Meet Minnesota Carlson’s MBA Class Of 2020

The Carlson School of Management


Indeed, Carlson is a small program by MBA standards, though the larger business school (as a whole) boasts 50,000 alumni in 95 countries. However, the program is hardly being ignored. 96% of the 2018 Class, for example, earned job offers within three months of graduation. At the same time, 100% of current second-years received an internship offer. What’s more, 130 companies come to the Carlson campus to recruit MBAs according to the school.

Stakeholders are equally pleased with Carlson’s ‘small school in a resource-rich university structure as well.’ In 2018, respondents who completed The Economist’s student and alumni survey ranked Carlson in the Top 10 for opening up new careers and the Top 12 for career services and the breadth of the alumni network. Notably, the MBA program focuses heavily on leadership development, which is bolstered by ongoing one-on-one coaching and self-assessment. Ashley Ver Burg Soukup, a 2018 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA who joined General Mills after graduation, credits the school’s career center for helping her land a summer internship before she even set foot in the school.

“I learned quickly that you are not just a number when I decided to do early internship recruiting the summer before business school. Our amazing career center met with me for coaching sessions, connected me to alumni, and helped me prep for interviews … all before I was a paying student!”

Ver Burg Soukup also touts Carlson’s small class size, which requires each student to play a significant role in the program. While the program resides just outside the Top 25 MBA programs, she believes rankings only tell part of the story. “Our MBA class placed (in the top three) in seven case competitions last year alone, remarkable for a program of our size,” she adds. “My MBA experience has taught me that while rankings have value, they don’t measure everything, and they cannot tell you which program is right for you.”


Philip Miller

The Carlson MBA is hardly standing pat, however. According to Phil Miller, the school has been working to update and expand its training in diversity, equity, and inclusion. That includes new additions to its programming. “In 2019, we will introduce Diversity Matters, a Carlson School Inclusive Leadership Series featuring business and community experts in diversity, equity and inclusion. This series is another extension of our diversity programming that reaches a broad audience, including our Women’s Leadership Conference, now in its 15th year, and Project Emerge – a leadership development program designed for people of color, women, LGBTQ, and first-generation students from economically disadvantaged backgrounds.”

For Miller, such additions are paramount, since he believes that leaders can’t be good at management if they are lousy at inclusion. “Teams and customers are increasingly diverse, and leaders need a strong inclusive mindset, as well as the tools to communicate and engage across all forms of cultural boundaries,” he muses. “Because of this, the Carlson School reconstituted our orientation in a number of ways to fit these goals. The school built in substantially more training about topics involving diversity and inclusion, including a 360-degree assessment, and more training and engagement around how both the school and businesses can be more inclusive. The Carlson School launched visit days for LGBTQ students, students of color, and women so they can engage with prospective and current students with shared experiences and learn more about their academic experience here.”

The Carlson MBA is also expanding the use of analytics in its curriculum. Already offering a Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) that’s ranked among the world’s best, Miller believes this investment will better prepare MBAs for an increasingly data-driven world.

“Organizations across the globe are turning more and more to analytics and data to make their decisions on a day-to-day basis,” he observes. “Carlson School faculty are working across departments to rethink core statistics in the age of analytics and tie it to a suite of foundational and functional area analytics courses that tie together.”


Looking for an underrated strength in the Carlson program? Try healthcare. That’s hardly a surprise, considering the Mayo Clinic’s prominence in the state. According to the Medical Alley Association, the state ranks first in the world for medical patents and inventors per 100,000 people in the world. What’s more, Minnesota medical firms have raised over $2.5 billion dollars in funding over the past five years.

Sure enough, the Carlson School is in the thick of it all. That starts with the Medical Industry Leadership Institute (MILI) Valuation Lab, a hotbed of experiential learning opportunities where students can apply what they learn in class into practice.

“For the medically-minded student, the MILI Valuation Lab is built for students digging deeply into a variety of healthcare IP to deliver a valuation assessment to inventors,” Miller says. “The cross disciplinary teams made up of students from MBA, MPP, Law, Engineering, and the Academic Health Center, expose students to every aspect of the industry and force them to think critically about the creation and delivery of value in the healthcare sector.”


MBA Students Portraits

Another underrated aspect of the Carlson MBA is its connections in the food and agriculture industries. Like heathcare, this stems from the state itself – which boasts a “critical mass” of food and ag behemoths like Cargill, Land O’Lakes, Hormel, General Mills, and CHS. Such clusters not only serve as a magnet for talent, but also provide potential investors and mentors to agriculture-related startups.

“The Carlson School is uniquely positioned to provide top-tier learning experiences in the food and agriculture space,” adds David Ly. “The Twin Cities houses leading companies in this industry (Cargill, General Mills, and many more), and attracts some of the world’s leading researchers. For me, having access to engage with the leaders in food and agriculture was the deciding factor to join Carlson.”

