Meet USC Marshall’s MBA Class Of 2020

Students at the USC Marshall full-time MBA orientation Monday, July 23 at Town & Gown. (Photo/William Vasta)

The network offers more than that. For Alexandra Jaeggi, a high school teacher looking to move into biotech, the Trojan Family was the potential differentiator in being able to change industry and function. That value applies equally to Justin Gordon, who also views his MBA network as a source of funding and talent for future ventures.

“As an emerging entrepreneur, the lifelong network was something I desired because it would help me find people to build companies with, mentors to learn from, potential investors, and opportunities to discover new ideas and perspectives from different people. To me, the network you develop in an MBA program is the most valuable component of the entire experience.”


What sets the network apart? For one, the alumni is seemingly always available to help, bringing a “What can I do” mindset to the table according to Ziemniak. For Jayson Gasper, an M&A manager at Deloitte Consulting and 2013 Marshall alum, that meant countless hours talking with alumni to help him crystallize exactly where he wanted to go and what he needed to do to be successful. What impressed Gasper most, however, was how respectful the alumni were.

I found that, especially when I would talk to a USC alum versus someone outside the Trojan family, there was extra responsiveness and longer conversations,” he explains in in a 2018 interview with P&Q. “I sensed a difference in the amount of thoughtfulness and connection that they strove to make. From a networking perspective, I saw a big help from alumni in a number of companies in a number of roles.”

USC’s Marshall School of Business

This “above and beyond” tradition has carried on for the Class of 2020, says Stephen Manney. “I remember reaching out to a student ambassador at Marshall,” he recalls. “I got a response so quickly, I thought it was a bounce-back email! I spoke to that ambassador the next day, and she referred me to another student, who referred me to another. Each member of the Marshall community was so passionate about their professional environment that I felt myself falling in love with the program and knew where I belonged.”


Strange thing is, the Trojan Family doesn’t stop at the USC doorstep. Instead, students often follow the alumni’s lead when it comes to MBAs as a whole, says Darlene Zephyrine, a 2018 Best & Brightest MBA who joined Live Nation Entertainment after graduation.

“It is true that Trojans will go out of their way to support another Trojan in personal and professional need,” she concedes. “However, I quickly noticed during many external networking events that Marshall students also willingly and happily open ourselves up to other MBA programs. Many of our student-led organizations host cross-program networking events because we understand that we will eventually all leave the Marshall walls to work alongside other MBAs.”

What drives the Trojan Family to mobilize so quickly? For one, says Ziemniak, alumni have a voice – ownership, even – in the program after they graduate. They are treated like who they are: experts and professionals. The school channels their talent, seeking out their advice, inviting them to present, and involving them in recruiting. “Students see that our alumni is engaged and they themselves pick up on the cue that it is important to be engaged once you graduate as well,” she tells P&Q in a 2018 interview.


Alumni engagement is also a carryover from their MBA days, where students are a major part of decision-making. That sets a tone and an expectation for students to pay-it-forward as alumni. It was a message that Jayson Gaspers picked up on quickly nearly a decade ago.

“The minute you step on campus for orientation, they’re talking about the Trojan family,” he stresses. “They bring in the marching band for our MBA orientation week. Throughout the experience, they keep reiterating the strength of the Trojan Network. More importantly, you make connections with alumni during recruiting and get mentoring. By the time you graduate – at least for myself – I felt that I really saw and felt what the Trojan Network was. More important, I felt the responsibility to carry that forward since I benefitted from it so much.”

Such alumni support is particularly invaluable in a field like entertainment and media. With Hollywood beckoning just a half hour away, the field attracted nearly 10% of the 2018 class. However, the industry is also notoriously referral-based, Ziemniak notes, often relying on just-in-time hiring that often isn’t advertised. Such cases illustrate just how valuable it is to have the Trojan Family in a student’s corner.

USC’s Marshall School of Business is the first major U.S. school to reach gender parity in its full-time MBA program

“A lot of the time, it is our young alumni who are a lot closer to the process – and more familiar with the anxiety that comes with searching for a job at graduation,” Ziemniak adds. “They will reach out to their networks and put our students in contact with the right people. There are many jobs that have come out of there. Our alumni have helped our students get jobs with Hulu, NBC, Dreamworks, eBay – a whole host of folks in LA.”

