect placement rates at Washington University’s Olin Business School, Brostoff paid immediate dividends during his first year on the job. The Class of 2016 enjoyed an 11% improvement in placement, with 92% of graduates receiving job offers within three months of graduation. Even better, median pay climbed from $116,118 to $125,099, a 7.7% boost over the previous year.


Mark Brostoff, assistant dean and director of MBA career services at USC’s Marshall School of Business

Such bursts are possible when you can tap into the existing Trojan Network. If you asked the Class of 2019 why chose Marshall, you can bet that 90% would cite the school’s extended family in one form or another. Count Sammy Ahmed among them. A Berkeley grad who cut his teeth at TechCrunch and Twitter, Ahmed repeatedly heard that people made the difference in an MBA experience. And Marshall, which ranked among the Top 5 programs in Bloomberg Businessweek’s student satisfaction survey and The Economist’s ranking of alumni network, brought together the best of both worlds for Ahmed. “I knew from experience that the most reliable way to find the perfect role was through friends or friends of friends,” he shares. “So, I thought: What could be a better way to expand my network than to join one of the strongest ones in the nation?”

In turn, Ahmed has already witnessed the depth and enthusiasm of the Trojan Network first-hand. “Trojans are everywhere,” he adds. “Recently, I wore a Marshall t-shirt on a remote hike in the San Francisco North bay and had a hiker yell in my direction­—Fight On!”

The Trojan Network takes on added value with career changers, who are often looking make the triple jump: role, industry, and location. As a result, they are seeking as mentors – alumni who can guide them and introduce them to their connections. More than that, career changers are seeking a “safety net” in the words of Matthew Kaczynski, a U.S. Marine who plans to pivot into the entertainment industry. “Marshall has close ties with many companies in the entertainment industry, mostly due to a loyal alumni network,” he observes. “Leveraging this Marshall connection was a critical consideration in my decision to attend USC, especially in light of the difficult barriers to entry within the entertainment industry.”


Make no mistake: MBA students – even those who chose other programs – have notice the So-Cal contrast. “Most of us cannot achieve great things in a vacuum,” argues Catherine Dávila, a soccer magnate and actress who paints and plays piano in her spare time.I spoke with students and alumni from several other schools and more than half of them, unprompted, sighed and said some version of “My school is better than any other school…but man, that USC network is the best.” USC students are embodiments of this idea and of the notion that networking isn’t something icky or forced, it’s building a community you care about.”

The Trojan Network doesn’t just encompass past graduates. Looking back, Brandt Hill, a 2017 MBA To Watch, was struck by how his graduating class was already following the alumni’s example with their classmates. “Whether it is through endless practice interviews, 2nd year mentors, or peer-to- peer tutoring,” he explains, “the Marshall student body constantly strives to serve one another. Beyond service to one another, I was moved by the degree to which volunteerism and community service is lived among Marshall students. Marshall thinks more expansively about community service than any other MBA program I researched.”

Hill’s classmate – and 2017 Best & Brightest MBA – Mollie Hartung enjoyed a similar experience during her time at Marshall. “This is a group of people who actively look out for each other.”


The Class of 2019 has some big shoes to fill. Call it an unconventional grouping populated by artists and athletes as much as engineers and entrepreneurs. Dávila once appeared on an episode of Mad Men, while Jack Lin, a lover of popping dance, has popped with Suga Pop and Popin Pete from the Electric Boogaloos. France’s Clarysse Blanchard may be a project engineer by trade, but she has also surfed in 10 countries and performed musically in two. Perhaps she could carpool jam with Anita Gardea, a classically trained mezzo-soprano who is known to be “belting out show tunes from soundtracks ranging from The Phantom of the Opera to Hamilton” when she is stuck in LA traffic.

That’s just the start. Daniel Kaplan once struck out 21 batters in a game. At the University of San Diego, Mason Mills was named the Pioneer Football League Offensive Player of the Year before moving on professionally to quarterback the Winnipeg Blue Bombers. Linda Zhang hiked to the bottom of the Grand Canyon…and then climbed back up the 13 miles to the top. How is this for an upbeat sense of humor? ”When I was 17, I survived a serious car accident which injured the parts of my brain that control emotions, personality, and short-term memory,” shares Marilyn Vaughn. “Overnight I went from an introvert to an extrovert!”

The class has already notched some impressive accomplishments long before they joined the Trojan Network. Despite her brain injuries, Vaughn went on to become a news producer in Louisville, where she spearheaded coverage of national issues like the “burial services for Louisville-native Muhammad Ali, University of Louisville men’s basketball escort scandal, and Kim Davis’ same-sex marriage license refusal.” Dávila started a women’s soccer club in Los Angeles, which quickly mushroomed to 10 teams and 150 players (including semi-professionals). In the Marine Corps, Kaczynski beat 1-in-30 odds in becoming a jet pilot…despite no aviation experience going in. If you think those were daunting odds, just try being Blanchard, whose biggest achievement was being selected to work in a country where women were treated as second rate citizens.

Tommy Trojan

“I was not only the youngest member of the team,” she admits, “but I was also the only woman. The 30+ men I was working with on site were all masters in their field, with above 20 years of experience in the construction of power plants. Managing the client relationship and being able to offer recommendations that would be heard was a huge accomplishment for me.”


The Class of 2019 represents a banner year at Marshall beyond just nearly 400 more applications. The school’s acceptance rate also tightened from 33% to 29%, placing it in the same company as Cornell Johnson, Carnegie Mellon Tepper, and Emory Goizueta. Academically, the 225-member class shined, as a surplus of applications enabled the program to be more selective. The class boasted a 703 average GMAT that tied Texas McCombs, which traditionally places 10 spots higher than Marshall in the U.S. News ranking. As average GMATs improved, so too did average GPAs, which rose from 3.37 to 3.48, another sign that Marshall’s prospects are trending upwards.

Demographically, the class remained relatively consistent. Like the previous year, 32% of the class is comprised of women. At the same time, the percentage of U.S. minority students crept up from 13% to 16%, though the number of international students slipped a point to 31%. In fact, the only worrying stat involved the number of countries represented in the class, which plummeted from 30 to 22.

The 2019 Class also spotlights a slight shift in the types of students drawn to Marshall. Overall, 32% of the class majored in business as undergrads, up five points from the previous year. This difference, however, was made up by economics majors, who comprise 10% of the class – down five points from 2018. Otherwise, the numbers mirrored the year before, as social sciences and humanities again encompassing 28% of the class and the sciences again taking up 7%. By the same token, financial services no longer represents the largest bloc of the class. Instead, it constitutes 10% of the incoming, down seven points. Instead, technology and media and entertainment take high honors at 14% a piece, up a point each. Consulting breaks into double digits at 10%, followed by healthcare (7%), manufacturing (7%), government (7%), manufacturing (7%), and consumer products (5%).

Go to next page to see 12 in-depth profiles of USC Marshall students from the Class of 2019.

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