Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Class Of 2019

University of Maryland’s Terri Jarboe Farri


Then again, compared to what Jarboe Farri has already faced over the past two decades in real estate, business school must have been a breeze.

“My grand opening with invited guests and planned festivities was delayed by the terrorist attacks of Sept. 11, 2001. Just one year later, I had to rebuild the business after the worst tornado in Maryland history destroyed my first office, in La Plata. Upon relaunching, everyone seemingly was opening a title company as the housing market was going crazy and the financial market was doing great in the early-to-mid-2000s. However, my company was one of a small percentage of title companies in my region that survived when the housing bubble burst in 2008 and continued to ooze for a few years. Through this period, we did not lay off a single employee.”

Kenneth Hurd faced his own do-or-die situation in 2011, as Tropical Storm Lee ripped through the southern and eastern United States and caused nearly $3 billion dollars in damage. It also destroyed Hurd’s customer’s site, leaving 1,200 employees without work. In response, Hurd was able to marshal 90% of his team to work on recovery.

“This was rewarding as many of our employees were impacted by the flood as well and they needed the income to repair their homes,” writes the Rochester Institute of Technology grad. “Heart-warming moment: At the end of very long days, a group would then go out to the local community houses that were impacted and help with the deconstruction. Business saved, employees working, and community better off created a good story from a disaster.”


That wasn’t the only good story that the Best & Brightest Online MBAs can share this year. During his medical residency, Dr. Owen Ellis learned anesthesia by providing it to dolphins and gorillas at Sea World and the San Diego Zoo. If the University of Arizona’s Sam Speet looks familiar, it might be because he served as your Jungle Cruise Skipper at Disney World. The same could be said about the Jack Welch Institute’s Megan Broude; she who won a U.S. Junior Figure Skating National Championship in ice dancing when she was 12.

Sure, business school sometimes made their lives frantic, but that doesn’t mean they weren’t able to still do what was important to them. Exhibit A: Cassidi Reese, a U.S. Navy fighter and test pilot. Between classes at the University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium, she was racking up skydives, which now number over 2,000. Carnegie Mellon’s Remi Popoola actually got married during the first day of orientation. How is this for staying busy? “During my two years in the Auburn MBA program, I have found time to run a combined six half or full marathons, ride a bicycle from Boston to New York City, and visit six countries on three continents, says Eric Hensley.

That’s not to say it was always smooth sailing. The Class of 2019 were often juggling their priorities, making tradeoffs in their full-time jobs, families, and interests. Megan Broude, for one, had a baby during her first year. Chiara Molena was traveling so much that she had to deliver a presentation from the airport lounge during one live class! Of course, there were always interruptions, always the unexpected distractions that knocked the Best & Brightest off stride.


That didn’t mean the classes were fragmented and isolated. Quite the opposite, actually. At the University of North Carolina, Jaap Veneman completed five overseas immersion trips – hitting Hong Kong, Taiwan, Japan, India, and Argentina – where he was able to bond with his online peers. Veneman’s classmate, Chris Venditti, has even vacationed with his classmates, nurturing what he describes as an already “rich and robust network.” Considering the global nature of online MBAs – one IE cohort features 24 students from 24 countries – students can also meet up during business trips.

Carnegie Mellon University’s John Campion

“Wherever I travel, there reside fellow iMBA students with whom to visit,” writes the University of Illinois’ Rebecca Prince. “I traveled to Melbourne, Australia during my degree and was able to meet up with a fellow iMBA student from Chile, who was working in Melbourne at the time.”

Some online MBA students even join mutual interest groups outside the virtual classroom. One example is the IE Chicas, a women’s group who use WhatsApp to stay in touch on professional, academic, and personal matters. “We motivate each other and keep each other on track,” explains IE Business School’s Sarah Genelle Castagnola. “We check in constantly and support each other’s learning. These friendships, beyond the support of your family and friends at home, are really important as these people understand exactly what you are going through.”


Online MBAs are all in it together, sink-or-swim, which fosters a sense of mutual respect among classmates. This is often reflected in group meetings. Knowing the demands of work and family, says John Campion, the group tends to conduct due diligence to maximize the value of their time together. Such preparation, he adds, only made the individual members better when they returned to their jobs.

“During and after our meetings, we needed to hold each other accountable if we were not adequately prepared or were deviating from our plan. I think the necessity of putting such priorities on the scheduling, preparation, and structure of meetings will make me a much better organizer of meetings in the future in both remote and in-person settings.”

The bonds between online MBA students may come as a surprise to some. However, faculty-student relationships are equally unexpected. In most programs, online MBAs are taught by the same faculty as their full-time and executive brethren. In the online realm, the faculty and staff step it up. For Angeline Gross, a big differentiator was how they went above-and-beyond to take care of students on their schedule.

“Professors go out of their way to ensure their students are properly served, from providing detailed written feedback on assignments to meeting students on calls or video chats to review the material,” explains the University of Florida grad. “I can specifically recall one professor who read and commented on every post on our online discussion boards – now that’s dedication! Furthermore, UF operates a dedicated student affairs team just for its MBA programs, and it’s truly a concierge service.  Anytime I had a question or concern, I would message or email a member of the team and receive an answer in just a few hours – and sometimes minutes!”


Such custom care, coupled with formidable coursework, has netted tremendous results for the Class of 2019. The biggest benefit for Ethan Dollar, an Indiana Kelley MBA and Lockheed Martin manufacturing manager, has been being able to better understand the bigger picture. “My online education has enabled me to understand, at a higher level, the decisions and movements within my company that has led to deeper discussions with my colleagues and management. This knowledge has also enabled me to make more insights and to engage more with my company’s leadership regarding the future path of the business.”

USC Marshall’s Latanya Black

Others enjoyed more tangible returns. USC Marshall’s Latanya Black made her long-sought transition from technology to apparel, landing a job at Nike in digital product creation. Kenneth Hurd applied the lessons he learned in negotiations to a customer pact that resulted in the best terms in their 20-year relationship. That said, it’d be hard to top Jaap Veneman for results. He rang up three promotions during his stay in the Kenan-Flagler online MBA program.

“My MBA accelerated my career by at least five years, I would say.”

Not surprisingly, every 2019 Best & Brightest agreed they would do the program all over again. For the University of Arizona’s Roberto Llano, the benefit was two-fold. Not only did the program help him uncover his potential, but also gave a sense of confidence and motivation – one that he hopes his family and friends pick up as they weigh their educational choices.


Candice Gray experienced a similar transformation. “My outlook on life has expanded,” explains the Imperial College graduate. “I was forced to challenge who I am, and I can truly say that I have become more self-aware. I have made lifelong connections with wonderful individuals that I may never have had the opportunity to meet otherwise. I feel inspired and prepared for the next chapter of my life.”

It isn’t just the Best & Brightest who are opening a new chapter. For many, online education – as its technical capabilities and popularity expand – is becoming the student platform of the future. That’s rooted in amplifying many of the best education practices. In fact, Spandana Lakkamraju was surprised at how similar the online format was to her college years. Back then, she studied abroad, which required her to operate in different time zones virtually so she could stay in touch with her friends.

“[This] is what it feels like now,” shares the Indiana Kelley grad. “The world today is changing. Globalization is real and online is the way of the future. A lot of the in-class experiences are also leveraging online platforms for education today, as did my undergraduate program. I believe we’re all adapting to the way learning is going to be in the future. This is just the beginning.”

Go to page 3 for 50 in-depth profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest Online MBAs.

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