Meet Notre Dame Mendoza’s MBA Class Of 2020

“What’s the difference between the Ivy League and Notre Dame?

The former recruits the class valedictorian. The latter lands the class president.

Hyperbole, sure…but it sums up a certain truth. Notre Dame students aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. As a whole, they bring people together, build consensus, and harness energy towards action. It is a value system that stems from Notre Dame’s immigrant heritage as much as its Catholic values. The school is the story of the American underdog – ridiculed and rejected – who journeyed to the heartland to celebrate their identity and strive for excellence.


In South Bend, the mission is service. Any school can hammer home academic fundamentals or point the way to a productive career. At Notre Dame, the spiritual dimension is also nurtured, fostering a reflective and rejuvenating experience. Here, true learning leads to virtue, a life enriched by faith and good works.

“You don’t go to Notre Dame to learn something,” says former football coach Lou Holtz. “You go to Notre Dame to be somebody.”

Mendoza College of Business graduate students meet in the Center for Career Development in the Duncan Student Center. (Photo by Barbara Johnston/University of Notre Dame)

This ‘learning to live’ ethos invites plenty of cynicism. That is, unless you’re an MBA candidate who chose the Mendoza College of Business’ servant leader culture. No doubt, the Class of 2020 will find romance in making candlelight prayers in the Grotto or walking past the Golden Dome at dusk. In reality, the true mystique of Notre Dame – and Mendoza, in particular – is the sense of belonging. More than family, Notre Dame is realized when students feel they are part of something bigger, where they are expected to become someone bigger – someone who grounds their decisions in their values, someone committed to making an impact.


That’s the gauntlet that Notre Dame has laid down for ten generations. Make no mistake: Mendoza’s Class of 2020 relishes this challenge. That’s why they came to South Bend, after all.

“Mendoza’s emphasis on values-based learning was the most significant differentiator relative to other MBA programs,” says Brendon Reardon, a Connecticut native looking to round out his education after majoring in philosophy. “I think it is true that an organization is only as strong as its people. Mendoza strives to create a community of bright and driven students, but perhaps more importantly, a community of students determined to lead with purpose and integrity. This commitment to “asking more of business” and creating strong, professional leaders was a crucial factor in my decision and helped to elevate Mendoza above comparable schools.”

This commitment is woven into every class, where students look beyond the bottom line to how they can better the lives of others. This signature approach is best expressed by Father John Jenkins, the current president at Notre Dame: “If we are afraid to be different from the world, how can we make a difference in the world?”

This challenge to be a true difference-maker is the base of Mendoza’s appeal. “In a sea of school rankings, GMAT scores, and admissions statistics, one thing that stood out was Notre Dame’s mission to “Ask More of Business,” adds Audrey Walker, a first-year whose mantra was “Go Irish! Or go home” during recruiting. “As I weighed the pros and cons of various programs, I kept coming back to that phrase. It encapsulates so much of how I think businesses can and should function, existing not only to make a profit but to make a difference in their communities. The chance to be a part of that mission was one I couldn’t pass up and I’m excited to learn more about how to best carry it forward with me throughout my career.”


“Ask more of business” isn’t the only mantra followed by the Class of 2020. Fernando Jose Quijano, an engineer at Baker Hughes, lives by the axiom that “The best steel doesn’t always shine the brightest.” Think that’s revealing? How about Zevi Fefoame, who has the “personality of a Lamborghini Aventador and calmness of any Bentley.” That calm will come in handy in class, considering her penchant for “taking the weirdest and least supported view in debates.”

Mendoza MBA students in a group project.

Think that’s curious? How about Jeffrey Breckenridge O’Neill (aka Breck). He has spent the last eight years managing his family’s winery – but has never made a bottle of wine himself. Audrey Walker calls herself an “adrenaline junkie.” Translation: “In 2016, I visited Antarctica and jumped into the freezing (literally) cold ocean,” she says. “On purpose. For fun.” Think that’s wild? Wait until you meet Michael Wall: “I learned how to fly planes before I learned how to drive a car.”

