Meet Yale SOM’s MBA Class Of 2020

Every organization hungers for a distinctive brand. That brand should spread far beyond an enduring slogan, logo, or color scheme. The best brands summon emotions and associations that foster an elusive connection. The Yale School of Management carries perhaps the most singular brand among graduate business programs. Hold an applicant focus ground and you’ll assuredly hear terms like purpose driven, impact, and passion bandied about. It is a school where the mission may take the form of fighting malnutrition as much as building enterprises.

Like many programs, a third of Yale MBAs start out in consulting – 36% to be exact with the 2017 class. Despite the school’s reputation as the top program for non-profits, just 6% of the latest graduating class ended up there. Still, there is something more profound happening at Yale SOM, says Hosanna Odhner, a member of the 2018 MBA class and a member of Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest MBAs.


“Before business school, I firmly believed that doing the “right thing” in business (good treatment of employees, honesty and transparency with customers, environmental responsibility, etc.) was not just the decent thing to do, it was the strategically smart thing to do,” she writes. “I felt in my gut that what was good for the world was also good for business. But I lacked the rigor and knowledge to back up my theory. When looking at business schools, I wanted a place that viewed business not as a vehicle of ROI, but as a way to create value—to be a place that believes that rather than firms existing to make profits, they make profits to exist. And that’s what I found here at Yale.”

Yale SOM operates off of a motto: “Educating leaders for business and society.” Courtney Miller, a first year who most recently worked for Lucasfilm, has found this slogan to be the “lifeblood of the school” – in a place where faculty, staff and students have “talked the talk and walked the walk.” For her, the Yale curriculum and culture aligns closely with what MBAs expect from themselves – and what they ultimately plan to do.

Students walking in Evans Hall.

“For me, and I think for most all of us applying to business school now, long gone are the “greed is good” days,” says Miller. “I want to be a part of a generation of businesspeople who thoughtfully and purposefully advance causes like sustainability and equality through truly elevated thinking, and it became very clear to me that SOM is a place that does just that every single day.”


Russell Halliday, who comes to New Haven after serving as a legislative assistant to a Massachusetts congressman, echoes his classmate’s sentiments. “I felt that the Yale community, both at SOM and at the larger university, is devoted to producing leaders with a social conscience,” he explains. “As a public servant pivoting into finance, I was looking for a school that would value students with alternative backgrounds like mine. With each interaction, I increasingly felt that Yale SOM, as an institution and as a student body, is committed to the common good.”

Halliday goes on to describe his classmates as “intelligent, well-spoken, humble, and civic-minded.” In turn, they offer up some virtues of their own. Lourdes Lira Cuevas, a strategy consultant from Mexico, calls the incoming class “socially committed” – a 347 member cohort committed to taking action. Song Kim, who holds a JD from New York University School of Law, touts her peers for their self-awareness – a group, she says “know who they are and where they are going; they live by what matters to them.”

Courtney Miller, however, applies a far more dynamic term: Infectious. “Every single person I’ve met at SOM has a certain spirit that’s just impossible not to be taken in by. These are people who, at their core, have the most genuine passion for having a positive impact on their world, and you can feel it in every interaction you have with the students here. Even when they’re exhausted from classwork and are in the midst of brutal recruitment cycles, there’s a spark in SOMers that simply can’t be extinguished, and you can’t help but be lifted up and inspired by it.


So who is the Class of 2020? In an August blog post, Bruce Delmonico, the assistant dean for admissions described the class this way:

“[There] are musicians who play instruments as varied as violin, piano, guitar, flute, clarinet, bassoon, trombone, and drums…They are into bluegrass music and Frank Sinatra. They dance—from ballet to belly to Bollywood. And they sing—a cappella, contemporary, and opera, among genres. They are varsity athletes and captains across a range of sports, as well as marathoners, triathletes, and Tough Mudders. No less enthusiastic are the devotees of Ultimate Frisbee, kickball, dodgeball, and roller derby…They speak innumerable languages, from Spanish to Russian to Arabic to Mandarin to Hindi to Vietnamese to Twi and beyond. One student won $100,000 from Mark Cuban on Shark Tank and is a Forbes 30 Under 30 recipient for social entrepreneurship. Another successfully navigated a motorcycle over the world’s highest drivable pass. Yet another is the Kit Kat brand manager for the Middle East. They are professional ski and sailing instructors, private pilots, Mensa members, black belts, Eagle Scouts, mixologists, patent holders, SCUBA divers, and certified phlebotomists.”

