Meet MIT Sloan’s MBA Class Of 2020

Let’s do word association. How about we start with MIT – the Massachusetts Institute of Technology.

What comes to mind?

Research labs

Physical sciences



Sound about right? That’s good branding. In MIT’s case, that brand is based on generations of scientific breakthroughs. Want a list? Think the internet, radar, email, spreadsheets, and voice recognition. That doesn’t count firms launched by MIT alumni like Texas Instruments, Hewlett Packard, E*Trade, and Campbell’s Soup. Just step onto campus. Forget Ivyed homages to a bygone era. Instead, picture a nuclear research reactor and a wind tunnel, plus a pocked up dorm that resembles a sponge. That doesn’t count a Media Lab, whose latest leaps include 3D printed glass and ‘second skin’ clothing that naturally adapts to clothing.


On the surface, MIT is a STEM sanctuary, a place where imaginations are stirred, ideas tested, and the future breathed to life. Dan Stern, a 2018 P&Q MBA to Watch, describes MIT as “the cradle for Innovation and entrepreneurship.” Sure enough, the business school – the Sloan School of Management – takes after its parent this way. That doesn’t make the MBA program a magnet for overachiever math hermits who are long on technical and short on mojo.

A rigorous and analytic approach, Sloan employs…as Yoda would say. At the same time, Sloan is a school where team comes first – and “Sloanies helping Sloanies” is the rallying cry. It is action-driven, a place to think big and shatter boundaries – a sanctuary where you can’t look back, sit back, or hold back. This is all pulled together by MIT’s motto of “Mens et Manus” – “Mind and hand.” – where the mind guides a creation…and this creation, in turn, expands knowledge.

Alas, the idea possesses little value without a means to commercialize it. That’s why Sloan has emerged as a campus hub that draws students from every corner of the MIT ecosystem. You’ll find engineering, computer science, and biology researchers and Ph.D. candidates sitting in on MBA classes to better understand product development cycles and early stage funding. Many times, MBAs partner with these students to build ideas into prototypes and scalable ventures. At the same time, many Sloan MBAs flip the script by taking advantage of resources in MIT’s renowned schools.


MIT Sloan students working together between classes

“The connection to MIT is real,” writes Maura Herson, assistant dean for Sloan’s MBA and MSMS programs, in a statement to P&Q. “Sloan is MIT’s school of Management, and MBA students can expect to access and engage with every part of the Institute, from taking classes at the world renowned Media Lab to participating in the 100K business competition to interacting with scientists in the various MIT labs as part of the Sloan Innovation Period.”

Such integration made an impression on the Class of 2020, particularly Liliana Kennedy-Paesler, a neuroscientist-turned-consultant. “I chose Sloan because of its proximity to science,” she notes. “Sloanies have the opportunity to build connections across the MIT community and leverage those relationships to help commercialize innovative scientific concepts. I have seen this first-hand while working at MIT’s summer accelerator, and Delta v.”

MIT Sloan also follows a mission: “Developing “principled, innovative leaders who improve the world and to generate ideas that advance management practice.” To do this, MIT Sloan emphasizes theory hammered home by intensive practice and impact honed through team-building. It is formula that produces visionary leaders regardless of their background – even students outside the STEM or hard finance sectors.

“Coming from a liberal arts background, I felt that MIT would give me the best opportunity to strengthen and further explore my own quantitative and technical abilities,” says Marjani Nairne, a political science major who plans to transition to strategy consulting (or entrepreneurship). “This is extremely important for me because as I look towards a potential career in consulting or working in emerging markets, the ability to provide substantial, data-driven insights is absolutely critical. I want to make sure that my skills in this realm are rock solid so that my ideas and recommendations are respected and eventually implemented. There’s no better place to develop these skills than at Sloan.”


One reason for that is Sloan is almost an amalgam of leading MBA programs. Call it a four seasons MBA program: a flexible curriculum reminiscent of Chicago Booth, a data-driven technical mindset akin to Carnegie Mellon Tepper; an experiential learning model that resembles Michigan Ross; and a level of prestige that rivals Harvard. Not surprisingly, this type of institution attracts a rather diverse student body.

Jaime Zorrilla Sánchez de Neyra certainly qualifies. He comes to Cambridge at an orthopaedic and trauma surgeon in Spain. Itzik Elyahou joins the Class of 2020 from Israel, where he ran his family’s diamond business – an experience that informed him that he needed to master best practices and enhance his leadership skills. At Google, Marjani Nairne took full advantage of her 20% Project, where employees spent a fifth of their time on a project related to a passion. In her case, she joined a station team that focused on implementing free wi-fi in emerging markets. Turns out, it became a bigger success than she anticipated.