That isn’t all that Wall is known for doing. In 2017, he helped set up the headquarters for the US Army Corps of Engineers in Puerto Rico in the aftermath of hurricanes Maria and Irma. In contrast, Mary Coughlin restructured new hire sales training at Google Marketing Solutions, where her work touched hundreds of vendor sales members. How is this for grace under pressure? With a three-day deadline bearing down on him, Accenture’s Peter Zanga taught himself how to code – and developed a tool that enabled a network of charter schools to track financial aid for over 3,000 students!


Zanga wasn’t the only one who made a major transition. Brandon Reardon, a philosopher by trade, entered private equity after graduation, with minimal knowledge of finance. His secret? He just put his down and learned his craft by doing it. “I was able to step outside of my comfort zone, assume greater responsibility, and fully immerse myself in our companies and their operations.”

When Olivia Feldpausch graduates from Mendoza in 2020, don’t expect her to start work at McKinsey or Microsoft. The U.S. Air Force has already spoken for her. A sponsored student, her next assignment is to teach at the U.S. Air Force Academy. Call it an extension of the family business, which she learned from her father, a 23 year U.S. Marine Corps veteran.

“He has always been my hero, my provider and my protector…as well as the nation’s,” she says. There was never any doubt in my mind that I wanted to continue the legacy, thus leading me to join the ROTC Detachment at Michigan State University. My defining moment was this: MSgt (Ret) Gerald Feldpausch (my Dad) presenting 2nd Lt Olivia Feldpausch (me) with her first salute of military service at her commissioning ceremony. This symbolic gesture represented to me a passing of the torch from dad to daughter and continues to motivate me as I navigate through my military career.”


What sets the Class of 2020 apart? Fernando Jose Quijano, for one, believes his peers live up to the school’s famed moniker.The fellow classmates I have met took different paths to Mendoza, but they all required to make compromises and hard decisions. None of them would have made it to Notre Dame if they hadn’t shown their inner Fighting Irish.”

Grotto candles (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)

Aside from courage, another term that encapsulates the class is “authentic,” says Peter Zanga. “Each person I’ve met seems genuinely comfortable in his or her own skin, which allows us to cut past any posturing and get to know each other,” he observes. “It also helps in fostering an open, supportive community. When people bring their authentic selves to school, it’s easier to find ways to help one another.”

Not surprisingly, “service-focused” is another virtue that class members have witnessed across their classmates. “During just two days at Welcome Weekend,” recalls Mary Coughlin, “I met classmates who had served our country in the military, created non-profit organizations and were involved in volunteer activities outside of their careers. Beyond structured service, it is clear that the classmates I have met display strong servant leadership, helping each other with activities ranging from pre-MBA program interview preparation to helping fellow classmates move to South Bend.”


The big news with the Class of 2020? In a year when international student enrollment was down, Mendoza bucked the trend – big time. Compared to the previous class, the percentage of international students jumped from 23% to 36%. By the same token, the program grew more global in scope, with the number of countries represented nearly doubling to 21 nations. That said, the percentage of women slipped from 28% to 24%, though the underrepresented minority population inched up a point to 14%.

Overall, MBA applications fell across the board during the 2017-2018 cycle. Sure enough, Mendoza wasn’t immune, as it received 55 fewer applications. This also explains why the student population dropped from 131 to 123 students. Average GMATs also slid three points to 671, though undergraduate GPAs rose from 3.3 to 3.37 over the previous class.

The class composition also changed substantively with the incoming class. In particular, the percentage of business majors skyrocketed to 43% of the class, a 14% improvement that stretches well beyond its traditional one-third share. STEM disciplines, which accounted for 36% of last year’s class, plunged to 26%, divided between engineering (15%) and sciences (11%).  The humanities and economics also lost ground, dropping from 24% to 19% and 11% to 4% respectively. However, that gap was partially filled by a new category – public services – which made up 8% of the class seats.

That wasn’t the only new category of students streaming across the DeBartolo Quad. Education, non-profit, government, and science professionals make up 23% of the class, after not being counted among the previous class. At the same time, banking and financial professionals represent 28% of the class – an 8% uptick. The percentage of military veterans in the class also rose, going from 12% to 15%. That said, the percentage of technology (8%) and consulting (9%) professionals held steady.

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