For the Class of 2020, Carlson’s biggest draw was unquestionably its Enterprise program. Launched after the first semester core and lasting over a year, the Enterprise program accounts for nearly 20% of a full-time MBA’s workload. Think of it as a “test run” before an internship and a “resume-builder” afterwards. Project-driven and divided into four concentrations, the program enables students to apply classroom learning to issues facing firms such as Warner Brothers and Best Buy. Even more, it is a chance to network with and audition for potential employers, to get inside their doors so they can gain first-experience with their culture as much as their day-to-day operations.


“In the Enterprise program, Carlson School students are spending two full semesters on external client projects or running client money in the school’s fixed income fund, says Phil Miller. “Guided by faculty with deep experience at industry-leading firms, the faculty help bridge from theory to practice. The Brand Enterprise focuses on strategic and tactical marketing problems. The Consulting Enterprise allows students to take on strategy and operations challenges. The Ventures Enterprise directs students to focus on business formation and innovation related to projects for start-ups and large firms looking to be more intrapreneurial.” Finally, the Funds Enterprise manages more than $35 million of client money. These learning opportunities are the hallmark of the Carlson School MBA program.”

For Clare Smith, the Enterprise program was a means to soften the learning curve and fill knowledge gaps as she transitions towards a new career. “Each Enterprise is slightly different, but the premise of all of them is the same: to get a specific functional experience working with real companies to solve a given problem that company is currently facing. As someone who is looking to career-switch from mergers and acquisitions/finance to brand management, I am excited to have a hands-on experience in the Brands Enterprise before a summer internship. The Enterprise program provides an amazing, low-risk opportunity for students to put classroom learnings into practice and to experience first-hand different roles at different companies.”

The hands-on nature of the program, which includes multiple projects with multiple employers, also fit with how students like Elizabeth Lunn learn best. “In my work before business school,” she notes, “I learned almost everything I needed to know by asking questions and seeking out resources on the job. I knew that Carlson’s learning format would encourage me to keep up that spirit of curiosity and learn by doing.”

Students at the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management with “Goldy”

The real credit for the Enterprise program, says Miller, ultimately goes to the breadth and depth of firms in the Twin Cities. “This diversity of sectors affords the Carlson School the ability to adapt our experiential learning to serve our students’ interests. For example, we were still able to sell projects in 2009 during the worst segment of the financial crisis because of the strength and diversity of industries in our market.”


The Enterprise program isn’t the only way to gain valuable work experience at Carlson, either. Students can complete a Global Discovery, which includes a project and a two-week excursion. As members of the Volunteers Consulting Club, members gain work experience and serve the local community by taking on consulting projects for non-profits.

“To me, [the club] represents both an amazing opportunity to apply classroom concepts in a real-world setting and a way to contribute to the common good of society,” says Rabeet Ahsan. “That’s also another reason why I chose the Carlson School of Management for my MBA, because of the potential for experiential learning and community building at the same time.”

Where does the Class of 2020 ultimately want to go? In the next five years, Antonio Roa hopes to become a senior consultant, whose brand moves from being a “Jack-of-all-trades, master of none” to a “Jack-of-all-trades, master of all.” Emma Wright, an Apple Valley native and UM grad, plans to stick around the Twin Cities as an “entrepreneur, a CEO, a mentee/mentor, an investor, and a civic participant.” Like Wright, Nicole Dillard will pursue a bigger purpose after graduation. “I see myself working at a company that is striving to make supply chains more environmentally and socially responsible and provide consumers with more information about where their food comes from.”

Looking towards his future, Eric Jacques invokes an African proverb: “I am because you are.” For him, the MBA is about developing the tools to pursue the great good, with his long-term goal of returning home to help others. “My short-term goal is to develop and optimize businesses to succeed. Long term, I aspire to return to Haiti to empower people and communities with the tools and information needed to thrive in every area of life.”

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 MaterEmployer
Rabeet AhsanKarachi, PakistanInstitute of Business Administration, KarachiEmirates Supply Chain Services
Claudia BarreroCochabamba, BoliviaUniversidad Catolica BolivianaUnilever
Sarah CarrollSilver Spring, MDUniversity of Wisconsin-MadisonSecond Harvest Foodbank of Southern Wisconsin
Nicole DillardCheyenne, WYUniversity of Pennsylvaniatrepwise
Eric JacquesPompano Beach, FLUniversity of MinnesotaCargill Inc.
Elizabeth LunnSterling, VANew York UniversityPenguin Random House
David LyEagan, MNUniversity of MinnesotaHormel Foods
Antonio RoaHanford, CAUnited States Naval AcademyUnited States Navy
Anees SayedHyderabad, IndiaUniversity of Cape TownCentre for Sports Science
Clare SmithSherborn, MAHarvard UniversityGeneral Mills
Peter SomervilleEdina, MNYale UniversityStreetShares
Emma WrightApple Valley, MNUniversity of MinnesotaCambridge Innovation Center
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