That’s just the start. Take Paul Lwin. A U.S. Naval Academy grad with master’s degrees in aerospace engineering and computer science. A Naval Flight Officer, Lwin transitioned to being a Test Pilot Officer, where he has pushed 25 different aircraft types to their limits. That, however, may not be the most interesting part of Lwin’s story. He is also a political refugee from Myanmar who came to the United States when he was 10. As a world traveler, Lwin considers his defining moments to be when he meet refugees like himself and reflected on the benefits that he has enjoyed – and why he needs to pay them forward.

A look out to the courtyard.

“That realization about how special a place we live in has fostered my desire to continue serving in all that I do, so that we remain a special place and a place of hope for other refugees like me,” he says.


Courtney Miller hasn’t been awed by the Yale’s history or reputation since she arrived on campus. That comes with experience – as in experience working on big name projects for big name stars. Before business school, she worked in Lucasfilm’s visual effects division (ILM) – as in George Lucas of Star Wars fame. You can even see some of her work in Marvel’s Doctor Strange and Jurassic World: Fallen Kingdom. If you’re looking for a great story, ask Miller about the time she presented a CG test for a certain leader in the film industry. Ah, why wait…here’s the spoiler.

“One such test I oversaw was for Steven Spielberg, which was an incredible honor and really a master class in filmmaking, as you can imagine. When we showed him the finished test, he was thrilled, and gave us some stellar feedback I will never forget. That test really took a village to put together and required the exceptional outside-the-box thinking and never-say-die attitude that made ILM the true powerhouse it is. To have been a part of that, and to have that moment with Mr. Spielberg be the payoff…well, it’s the sort of thing you see in the movies.”

Miller isn’t the only artist in the class. Wyatt Wolfram earned credits as a musician on a dozen albums. A guitarist and songwriter, Wolfram spent several years on the Nashville scene before deciding he could be more valuable behind the scenes. Eventually, he rose to being a vice president at Downtown Records, whose roster boasts Nick Murphy and Brett Dennen. Aside from gaining business acumen, Wolfram learned something more important – and transferrable – to business school.

“It could have been a time of defeat in my life,” he admits, “but I took what I had learned from those experiences and spun it into a job at a major music publisher in New York, thus kicking off a career in the music industry. It was a defining moment that taught me about how and when to pivot, as well as how to leverage experiences from one area and apply them to another.”


There are no shortage of diverse experiences in the Class of 2020. After studying public policy at Stanford, Anna Schickele served as a policy manager for the Abdul Latif Jameel Poverty Action Lab. Gus Roman and Ryan Leibowitz both earned their undergraduate degrees at the University of Pennsylvania a year apart. Sure enough, both found themselves in consulting: Roman in pharmaceutical consulting at Acsel Health and Leibowitz with Bain & Company. Then, there is Russell Halliday. His claim to fame? During his Peace Corps stint, he worked with local government officials to build a marine learning center to teach locals about sustainable fishing practices. Now, he hopes to work in the social impact space through investment banking.

Lourdes Lira Cuevas plans to transition to the tech sector to do the same. “I realized that social vulnerability is so real and disastrous for so many people. I could not contribute to a fairer society just as a “side activity”—I had to make it an ongoing goal and a commitment in all my personal and professional endeavors.”

How does the Class of 2020 measure up to its predecessors? That all depends. It would be hard to compete with Yale SOM’s white hot appeal in past cycles, where applications rose by 60% in the six years after Dean Ted Snyder’s debut in 2011. Such success vaulted the program into the Top 10 in some rankings. Statistically, the enthusiasm has cooled a bit on Yale SOM. However, the drop is more a matter of a new normal emerging among business schools.


During the 2017-2018 cycle, Yale SOM received 3,785 applications – or 313 less than the previous year. To put it another way, this 7.5% drop is nearly equal to the 8% and 6.5% fall in applications suffered by Chicago Booth and the Wharton School respectively this year. That said, Yale SOM tendered 58 more acceptance letter this past year, resulting in the school’s acceptance rate rising from 17% to 20%.

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