“It was incredible seeing the direct impact my work had on people,” she says. “Seeing press releases and news articles exclaiming how meaningful and impactful this product is for millions across Mexico gave me an unparalleled sense of pride and accomplishment…As I looked around, the vast majority of the team were former MBB consultants who had also earned an MBA. I realized that if I wanted a full-time job pursuing that kind of work, I too needed my MBA.”

Students at MIT Sloan. Courtesy photo

They definitely performed an array of work. When he was an engineer at Boeing, Kevin Cheung also volunteered as a forklift operator for Seattle food bank. “It is harder than it looks,” he jokes. Martin de la Herran Oyarzun has already created an energy drink for people who hate coffee. Just like Nesquik, with a kick,” he quips. Then again, Hai Lieu took it a step further. Tired of being a field engineer, he dipped his toe into entrepreneurship, launching a highly-acclaimed coffee and tea shop in his native Vietnam. And Eduarda Bardavid has made an even bigger impact with her startup Drag, an email management app.


“[My biggest accomplishment was] growing Drag from an idea into a real business, featured by Google, revenue-generating, with a team of 10 across 5 countries and seed investment,” she shares. “In particular, this all happened in one year and Drag has been my first experience as an entrepreneur. Before Drag, I used to work as a management consultant in the Middle East and the decision to take the leap from a stable and well-paid job to the uncertainty of co-founding a startup was one of my biggest career steps. Today, I am proud of having been brave enough to take the calculated risk to pivot my career and I am very happy with the outcome.”

That outcome included a spot among the 409 members of MIT Sloan’s Class of 2020. Thus far, Bardavid has found her classmates to be “humble and supportive with each other” – a community “who seek to grow together instead of competing with each other.” That bond is particularly powerful between classes, where second years often take first years under their wing. The same is true among classmates, as Itzik Elyahou learned during his adMIT Weekend.

“I was sitting with a first year MBA student and he told me that he had an interview scheduled for the next day,” he recalls. “A few minutes later, his classmate called and told him everything about her experience from the interview she just had for the same position in the same company he was interviewing for, giving him tips about how to prepare for the interview – even though they were likely competing for the same position. This minor exchange between the two students was particularly significant for me – it confirmed my aspirations to join this vibrant and welcoming community.”

Another phrase to characterize the class? How about “passionate and unafraid to go against the grain,” which comes courtesy of Marjani Nairne. That’d be fitting, considering the motivations behind the class’ return to campus often involved leaving a deeper impact. Kevin Cheung, for one admits, “I am most comfortable when I am uncomfortable.”  For him, business school will push out of his “safe space” and towards his career dreams. The same is true, to an extent, with Jaime Zorrilla Sánchez de Neyra. After treating thousands of patients as a surgeon, he realized that he’d need to find ways to reach a larger audience to make a difference.

“I realized that my real goal is to improve the Spanish healthcare system and the lives of millions of people,” he explains. “My experiences convinced me of my goal, but I am seeking an extreme career change in order to make a radical impact. This is why I need Sloan: its mission to train me to become a leader who can create new solutions to conventional problems in healthcare.”

Sloan MBA students pairing up on a project


In a down year for MBA applications, MIT Sloan ranked among the most coveted tickets among prospective students. Technically, MIT endured a 4.1% decline in applications during the 2017-2018 cycle – a percentage that’s still lower than Wharton (-6.7%), Chicago Booth and (-8.2%). It also compares favorably with Harvard Business School (-4.5%) and Stanford GSB (-4.6%). At the same time, the school reports an 11.5% acceptance rate for the Class of 2020. In other words, nearly 9 of every 10 applicants who sought a seat in the incoming class were rejected.

One reason? The class is loaded with academic firepower. This year’s class scored a 728 average GMAT, a six point jump over the previous year (and a 15 point rise in just 5 years). The median improvement was even more impressive: a whole ten points to 730 – tying it with Harvard Business School just three miles up the Charles River. By the same token, the percentage of women held steady at 42% of the class, eight points better than the school’s gender balance five years ago. Unlike peer schools, which have seen sharp decreases in international student populations, MIT Sloan swam strong against the current. 38% of the Class of 2020 hails from overseas, up five points.

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