Meet USC Marshall’s MBA Class of 2019

Student’s Bridge at USC Marshall


 If there is a theme to the 2017-2018 school year, it would revolve around diversity and inclusion. According to Anne Ziemniak, assistant dean and director of the full-time MBA program, such issues are being brought increasingly to the forefront of the program’s classwork and extracurriculars.

“To support an inclusive environment,” Ziemniak writes, “Marshall has undertaken several curricular and student life initiatives. Curricular changes include increasing the number of cases used in MBA core courses which feature diverse protagonists, and greater emphasis on current events that highlight diverse business leaders to support course content. Student programming initiatives have included workshops to address unconscious bias, diversity training at MBA orientation, adding a diversity officer position to the Marshall Graduate Student Association, and increased staff support for international students.  Students who join the Marshall MBA program will benefit from these initiatives through enhanced personal and professional growth, which will better prepare them for doing business in the global marketplace upon graduation.”

The school isn’t stopping there, devoting further resources to reinforcing its traditional strengths in professional development. “In early 2018,” Ziemniak adds, “USC Marshall will release several MBA Academic/Career Road Maps which will guide students in aligning their career goals with curricular choices and student activities.  These Road Maps are based on data collected from students who have successfully navigated the MBA Program and entered their chosen field post-MBA, and will allow future students to make educated choices about their course selection, community involvement, and career development activities.”


USC’s Marshall School of Business

Although Los Angelinos brag about their 292 days of sunshine each year, the Marshall program maintains some wrinkles that aren’t for the faint of heart. For one, classes start in mid-July, with a four-week summer term that tackles subjects feared by most MBAs: accounting, statistics, and microeconomics. The silver lining of course, is that students get a jump on the all-important recruiting process.

“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,” points out Dean James Ellis in a 2015 interview with Poets&Quants. 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.”

Aside from its reputation for academic rigor, Marshall is also renowned for its global focus – no surprise given Los Angeles’ reputation as the Gateway to the East – a moniker bolstered by the metro area housing two of the 20 largest container ports in the world. For the past two decades, the program’s unifying experience has been its mandatory PRIME Advantage (Pacific Rim International Management Education) course. The first experiential program of its kind – it celebrated its 20-year anniversary in 2017 – PRIME opens during second half of the year with a deep dive into overseas cultures and markets. The highlight of course, however, is a capstone project. Here, first-years partner with global firms, eventually spending 10 days overseas in locales like Buenos Aires, Tokyo, and Hong Kong getting hands-on exposure to the practices and nuances they studied in classes. Oh, and project teams deliver presentations to senior executives as well – including Marshall alums on occasion (no pressure there).


It would be fair to call Marshall a value-driven business school. Like Haas, USC maintains a four-point cultural affirmation that it calls “Marshall Values.” They include Transformational Courage (Think big and strive for excellence); Collaborative Ambition (Work together and respect each other’s talents); Impactful Service (Act with purpose and give back); and Unwavering Integrity (Lead by example and hold selves accountable).

These values are embodied in the school’s efforts on behalf of Challenge for Charity (C4C). A nonprofit, C4C runs an annual competition where West Coast MBA programs like Stanford, Berkeley Haas, and UCLA Anderson duking it out for the Golden Briefcase, which symbolizes a program’s commitment to volunteering in the larger community. Starting in the 2009-2010 school year, Marshall scored seven consecutive wins before the streak was broken last year. During that time, Marshall students volunteered over 36,000 hours and raised $1.2 million dollars. In 2015-2016 alone, MBA students gave 6,400 hours – roughly two days a piece – to local organizations like the Special Olympics of Southern California, Junior Achievement of Southern California and A Better LA.

Such production debunks the popular notion of USC as the University of Spoiled Children. “USC Marshall places a strong emphasis on giving back to the community, community involvement and the power of teamwork,” adds Bouffides, ”Our tagline says it all, USC Marshall: Greatness Shared.”

Santa Monica Pier

Of course, Marshall’s location doesn’t hurt, either. Blessed with a diverse economy that ranks among the best in aerospace, entertainment, and logistics, Los Angeles has cultivated a reputation as the next great startup and tech hub. “Silicon Beach” – a city-wide swath of tech firms with its deepest concentration in Santa Monica, Venice, and Playa Vista. The Beach has already nurtured powerhouse firms like Tinder, Snap, TrueCar, Hulu, The Honest Company, and Riot Games. In addition, major players like Google, Facebook, and Netflix have set down deep roots in the area.


Such companies create natural synergies, where a stalwart like Disney or Warner Brothers would make a natural partner for a video game producer – where technical skill cannot hide holes in storytelling and direction. Not surprisingly, this explosion has attracted venture capitalists, who ponied up $3 billion dollars for LA-based startups in 2016. While Abbot Kinney Boulevard may never replace Rodeo Drive in the public imagination, Los Angeles offers an advantage that could sustain this momentum: It produces more engineers than any other metro in the United States.

That’s something to consider for the Class of 2019, who will undoubtedly be wading into Silicon Beach in the near future. In the meantime, first-years are focused on simply fitting in, passing their classes, and figuring out what they want to do. Dávila, for one, is still weighing what stirs her brain and creative juices. For Ahmed, a successful year would be one where he could look back and realize he has become “a better version of myself for having gone to business school.” Similarly Gardea would like to end her first year by bringing fresh perspectives to her classmates. At the same time, Blanchard sums up success in one word: impact.

As Matthew Kaczynski looks ahead to the summer, he boils success down to something that eludes normal benchmarks – but make Marshall MBAs special nonetheless. Potential is something that can’t be quantified in any matrices posted on a school’s admission website, but is felt the moment you step foot on campus as a new student,” he says. “However great it is, sometimes it takes our peers to push us to reach our full potential. In that sense, I hope the measure of my success will be in how much I helped my fellow classmates become strong leaders, empathetic listeners, and enduring learners. Being a Trojan is as much about celebrating each other’s achievements as it is about accomplishing personal goals. It’s about empowering each other to reach great heights, together, rather than apart.”

Fight on, Class of 2019!


To read profiles of 12 incoming USC Marshall students — along with their advice on tackling the GMAT, applications, and interviews — click on the links below.

Student Hometown Undergrad School Last Employer
 Sammy Ahmed  San Francisco, CA  University of California, Berkeley  Twitter
 Clarysse Blanchard  Paris, France  Ecole des Mines  EDF
 Catherine Dávila  Los Angeles, CA  New York University  Divisadero Pictures
 Anita Gardea  Arcadia, CA  Arizona State University  AArete LLC
 Matthew Kaczynski  Kawkawlin, Michigan  University of Michigan  U.S. Marine Corps
 Daniel Kaplan  Santa Barbara, CA  Dickinson College  Quality Start Consulting
 Sam Eunsaem Kim  Seoul, South Korea  Yonsei University  Roland Berger
 Liang-Yun (Jack) Lin  Taipei, Taiwan  National Taiwan University  Maxim Integrated
 Mason Mills  Coronado, CA  University of San Diego  Robert Half Japan
 Marilyn Vaughn  Madison, AL  University of Alabama  WHAS 11 News
 Arthur Yang  Bainbridge Island, WA  University of Washington  United States Navy
 Linda Zhang  Naperville, IL  Washington University in St. Louis  Mars, Inc.

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