Meet Notre Dame Mendoza’s MBA Class Of 2020

A snowman in front of the Word of Life Mural, commonly known as Touchdown Jesus. (Photo by Matt Cashore/University of Notre Dame)


The Mendoza mission would ring hollow if the people didn’t embody the school’s values. That has always been a strength of Notre Dame – a community of faith who model the expectations and possibilities of a Catholic life. That was particularly true of Roger Huang, who stepped aside as dean this summer after a successful eight year stint that included the launch of several master’s programs along with revamping a curriculum that has grown increasingly grounded in analytics. Huang, a decorated teacher who started at Mendoza in 2000, has been succeeded on an interim basis by Dr. Martijn Cremers. Make no mistake: a new team has begun to clearly lay out a vision that builds upon Dr. Huang’s work, says Kelli Kilpatrick, Mendoza’s senior director of graduate business programs.

“This vision includes elevating the Notre Dame MBA programs to be one of his top three strategic priorities,” she explains. “He has charged all affiliated with the MBA programs to be bold and be ambitious…Only a week into my tenure, Dr. Cremers met with me to articulate his vision to re-invest in, re-commit to and re-image the Notre Dame MBA…New leadership coupled with the strength of the existing faculty, staff and students is truly a prescription for success. I am confident that what is already a great brand and a transformational MBA experience is positioned for even greater success in the not-to-distant future.”

Like many small programs, Mendoza works tirelessly to tailor their programming to individual students. That said, the school offers two staples that graduates often rank as their defining experiences. The first is the Integral Leadership Development (ILD) program. Basically, ILD approaches self-awareness as the cornerstone of leadership. In fact, the concept is so paramount that the first four days of the MBA program is devoted to the ILD, a transformative time where students discover who they are so they can lead authentically and purposefully.

Mendoza class prepping before class.


“[Students] participate in individual and group activities focused on discerning values, strengths, and weaknesses,” explains Kilpatrick. “Guided by highly regarded business executives and faculty, students experience a solitary reflection on leadership and purpose; an intense examination of their guiding values, an introduction to the Leadership Circle, a self-assessment tool that looks at competencies and tendencies, as well as a an examination of conflict in the workplace and a leader’s role in navigating it.”

Another course – Business on the Frontlines (BOTFL) – could be described as Mendoza’s mission in action, says Kilpatrick. Forget dry cases or working with a Fortune 500 mainstay on a go-to-market strategy. In BOTFL, students explore business from the very bottom, spending 10 days in war-torn societies to develop rebuilding strategies alongside NGOs and commercial leaders alike. Working in nations like Sierra Leone, Honduras, and Sri Lanka, students learn the difference between the hypothetical and the practical, to better understand the economic, logistical, and political hurdles that entrench poverty and injustice. At the same time, they experience how business tools can be applied to spark shifts and create opportunities that may someday swell into social transformation.

“BOTFL examines the impact of business in post-conflict settings,” Kilpatrick notes. “Graduate students and faculty from across the University of Notre Dame work directly on business and peace-related projects with partners in the field, primarily international humanitarian organizations. Many BOTFL projects focus on agriculture, infrastructure and mining, as these economic sectors can frequently absorb large numbers of unskilled young men after conflict. Projects have also extended to micro-finance, youth unemployment and human trafficking.”

The course certainly left an impression on Sonakshi Baherty, a 2018 P&Q MBA To Watch who went overseas to build schools in Uganda as part of one international immersion. “It is a course that truly differentiates Mendoza from any other b-school,” she explains. “The biggest insight for me is understanding how the dynamism of business can be harnessed to prevent conflict and promote peace in post-conflict and poor communities across the world.”


Along with that, Notre Dame also carries a certain mystique. It is a brand packed with nostalgia and a campus regaled in tradition. Where else will you find a chapel in every dorm? The campus is literally sacred ground, filled with lakes, wooded walking paths, and iconic buildings like the Basilica of Sacred Heart or the library’s Touchdown Jesus – a 130-foot mural comprised of nearly 6,000 different stones. When couples are ready to commit, they kiss under the Lyons Arch – a precursor to marriage according to school legend.

Mendoza College exterior

However, much of Notre Dame lore revolves around the storied football program. It is the home of Knute Rockne and the Four Horseman, the fading Gipper, and the long shot Rudy, all testaments to fair play and epic comebacks. Before games, players tap the stairwell “Play Like a Champion Today” sign – a symbolic commitment to the bond between gridiron brothers and the sanctity of competition that summons courage, reveals character, and demands perfection.

