Meet The Rice Jones MBA Class Of 2019

Some of the incoming MBA students in the Class of 2019 at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business

Business school applicants love stories. Who isn’t inspired when a candidate beats the odds to land that coveted acceptance letter? Numbers tell a story too. They may lack engaging characters or clear plot lines, but the lessons are there nonetheless. When it comes to a numbers narrative, Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business has quite the tale to tell.

Potential MBAs have certainly taken notice. Look no further than the MBA Class of 2019. During the 2016-2017 cycle, Jones drew an all-time high 813 applications – 11% better than the previous year — for its small intake of under 120 students. Impressive, no doubt, but it was the quality of candidates who stood out. This year’s class boasts an average GMAT of 711 – 8 points higher than Texas’ flagship program at McCombs. What’s more, the score represents a 21-point improvement over the 2018 Class – and 35 points better than the most recent graduating class.


Peter Rodriguez, who joined the program as dean in 2016, attributes part of this success on tweaking the process. “We already had a pool of students who were quite good,” he points out in an interview with Poets&Quants. “What we focused on was yielding and being more selective in our choices.”

In turn, the school made good on its goal: tightening the bottom of the GMAT range so 80% of accepted students scored from 660-760. From there, Jones pulled out its secret weapon: financial aid.

According to Rodriguez, 80% of the MBA class receives financial aid – one of the highest rates in the country. This generosity is rooted in Rice’s mission, which is to draw the top minds and pair them with untapped talent that may lack the finances to continue their education. This has created a virtuous cycle – both inside the business school and within the university at large – where talent draws even bigger talent over time.

Rice Dean Peter Rodriguez

“We’re scholarship heavily,” Rodriguez reveals. “We tend to base that on academic merit…We try to reach out early to students, offer an award and make it as financially affordable as possible. I think that’s been effective and I also think it helps us get the attention of students who have the opportunity to go to a lot of great places.”


The incoming class’ 711 GMAT average reverberates far beyond the Lone Star State, however. It also vaults Jones ahead of established powers like the London Business School and Duke Fuqua in the race for talent. Rice even came within two points of Virginia Darden – an academic powerhouse and former home of Dean Rodriguez. Long regarded as one of the best-kept secrets in the MBA ranks, Jones’ strengths have traditionally centered on academic rigor, individual attention, and entrepreneurial prowess. Now, the school is itching to step up in weight class – and possesses the vision, leadership, and resources to do just that.

“We could be the highest touch, most intimate, highly selective program in the country,” Rodriguez argues. “We think that we could easily be Top 15 in terms of the level of talent and our selectivity, but at a scale that may be only half of our peer set…That combination is where we find our sweet spot. Part of what we wanted to do was to be more deliberate in our strategy to be highly selective and assemble a group of 120 full-time students who could go just about anywhere and could certainly go to Top 10 schools.”

At its heart, Jones is a tight-knit small community, with a 9-to-1 student-to-faculty ratio and close engagement between students, alumni, and the Houston business community at large. This sense of community – which can be so hard to quantify in numbers – is easy to recognize in stories shared by the Class of 2019.

Take Dapo Orimoloye, a design engineer and project manager from Nigeria who admits that he spent a lot of time and money visiting various MBA programs before applying. For him, Jones stood out – and it wasn’t even close. “I did not connect with any group as much as I connected with the people at Rice, and it was not accidental,” he explains. “The MBA recruiting team taught me tips and skills that were applicable to any program I was interested in. The professors were accessible and present at the school event, showing a keen interest in each potential candidate despite their tight schedules. The students and alums were willing to have as many coffee chats as needed for me to learn about the program. Naturally, once I got that personal call about my offer to join the MBA Class of 2019 at Rice, I closed every other open application.”


You can bet most of Orimoloye’s classmates did the same. In fact, the Class of 2019 features an impressive mix of Houston royalty teamed with promising leaders (often from tech and energy backgrounds). Ashley Arciero, for example, previously worked as a flight controller and project engineer at NASA. Her fellow Houstonian, Tomiko Toyota Knopp, started off as a sous chef before managing international trade missions for two Houston mayors. After studying chemical engineering at the U.S. Military Academy, Donald Gustavson eventually found his way into the management program at Halliburton. If you want versatility, look up Flavia Sacerdoti, who went from marketing Huggies at Kimberly Clark to evaluating pension plans at ExxonMobil.

Rice MBA candidate in class.

Such spirits are hard to sum up in a few words – but the Class of 2019 was game to try anyway. David Romulo Cisneros loves “Seafood, Tex-Mex, Family” (hopefully not in that order) and is fascinated with how to make buildings “smarter, greener, and better looking.” John Blake calls himself a “world-traveled educator” and “aspiring quant nerd” who is “committed to becoming a role model for LGBT youth and POC.” Want intimidating? Here’s Vishruti Jakhar in a nutshell:Ultra-deep water Drilling Expert, Mountaineer, Photographer, Off-beat Traveler, Avid Reader, Passionate, Self-Driven, Decisive, Curious, Believer.” If the class wants a mission statement, perhaps they should tap Gustavson to write it. His self-description? “I like to solve problems and try not to create any.”

Looking for a splash of Texas toughness? This class possesses it in spades. Toyota Knopp had visited every continent by the time she graduated from college. Blake performed at the Seoul Queer Culture Festival (Seoul Pride), “with South Korea’s first English-language, LGBT-affirming Christian organization, of which I was a founding member.” And Jakhar earned the moniker “mountain goat” from her mountain climbing peers for good reason. “The journey to climbing 20,000+ feet peaks has been anything but smooth sailing. From burnt shoes to hypothermia, climbing for 15 hours straight to covering over 26 horizontal miles and 7,000 vertical feet distance in a single day, my mountaineering learning experience has increased exponentially.”

Then again, Jakhar is accustomed to rough conditions. Fact is, she was a “pioneer female” on many drill ships, where she gradually won over her male peers with a mix of smarts, spunk, and stamina…not to mention a mastery of the “soft skills of active listening and proactive training.” Jakhar wasn’t alone in leaving wherever she went in better shape than she found it. At Vodcom, Orimoloye led the design of the firm’s broadband wireless network. Then again, Arciero’s work on the International Space Station is certain to catch recruiters’ attention this fall. At NASA, she leveled several operational constraints with a plan to modify safety system requirements that increased flexibility without adding risk. “The change was accepted by ISS crewmembers, operations, and program management, and I was awarded the Silver Snoopy Award by the Astronaut Office in recognition of all the work involved,” she adds.


 The Class of 2019 also shined in measures beyond applications and GMAT scores. 118 members strong – where just only 1 in every 4 applicants was ultimately accepted – the class also experience a surge in women. The percentage rose from 22% to 34% in just one year – a bump of 14 women overall. There was also an uptick in underrepresented minorities at the school, a population that rose a point to 10%. At the same time, the percentage of international students climbed 6.5% to 31%, with the class hailing from 15 countries overall.

Rice also ranks among the most quant-friendly MBA programs. For the second straight year, 62% of the class earned undergraduate degrees in STEM fields, a higher mark than traditionally STEM-centered programs like MIT Sloan (59%) and Carnegie Mellon Tepper (52%). Business majors account for another 22% of the class – a steep dive from its 41% clip with the Class of 2017. Looking at professional backgrounds, energy held the largest number of seats – 38% – little surprise for a city dubbed “the energy capital of the world.” No other segment even breaks double digits in the Class of 2019, though finance comes close at 9%. Government, technology, manufacturing, and consulting each comprise 7% of the class, with education, health care, and retain each taking up another 6%.

Go to next page to read profiles of incoming Jones students.

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