“It feels like home.”
That’s how any business school should feel. It should be a place that brings out who you are…at your best. It is a space that embodies how you see the world – a retreat that brings comfort, confirmation and a camaraderie with those around you. The sights, sounds, and smells are more than background drapery: They are imbued with memories that foster a profound connection between student and community.
For the Class of 2020, Washington University’s Olin Business School already feels like home – a time to safely find their identity and a place they can truly make their own. Felicia Kola-Amodu, who has already made the rugged transition from journalist to business manager, calls it a “sense of ownership” that’s woven into the culture. Bruno Moreira Yamamura, who made a similar leap from engineering to marketing, touts the program’s “intimate community,” one steeped with a “feeling of belonging and inclusion. More important, Moreira Yamamura adds, Olin is a place where you’ll never be overlooked.
“I didn’t want to be just a number,” he says, “but a valued member of the program.”
GETTING TO KNOW PEOPLE ON A DEEPER LEVEL
Richard Obiora seconds this sentiment. A “gritty visionary” with a background in political science, Obiora believes that this tone is set by a tested structure as much as a consciously-crafted culture. “I chose Olin Business School because of its emphasis on small class sizes and commitment to diversity,” he explains. “At Olin, you can get to know your classmates, professors, and faculty on a deeper level. When I attended Admitted Student’s Weekend, I was amazed at the presentation that Assistant Dean Ruthie Pyles Stiffler delivered. She took the time to learn every admitted student’s story, and from memory highlighted what makes us unique and why Olin is a great fit. At that moment I knew I would not only be getting a top MBA degree, but also gaining a family.”
Among this family, you’ll find impressive characters across the spectrum. Abraham Kola-Amodu is a “published author with a knack for business, travelling, photography and farming.” While Kola-Amodu is a poet, Brinda Gupta expresses herself as an Odissi classical dancer: a dance form that illustrates religious stories and tenets – and is regarded as the oldest form of dance in India. Compare that to Justin Smith, a former Green Berets captain in the U.S. Army who’ll be returning to service after graduation.
Their career paths are equally diverse. Bruno Moreira Yamamura, “an engineer by training and an entrepreneur at heart,” comes to St. Louis after finally taking his family online in 2014. Now, eCommerce accounts for a third of the revenue. At the University of Utah, Kris Fenn turned around the Alternative Breaks program, where students would complete volunteer projects during fall and spring break (not to mention weekends). Focusing more on programming devoted to community partnerships, diversity and impact, his staff took home the university’s Program of the Year in 2014. Before he was a financial analyst, Shaun Brij Vaid was once a TV star…well, he appeared in a Pepsi commercial with Kyrie Irving for the Uncle Drew spot. However, he really became a star when he worked on a project for the State of Tennessee, to reduce the number of Emergency Department walk-outs (i.e. patients who leave without receiving care).
“Through this new process, we reduced walk-outs by 77%,” he shares. “I remember that on the second day of our pilot, one of the nurses entered the war room and excitedly told us that the new process we implemented saved somebody’s life. That project crystallized the reason why I love working in healthcare.”
CLASS DEFINED BY CURIOSITY AND HUMILITY
Such experiences also led the 2020 Class to pursuing an MBA. Erik Andrew, an operations officer with the U.S. Marine Corps, hopes to “sharpen the hard skills” he’ll need to become a more “well-rounded” leader. For Justin Smith, who aspires to be a U.S. Army Major, an MBA offers the best training for what he needs most as a Major: The ability to “think strategically and frame problem sets from many different perspectives.” Then again, the MBA is the means for Jessica Sanchez Chavez to receive the respect that has often eluded her.
“It was the frustration of not being listened to by others,” she admits. “I have always had a strong voice, and I have worked very hard to sustain it on solid arguments. Having been in positions in which I was ignored because I was at a lower level challenged me to for more. I had to work hard to figure out the way, but I knew I was able to get through it.”
Classmate caliber is one reason why the MBA amplifies the value and reputation of graduates. By that measure, you can expect an impressive graduating class when raw talents are transformed into polished performers. Brinda Gupta, for one, is impressed by how curious her classmates are. “During lectures, I am always impressed by the quality of questions my classmates ask. They challenge preconceived notions, continually try to find the most innovative ways to solve problems, and consider diverse perspectives when proposing solutions.”
Belonging is another adjective that gets tossed around with the class. Just ask Felicia Kola-Amodu, who is secure that there will always be someone there to bring up her day. “It’s great walking in the hallway feeling overwhelmed and your classmates call out to you saying, “We’ll get through this!”
However, Shaun Brij Vaid finds a different virtue defines his first year peers: Humble. “I am surrounded by people who have served their country, generated millions in value for their previous employers, and climbed the socioeconomic ladder,” he explains, “yet I have not once gotten the sense that any of my peers, despite their incredible accomplishments, view themselves as more deserving or better than their classmates. It is a privilege to be in a class with so many smart, innovative thinkers who are willing to listen to each other and collaborate to find the best solutions to complex problems.”
PERCENTAGE OF WOMEN CLIMBS TO 42%
It is also a class that closely resembles its predecessors in some ways. It includes 135 members, 10 less than the previous class. That may be a product of two factors. First, the school received 59 fewer applications. That said, the school accepted nearly 100 fewer applications, resulting in the acceptance rate falling seven points to 33%. In other words, it will likely be harder for applicants to get into Olin going forward.
Despite fewer applications, the academic quality remained high. While the average GMAT fell a point to 693, median GMAT held steady at 700. GMATs also rose slightly (Average 3.47 vs. 3.45) and (Median 3.52 vs. 3.42). Demographically, the growth of women were the biggest change. The 2020 Class broke the coveted 40 mark, with women comprising 42% of the class. At the same time, the percentage of minority students climbed from 19% to 22%. During the 2017-2018 cycle, many graduate business programs witnessed a decline in international students – and Olin was no different. This year, 31% of the class hails from overseas, down seven points from years previous.
The percentage of women, in particular, appealed to Kris Fenn. who listed it as a key metric in choosing the school. “I am thrilled to be a member of the 2020 class which houses the highest percentage of women Olin has ever seen. This is merely one data point that indicates the commitment Olin’s administration, staff, and faculty have to supporting diverse representation. During Women’s Weekend, Olin’s leadership talked openly about gender equity (among other equity topics) and explained their strategy for empowering individuals to address systemic disparities. The concepts of identity and inclusion were integrated into our orientation, and the students chosen for this program value this asset of our community.”