Alas, South Bend itself doesn’t evoke the same awe and affection as Notre Dame itself. To many, the city is out in the middle of nowhere, another tired, rust belt town that began its death spiral when manufacturing and farming faded during the 80s. That’s just a sorry cliché, says Sarah Shoemaker, another 2018 P&Q MBA To Watch. In her experience, South Bend is a city geared to innovation and startups – an emerging ‘smart city’ with a revitalized commercial sector –not to mention charming restaurants, breweries, and vineyards. This setting also reinforces Notre Dame’s deep-rooted sense of community.

“While it lacks the glamour of Chicago (which is only 1.5 hours away) or New York City, the more rural and small-town vibe naturally brings the class together, which is an overlooked benefit of business school,” says Alex Prosperi, who made P&Q’s list of Best & Brightest MBAs in 2018.


Kelli Kilpatrick has experienced this same dynamic since arriving at Mendoza last year. “[When you’re] is located in a medium-sized town like South Bend, there is a tighter student community and more of a traditional college experience for graduate students.  In my view, these are critically important to the MBA student experience and to a graduate student’s ability to more easily make connections with each other and to the alumni network. The benefit of a tight-knit MBA student community coupled with tremendous access to one of the most powerful alumni networks in the world is a combination that should rate very high on the list of characteristics that all prospective students require from their MBA experience.”

That network is something to behold. In the 2018 Economist alumni survey, the program ranked 4th worldwide in alumni effectiveness. For “Domers” – Notre Dame alumni faithful – the school mission continues long after graduation. That means alumni go out of their way to support the students who follow in their footsteps.

“In my conversations with current students and alums, it became clear the reach and potency of the Notre Dame network far surpassed that of any other school I considered,” says Peter Zanga. “In asking one prominent alumnus what advice he’d offer for cold-emailing other notable alums, his response was simple: “Put ‘Notre Dame’ in the subject line. Nine times out of ten, you’ll get a response. People want to help.” I want to be a part of a community where people pay it forward to those who come after them.”

Photo by Peter Ringenberg/University of Notre Dame


The program’s pronounced pivot to analytics also appealed to Zanga, who is earning his MBA/MS dual degree in the field. He is also looking forward to the school’s increasingly-robust Business Analytics Club, which exposes students to everything from distinguished guest speakers to fresh tools and methods from the field. Archit Garg, an entrepreneur from India, is equally smitten with Mendoza’s analytics programming.

“Data is the new oil and if I want to achieve success as an entrepreneur, I feel analytics is very important.”

In the end, it was Mendoza’s philosophy – business as a force to do good and serve others – that most deeply resonated with the Class of 2020.

“Everyone I’ve met is excited to be a part of the Notre Dame community,” observes Audrey Walker. “When students ask each other how they ended up at Notre Dame, there are two common themes: the sense that Notre Dame is a special place and the program’s focus on ethical leadership and decision-making.”

For Walker, this mission to question the status quo and demand more from herself is a commitment that extends long after she earns her Mendoza MBA. “Five years from now, I want to still be “asking more of business,” no matter where I am employed or what I am doing.  I want to be at a company where I can leave the office every day knowing that the work I did helped make a difference, either in the lives of fellow employees, customers, or the community.”

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. 

Student Hometown Alma Mater Employer
Mary Coughlin Colorado Springs, CO University of Notre Dame Google
Zevi Fefoame Kpando-Gadza, Ghana University of Ghana Vodafone
Olivia Feldpausch Shelby Twp, MI Michigan State University U.S. Air Force
Archit Garg Ghaziabad, India Indian Institute of Technology, Roorkee Sociaload
Jeffrey Breckenridge O’Neill San Francisco, CA Lehigh University O’Neill Vintners / Robert Hall Winery
Adenike Opetubo Bronx, NY North Carolina A&T Fiscal Management Associates
Fernando Jose Quijano Bogota, Colombia University of Notre Dame Baker Hughes
Brendan Reardon Branford, CT Davidson College HCI Equity Partners
Audrey Walker Wilmington, DE College of William & Mary ModernThink
Michael Wall Scituate, MA U.S. Military Academy U.S. Army
Peter Zanca Memphis, TN Rhodes College Accenture


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