Meet the Michigan Ross MBA Class of 2020

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

One way the program is doing this, Kwon shares, is through its Living Business Leadership Experience (LBLE). In this course, student teams partner with real companies to launch and run new business units. This includes full decision-making responsibility for areas like marketing, operations, supply chain, finance, and eCommerce. Not only do students practice what they learn in class, but they learn how these functions interrelate. More than that, Kwon adds, students encounter the pace and pressures of really running a business.

“One of the coolest things about it is that students get to see and experience first-hand how tough decision-making can be. You don’t always have complete information or buy-in from all stakeholders. How do you manage in the face of ambiguity? These are the kinds of challenges that students work through in a real business.”


The LBLE program started in 2017 as part of Ross’ legendary Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP). Rooted in a partnership with Shinola – a Detroit-based luxury goods brand featuring watches, leather goods, and jewelry – Ross students successfully launched the company’s headphones line. It has since expanded to seven companies – with the goal being a dozen – that range from Ford Motors to the NRP Group, a leader in affordable housing. Consider the LBLE program – and the start, invest, advise, and lead framework in general – as a win-win; employers gain expertise as students accrue resume-ready experience – if not internships and offers from LBLE participants. That was a big part of its appeal to Jane Roberts, who is positioning herself for a leadership role after graduation.

“Ross’ dedication to giving students the opportunity to apply course material to benefit real organizations. MAP is the most obvious example, but the more recent partnership with Shinola is evidence of a continued emphasis on hands-on learning. This is a key factor for me because I want to enter my internship and full-time position with confidence in my ability to apply models and systems learned in class.”

MBA students in a Michigan’s Ross School of Business classroom

DeRue calls it “building businesses inside the business school.” And he sees it as the next evolution of the business school experience – one that goes hand-in-hand with intensive faculty and staff support.  “What we’re talking about is instead of reading about a case study of something that happened in the past, you are the case study. And so you’re developing the business tools and skills, but you’re also going through this very personal transformation process. To enable that personal transformation to happen, you have to surround that with the coaching, the feedback, the assessment that’s necessary to make sure we’re learning from that experience.”


Along with experiential learning, “impact” is another concept commonly associated with the Ross School of Business. Make that “positive impact” – a desire to use business tools to reduce gaps both economically and socially. According to DeRue, 17% of first-years enter the MBA program to pursue impact – and the school offers over 100 courses, clubs and events to that end. The first-year program even opens up with the Ross Impact Challenge, where student teams spend a week in Detroit supporting community service projects. Kwon notes that students are increasingly steering themselves towards impact-oriented careers. It is an area, Kwon says, that serves as a cornerstone of the MBA program.

“We’re seeing an increasing number of students interested in impact-oriented careers,” she tells P&Q. “Our mission — to build a better world through business — is closely aligned with students’ goals. Our dean created a Business + Impact initiative to broaden students’ access to impact-related opportunities across the University of Michigan campus. Ross students have the opportunity to work with students from the schools of public policy, social work, urban planning, information, public health, education, and others on issues like poverty alleviation, healthcare access, and sustainability.”

This mission – and its execution at Ross – was a major selling point to the Class of 2020. “Ross was the school best positioned for me to explore and expand upon my interests in sports marketing, technology, and social impact,” says Angad Banga. “The entrepreneur and venture capital enthusiast in me gets excited to participate in the student-run investment funds through the Zell Lurie Institute. In addition, I look forward to collaborating with my peers to create social impact solutions that I can test and refine with the exuberant University of Michigan fan base.”

Fernando Palhares echoes his classmate’s enthusiasm, citing the dual degree in sustainability as the tipping point that led him to Michigan. “Ross has crafted a well-rounded dual-degree program with the U-M School of Environment and Sustainability, which will help me acquire the technical skills required to succeed in a sustainability job on top of expanding my network of like-minded professionals.”

Exterior of Ross School of Business


That said, impact isn’t just centered around the social sector, Kwon points out. “One of the great things about Ross is that students get to work with and for real organizations that have a challenge – while they’re students, not just read cases or identify solutions for challenges that have already happened. So they’re not only gaining exposure and experience, they’re also able to make an impact.”

This 1-2 punch of experiential learning and impact is also quite popular with employers. “Our MBA grads go to top companies across the country, and the world,” Kwon adds. “Last year, more than 50 percent of the class went into consulting and tech. Nearly a third of the class went to the west coast, 20 percent to Chicago, and almost eight percent outside the U.S. Our top five employers were Amazon, McKinsey, BCG, Deloitte, and Microsoft, with 131 students going to these companies alone with internship or full-time offers. The bottom line is that even though we’re not located in a major city, the companies that MBAs want to work for come here and actively recruit our students.”