In fact, Marshall’s deep ties to the entertainment industry is one of the unique wrinkles to the program. Notably, E2, sponsored by the school’s Business of Entertainment Association (BEA), is Marshall’s largest student organized conference. For Stephen Manney, who hopes to someday produce pay-per-view events, such resources were hard to pass up.



“The entertainment event brings in top industry professionals and dives into the future of media and entertainment, helping young professionals such as myself learn to navigate the industry’s volatile landscape. Last year’s keynote speaker was Ted Sarandos, the chief content officer for Netflix. Representatives from Warner Bros., Lionsgate, and Roku also made the trip last March.”

The Trojan Family and the entertainment niche aren’t the only factors that help define the Marshall mystique. Many class members are looking forward to Challenge for Charity, popularly known as C4C. Here, Marshall MBAs face off against peers at programs like UCLA Anderson and Washington Foster for the coveted Golden Briefcase – with the winner selected on fundraising prowess and volunteer hours. Over the past decade, Marshall has earned eight briefcases, generating over $25 million dollars to charities over that period.

“C4C provides Marshall with excellent opportunities to give back to the community throughout the year,” says Alexandra Jaeggi. Specifically, I am excited to work with Junior Achievement for the “JA in a Day” event to teach elementary and middle school children about business.”


Another defining feature of Marshall is PRIME, a mandatory global business module capped by a 10 day trip overseas. A hands-on and team-based exercise, students partner with firms on projects and present their findings to senior leadership. For many, it is great preparation for their internship, with 2018 first-years traveling to business hubs like Tokyo, Shanghai, and Lima.

“I love traveling, so I am looking forward to starting our PRIME project,” says Rafael Liou de Oliveira. “It will be a great opportunity to not only bring some business concepts to life but also have fun with my new friends.”

Adlai Wertman of USC’s Marshall School of Business. Courtesy photo

Indeed, PRIME is considered by many alumni to be Marshall’s signature experience. In fact, Ziemniak considers it to be a binding experience that brings generations of Marshall alumni together. “When alumni come back for recruiting events or on campus, PRIME is something they can talk about with students,” she points out. “They always want to know, ‘Where did you go on PRIME?’ Immediately, they have that connection and shared experience. Alumni still look back fondly on that experience.”


PRIME may be a highlight, but if you pressed Ziemniak on the most underrated part of the Marshall MBA, she would quickly point to the faculty, which includes stars like Adlai Wertman and Nathan Fast.

“The dedication of USC Marshall faculty to student learning and success is remarkable,” she asserts. “Faculty work diligently with students to make sure they understand challenging concepts and spend countless hours behind the scenes to develop course content and pedagogical models that address emerging trends in business, and challenge students to sharpen the deep, critical thinking skills they will need as leaders in business.”

What’s ahead for the Class of 2020? Perhaps Stephen Manney best expresses the class spirit when he talks about his long-term goal: Leading an entertainment firm that unites disparate audiences in a culture based on “collaboration and mutual respect.”

“I’ll admit, it is a lofty goal for only five years down the line, but it worked for Trojan alum Frank Fertitta,” he says. “If he can put the UFC on the map and have a building named for him, I think I can too.”

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. 

StudentHometownAlma MaterPrevious Employer
Tina CookLos Angeles, CANorthern Kentucky UniversityChrysalis
Sharon DsouzaBengaluru, IndiaPES Institute of TechnologyGE Transportation
Justin GordonMilwaukee, WIUniversity of Wisconsin-La CrosseJT Clark Co. LLC
Rob GranadosWatsonville, CAHarvard CollegeKIPP Houston Public Schools
Jessica HongPhiladelphia, PABryn Mawr CollegeRedeemer Presbyterian Church
Alexandra (Alli) JaeggiSan Diego, CAUniversity of California – San DiegoSan Marino Unified School District
Sophia LinTaipei, TaiwanNational Taiwan UniversityLin Trading Company
Rafael Liou de OliveiraSalvador, BrazilUniversidade Católica do SalvadorOgilvy & Mather
Stephen ManneyNovi, MILoyola UniversityWFFF/WVNY-TV
Gaby OmennMiami, FLPrinceton UniversityGoogle
Alex PeifferPort Clinton, OHOhio State UniversityCapital One
Alexandra PinckneyPhiladelphia, PANew York UniversityHirtle Callaghan & Co.

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