Meet Minnesota Carlson’s MBA Class Of 2019

Some of the MBA students in the Class of 2019 at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management

Every applicant has the same worry. ‘If I head to business school,’ they think, ‘I’m going to lose out. I’m sacrificing two years of income. I’m forking over a huge amount of money. After graduation, I have to start all over again – even if I land a job. Why do an MBA? Why take the risk?’

At the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, the answer can be summed up in one word: experience. In many ways, the program is designed for student-company partnerships – the kind where MBAs build their resumes by solving real issues in their field. In fact, the Carlson curriculum features the equivalent to two or more internships beyond the summer. In other words, a Carlson MBA builds resumes alongside skill sets – making graduates all the more attractive.


How attractive? By August, 96% of the 2017 Class had already landed jobs. Good ones too. Look no further than the 2016 Class, which averaged $130,914 to start. Or how about the 2012 Class? Their pay has jumped by $55,200 since earning their MBAs. Add to that, Carlson’s intensive coaching acts as a two year onboarding process. Think of it as a safety net – supportive champions who can close gaps and soften edges before the stakes rise after graduation. And they can do all this in the Twin Cities – home to 17 Fortune 500 companies. In other words, students can tap into a steady streams of jobs, networking, and expertise within a 20 mile radius.

Why do an MBA at Carlson? Simple, it is a sure thing that pays off fast. This complete package is what inspired the Class of 2019 to come to the Land of 10,000 Lakes. “Apart from being one of the top schools in the U.S., the proximity to great companies, and having a small class size with world-class tutors, Carlson is the school that wanted me the most and that sealed the deal for me,” writes Olawale Ojo-Fati, a risk manager from Nigeria.

This sense of feeling welcomed is consistent across the 2019 Class. Lilly Chow, a digital marketing maven who studied sociology and public policy at Duke, was impressed by the “genuine care” shown by Carlson long before she enrolled. Rather than treating her like “applicant #240,” she recalls how the community took the time to learn about her background and interests. And this “TLC,” she says, has carried over since she arrived.

Michael Moriarty, a second-year at Minnesota Carlson listens to a presenter at Facebook headquarters. Photo by Wally Agboola for Minnesota Carlson


“In addition to that warm feeling of being valued, Carlson gives you a supportive, tightly-knit community, a robust network of successful alumni in the Midwest to help you with your professional pursuits,” she explains. “Carlson’s rooting for you and your success, which can be felt from day one, and it’s an incredible feeling.”

Beth Lokken also describes Carlson as “the only program where I felt like more than a number.” A native of nearby Anoka, Lokken started with AmeriCorps before becoming a self-employed teacher in Istanbul. Soon after, she earned an M.A. in international education and spent four years in the non-profit sector. Carlson’s embrace of her non-traditional background, coupled with the “personalized” approach of the Graduate Business Career Center (GBCC), reinforced that heading home was her best bet to make a successful career transition. And the school’s “personal touch” didn’t hurt either.

“I was living in DC and a Carlson staffer in town for an event heard that I was pregnant, so she brought Carlson onesies for the baby,” Lokken exclaims.


You’ll find quite the class at Carlson this fall. Their backgrounds range from a Norwegian process engineer at Shell (Aleksander Reinertsen) to a Stanford-trained army veteran who started his own company to served elders and young people in Native American communities (Pedro Reyes). Think of it as a class who sees no job as too big or no role as beneath them. Shannon McCormick, a Harvard grad who worked in information technology and played competitive water polo for a decade, calls herself “a driven, level-headed team player who rolls up her sleeves to get work done.” Jenna M. Johnson – who coached green belts as a Six Sigma Black Belt at 3M – also describes herself as someone who is “willing to get my hands dirty.” In that respect, you can expect Atul Fotedar to be among those who’ll quickly raise his hand. A competitive marathoner and cyclist, Fotedar will bring a certain versatility to the class: “I am a self-determined thought leader who is passionate and argumentative yet culturally sensitive.”