According to the school, 87% of Ross MBA graduates are career switchers. That’s another reason why the program offers over 200 consulting projects each year. This learning-by-doing and theory-into-practice model is the basis behind one of Ross’ most popular events: The Crisis Challenge. A 24 hour competition, student reams role play a simulated crisis, where they must develop strategies and defend them before board members, customers, and journalists (played by faculty and even alumni). Students can also gain real world experience by managing funds ranging from tech (Zell Lurie Commercialization Fund) to impact (Social Venture Fund) to banking (Wolverine Venture Fund and Maize and Blue Fund). For students looking to support non-profits, there is the Center for Social Impact and the Tauber Institute for Global Operations. If tackling global problems or sustainability issues are passions, students can find projects through the William Davidson Institute or the Erb Institute for Global Sustainable Enterprise.


However, the experience that has really fired up the Class of 2020 is Ross’ required MAP project. Launched in 1992, MAP pairs teams of 4-6 first-years together with leading employers to solve a real world issue. Last year, for example, the 2019 Class completed 83 projects in 25 countries. Sponsoring companies included Alphabet (i.e. Google), Amazon, Cummins, Facebook, General Motors, Kimberly-Clark, Microsoft, Principal Financial, and Verizon. As part of these projects, students conduct feasibility studies, build business cases, formulate go-to-market strategies, redesign operational units, and evaluate processes and models. In short, MAP is a program where students perform real work for real companies in real time with real stakes involved. It is so intensive that it is the only class that students take for seven weeks in the second semester

Since its inception, nearly 11,500 Ross MBAs have completed a MAP project with over 1,400 sponsor companies in 100 countries. In 2017 alone, Ross students worked in locales ranging from San Francisco and Seattle to Shanghai and Santiago. For Georgia Cassady, MAP was the differentiator that “sealed the deal” for her to join the 2020 Class. “I’ve only had one full-time job since college, and it was fairly non-traditional,” she admits. “At the end of my first year, I’ll work for seven weeks on an actual business problem for a real organization—not a hypothetical case. Having this extra work experience will give me the skills and extra boost of confidence I need going in to my summer internship and post-MBA job.”

Experiential learning and impact may be the double helix of Ross’ DNA, but it is the school’s open and reassuring spirit that define its unique character. This is illustrated by the program’s Ross Diaries – a regular event that takes its cue from TedX (and Stanford GSB’s TALK). Here, students share their stories – the defining moments where they fulfilled their promise…or failed miserably. It is a chance to hone and deliver their stories – and prep for bigger presentations to come.

Ross students taking a break from their MAP project.


“This will have benefits throughout their lives in terms of their own leadership skills and being able to tell stories in ways that will connect with, influence, and inspire people,” DeRue notes in a 2018 interview. “They do all of this by getting up on stage in front of 500 of their classmates and colleagues from around the school. “It is just an illustration of how we are a community. We’re a place where all people are welcome, where there are opportunities for everyone to be authentic.”

And helpful too. That was the virtue that struck a chord about Ross with Afua Aidoo – particularly being 6,000 miles from home. “There is always someone offering new insights from their personal research, network, experiences, and opportunities. There is a genuine curiosity to know more about each other and to help us all get settled quickly.”

That stems from DeRue’s ultimate vision for Ross, where students act local and think global – always focused on elevating those around them to amplify their impact. That’s exactly what the world can expect from the Class of 2020 – a group that’ll soon be joining 50,000 Ross alumni who were tested in the boardroom as much as the classroom – and came away committed to making a difference as much as a dollar.

“We’re developing people with that character and capability to not only lead and be effective themselves, but to bring everyone along with them, which is exactly the type of leadership talent that businesses and recruiters around the world are asking for,” DeRue told Poets&Quants in a February interview. “This isn’t only the culture we want as an organization to be important, it’s also developing people who are going to go off and create the same culture in organizations that they go on to work in. That’s a real important way that business schools can influence society in a big way. That’s inspiring to me.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates. 


Student Hometown Alma Mater Employer
Afua Aidoo Agona Nyarkrom, Ghana Ashesi University General Electric
Angad Banga Montville, NJ American University Major League Soccer
Georgia Cassady Enterprise, AL Wake Forest University Foundation for Advancing Alcohol Responsibility
Sankalp Damani Mumbai, India Indian Institute of Technology Boston Consulting Group
Hollis Farris Ann Arbor, MI Princeton University Blackrock
Shivani Gupta Chandigarh, India Indian Institute of Technology Roorkee Flipkart
Fernando Palhares Uberaba, Brazil Polytechnic School of University of São Paulo MercadoLivre
Jane Roberts Arlington, VA University of Wisconsin Advisory Board Company
Leslie Solis South Gate, CA UCLA Tesi Boutique
Juan Andres Turner Caracas, Venezuela Clark University World Bank
Olga Vilner Gor Kiryat Mozkin, Israel University of Haifa Robert Wood Johnson Barnabas Health
Zach Zimmerman Ormond Beach, FL Stanford University Nike


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