Benjamin Franklin didn’t earn a fancy degree from Harvard or Yale. In fact, his formal education ended at 12 when he became an apprentice printer. That didn’t mean Franklin quit learning. Instead, he took command of his learning by reading, questioning, imagining, traveling, experimenting, debating, and synthesizing. He was a man in constant motion, never bound to one discipline, who learned from engaging and taking action.
Franklin’s learn-by-doing spirit is alive and well at the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Long known as a pioneer in experiential learning, Ross’ MBA curriculum is geared towards students banding together on demanding projects that solve real world problems. One example is the annual Leadership Crisis Challenge. Here, students experience the pressures faced by senior executives as they role play a 24-hour crisis. Think of it as a primer how to face a worst case scenario. This includes being prepared to answer media trap questions and defend their strategies to ornery and skeptical board members.
HANDS-ON APPROACH PUTS STUDENTS “IN THE DRIVER’S SEAT”
Such offerings roused applicants like Daniel Semaan, a medical student whose curiosity about healthcare consulting and entrepreneurship pushed him to join Ross’ MBA Class of 2019.
“Participating in this 24-hour crisis simulation gives students first-hand experience into handling stressful, time-sensitive situations that company executives must often navigate,” he asserts. “After learning more about these curricular and extracurricular offerings on interview day, l knew that I would leave Ross with a well-rounded education that prepared me to successfully navigate my future.”
Kettianne Cadet was also drawn to Ross’ hands-on philosophy. An aspiring, human capital consultant, she lists MAP – the Multidisciplinary Action Project – as one Ross tradition that stirred her imagination. Long known as the program’s defining experience, Cadet describes MAP as a seven-week consulting project where first years partner with leading organizations – often overseas – to apply what they learned in their core courses. An internship before the internship, MAP reinforces these lessons in a team environment that both taps into their talents and forces them out of their comfort zones.
“I already have a master’s degree,” Cadet explains, “so coming back to school for me goes beyond just learning in the classroom. In fact, I learn best by doing – and Ross was the only MBA program that proved and demonstrated its commitment to action based learning through offering a multitude of opportunities.” Cadet’s classmate, Diana Cruz, experienced a similar dynamic. “My most meaningful learning experiences have been when I was in the driver’s seat,” shares the strategy analyst from Pacific Gas & Electric Company. “Ross takes experiential learning to a new level.”
FULL-FLEDGED COMMITMENT TO AN INTERDISCIPLINARY APPROACH
Alas, many MBA programs build a strong hands-on component into its curriculum. The difference, however, is rooted in Ross’ deep integration of other disciplines into its courses. The program is strong across the board. In U.S. News’ 2017 survey of business school deans and administrators, respondents ranked Ross among the Top 10 programs in 9 out of 10 specializations evaluated – a testament to the school’s across-the-board excellence A general management program by temperament, Ross has also built what Dean Scott DeRue calls “cross-cutting structures” to reinforce a cross-curricular culture in a 2017 interview with Poets&Quants. These include maintaining committees from across both the business school and the university that foster sharing and collaboration. In hiring, the program also targets scholars who show a “passion and curiosity” for solving intricate business problems using a range of tools from diverse disciplines. This approach naturally trickles down to the students through signatures like MAP – where solutions may require sociological or technological elements as much as finance and marketing.
“Companies are looking for people who are not only functional experts, but can work across those functions to create business value,” DeRue notes. “Across our undergraduate and graduate programs, that’s not only our aspiration, But it’s also our commitment.”
And Ross has made good on its commitment with the Class of 2019, where a love of leadership and operations is often coupled with a commitment to community impact, CleanTech, and social justice. It is an incoming class that cut its teeth in organizations as diverse as the United Nations Foundation, Google, the White House, and Girls Who Code. And they are a class of big personalities with big dreams. Maria Natalia Costa, who spearheaded Gillette’s Brazilian marketing efforts during the 2016 Summer Olympics, calls herself an “evangelist of intersection of empathy and tech to develop products that make a positive impact.” In the same vein, Allison Inge Bernstein is a “capacity builder that develops the skillset of organizations to create sustainable jobs and economic opportunities.” And keep your eyes on Kashay Sanders,” a boundlessly curious organizational design nerd committed to transforming companies by cultivating exceptional, inspired talent.”
A DOPPELGANGER? THAT’S LUDACRIS!
Their grand designs may be to change the world, but their life stories make for great coffee chats. Hannah Smalley has backpacked solo across 18 countries, while Tsering Sherpa has climbed Mount Kilimanjaro. Brushes with celebrities? Gregory Phillips’ college band once opened for Smash Mouth. Inge Bernstein has interviewed Ice Cube. And how about this for serendipity? Cadet once walked up to a guy in a jazz bar because he looked like Ludacris’ doppelgänger. But the joke was on her – it was actually Ludacris! Years ago, you would’ve found Keshav Agrawal performing in street theater. Fast forward to now and you’ll find him helping out in Syrian refugee camps…when he isn’t too busy working as an assistant vice president at Credit Suisse, that is.
The Class of 2019 also stands out for taking risks, growing organizations, and giving back. Dayna Hine was responsible for building the organizational infrastructure for Girls Who Code, a nonprofit that provides tech training, networking, and support to 40,000 girls in all 50 states. Cadet founded Women with Purpose (WWP), a startup that has delivered professional development to hundreds of women in the Boston area. And Sanders was among the early leaders of Voice for Girls, a social enterprise that has furnished life skills and English language training to over 30,000 women and girls in India – up from the 3,000 it served just four years ago.
That’s just the tip of the iceberg. Inge Bernstein ranked among Google’s top salespeople, but really made her name by leading a pilot program targeting minority-owned businesses that produced over $30 million dollars in economic impact. Semaan actually helped to develop a “minor” at the University of Michigan’s Medical School that focuses on entrepreneurship and innovation. Despite knowing little about construction, Cruz shouldered a relocation project, where she “worked with architects, interior designers, IT leaders and construction managers to successfully move 400 employees into a brand-new building –fully equipped with solar panels, a state-of-the-art energy training facility and a fitness center.” It was the definition of a stretch assignment par excellence, one that forced her to weigh details ranging from insulation and evacuation. She also considers it to be the pinnacle of her career…so far. “To this day, I still have my hard hat and steel toe boots,” she jokes.
Let’s not forget Phillips, who most recently worked in the White House in the Office of Presidential Correspondence. In this role, he helped to push President Obama’s energy and environmental positions in replies to letters. However, the biggest moment for this DC native and blues guitarist came when he received the proverbial tap of the shoulder during a crisis. “I am particularly proud to have been involved in the planning and execution of President Obama’s visit to Flint, Michigan, specifically in helping to choose the constituents that the President would meet with on his trip,” he notes.
MOST DIVERSE AND ACADEMICALLY ACCOMPLISHED CLASS AT ROSS EVER
Ross has been on a roll over the past year. Look no further than the Class of 2016, which set all-time highs in several key outputs. Notably, the class produced median starting play of $150,606, third to only Harvard and Stanford – and higher than regional and philosophical competitors like Northwestern Kellogg, Chicago Booth, and MIT Sloan. Just as impressive, 98.4% of the class had landed job offers within three months of graduation– a tribute to how Ross fares against rival schools (with Amazon, Microsoft and Deloitte ranking as the top consumers of Big Blue talent).
Go to next page to read profiles of incoming Ross students.