Listening to how Napoleon Howell describes himself, you’d probably imagine him as a decorated athlete with phrases like “goal-driven,” “passionately tenacious,” “courageously decisive,” and an “intensely disciplined force of life.” And you’d be right, as he was once a national swimmer who spent a half dozen years on the Trinidad and Tobago national team. This competitive drive has served him well at work too. At Securian, he spearheaded a successful multi-million dollar initiative that was sponsored by the company CEO. How impressive is he? “John Thompson (Chairman of Microsoft) told me that I remind him of himself when he was young,” Howell shares.

What does the class see as some of their biggest accomplishments? Ojo-Fati, a biologist by training, managed to make the leap from scientist to banker at a top commercial institution. His secret to success? Like McCormick and Johnson, he put his nose to the grindstone. “I had to enroll for an accounting and finance professional degree and combined study with a 50 hour weekly work schedule.” During her tenure, Johnson aided her colleagues at 3M to win eight major global corporate awards for operational excellence and quality control. She wasn’t alone: When Tiana Birawer served as the president of the Twin Cities chapter of Society of Marketing Professional Services, it was honored as the best chapter nationwide among 60 competitors.


Whatever you do, don’t worry whether Lokken can transition into whatever career she chooses. Just look at her time as a freelance teacher in Istanbul. “I started with one student and established a clientele base through word-of-mouth and advertisements. This was with mediocre Turkish skills and before smartphones, but I learned how to navigate several forms of public transportation to traverse all corners of a city of 15 million, building my confidence and independence along the way.”

You can feel this same confidence among the Carlson administration. Why not? During the 2016-2017 intake, the full-time MBA program boosted applications by 11%, with the number increasing to 665. What’s more, the program became more selective, with less than a third of applicants receiving acceptance letters (down from 45.2% last year). Overall, the class includes 88 students – including 14 students pursuing dual degrees, which represents a decline of 20 students despite stepped up demand.

Carlson’s Linh Giles

The largest segment of the class – 57% – hails from the Midwest. This makes a 12% decrease over last year, further reinforcing that Carlson is hardly a regional player. The west and southwest represent another 11% of the class, with international students taking up a fourth of the seats – a major upswing over last year’s 16% mark. The percentage of women in the 2019 Class held steady at 31%, while the percentage of minority students doubled to 16%. Long regarded as one of the most military-friendly programs, Carlson veterans account for an 18% share of the class.


Academically, Carlson upheld its usual standards, with the class arriving with a 690 median GMAT – the same as the class before. A year ago, social science majors displaced engineering as the largest bloc of undergraduate majors in the class. However, that was short-lived blip rather than a long-term trend. The Class of 2019 features a 24% share of engineers, up six points. At the same time, social sciences slipped three points to 17%, with math and sciences holding steady at 16%. The big loser, however, was economics, whose share was nearly sliced in half to 7%. Business majors represented the second biggest share of first-years at 20%.

Overall, 40% of the class majored in STEM-related fields. Not surprisingly, the school is catering to students in these areas. Notably, the program launched a dual MBA/MSBA degree in 2016, says Linh Gilles who heads admissions and recruiting for the program. As a result, the program boasts eight dual degrees, which cover areas like public policy, pharma, healthcare administration, law, and applied economics. In addition, Gilles notes, the program has increasingly infused quantitative concepts throughout the curriculum.

“Analytics is now more present throughout our program and we are expanding coursework and elective opportunities,” Gilles tells Poets&Quants in a statement. “It is a competitive differentiator for our students as our recruiters and partners are telling us there is a real need for business leaders with strong capabilities in data analytics.”


Gilles is also quick to note that 17% of Carlson grads chose the healthcare industry, second-highest among leading MBA programs. She views a new grant from the UnitedHealth Foundation as a game changer that will reinforce the school’s market leadership in the area. “The grant will enable us to build on our existing strengths in healthcare education and placement and do an even better job of preparing the talent who will influence the future of healthcare,” she says. “The UnitedHealth grant is focused on the intersection of healthcare and analytics and will allow us to expand our already unrivaled experiential learning opportunities. It will also allow us to create more opportunities for MBA students to engage with our faculty, students across the university, and the healthcare community through the creation of a data “sandbox” and a healthcare “hackathon” to tackle industry issues.”

Go to page 2 to see in-depth profiles of incoming Carlson MBA students.

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