Meet the MBA Class of 2021: The Go-Getters

MIT Sloan’s Caitlin Braun


As a whole, MBAs are restless spirits who shun convention and complacency. Continuously, they seek out new problems to solve and old assumptions to test. This passion for improvement – in themselves and their world – is why they flock to business school. That was true for MIT Sloan’s Caitlin Braun, who likened her reason to pursue an MBA to Jeff Bezos’ concept of Day 1 – an unrelenting commitment to personal growth.

“He described Day 1 as the early stages of a company where success is achieved through unrelenting passion, hard work, agility, and dedication,” she writes. “Day 1 has become a powerful framework that propels growth by keeping the entrepreneurial spirit alive. Just as it is always Day 1 at Amazon, it is always Day 1 for me. I am passionate about learning, growing, and never becoming complacent.  Returning to school to pursue an MBA and Masters in Mechanical Engineering is what keeps me in Day 1.”

That said, many MBAs are looking forward to Day 2, to taking the step where they can establish the strategy instead of simply executing it. That was the case for the University of Chicago’s Ethan Ardern, a Shell engineer who became stuck in a technical function.

“I began finding it exceedingly difficult to assume a corporate role that offered balanced development opportunities,” he writes. “At this point in my career, I’m hungry to develop both the breadth to lead groups of people and the depth to truly understand promising new technologies and business models. The economics of pursuing an MBA on a full-time basis can seem head-scratching over a five-to ten-year time horizon, but as someone hoping to run a business well beyond that timeframe, I felt it was a worthwhile investment to open myself up to the longer-term, nebulous benefits.”


Such epiphanies pushed many class members off the fence. However, it was their defining moments that laid the groundwork for joining business school. For Washington University’s Kendra Kelly, that rite passage came in 2008 as a deputy field organizer for Obama for America. While the role required her to work full-time in Missouri while shouldering a full-time class schedule in Georgia, the position hammered home the communication basics she would later apply in her career. “The campaign showed me the power of delivering the right message, to the right people, at the right time, and through the right channels,” she explains. “I was able to experience the essence of effective marketing daily.”

University of Virginia’s Franklin Tennyson

On the surface, perfectionism was seemingly the ingredient that made USC’s Aria Aaron so special. In reality, it was increasingly turning her timid and narrow. In 2017, with inspiration from Will Smith, she decided to embrace imperfection to unleash her talents. “Fear of not succeeding prevented me from taking risks,” she admits. “As long as I was playing it safe, I never exercised my full potential. After watching an Instagram post from Will Smith about skydiving when he said, “God placed the best things in life on the other side of fear,” I adopted that mantra, and let my inhibitions go. The result has been that I have become emotionally lighter and more able to fly.”

Franklin Tennyson’s breakthrough stemmed not from weight lifted but freedom lost. The Virginia Darden first-year spent nearly a month in a Chinese prison due to police corruption. For Tennyson, this exposure to unchecked power made him aware of his own shortcomings while instilling the courage to stand up to those who abuse their authority. At the same time, the event enabled him to witness the best in others even in the most severe of circumstances.

“My 25 cellmates and I shared no common language. However, the community we developed over that time sustained me, for our communication was not one based on words but rather on deeds and on the love that flowed through those deeds. As a result of my detention, I am now more aware of what lies at the center of my experience, more assured of the necessity of inter-connectedness, and more relentless in my pursuit for a more just and equitable world.”


Deb Xavier’s path to the University of Michigan was even rockier. At 15, she became pregnant – severely limiting her options in her native Brazil. However, Xavier persevered, earning a degree in international relations before becoming a business analyst and entrepreneur. The secret? Her success was truly a community effort, where teachers, bosses, and family lent a hand as she pursued her career. For her, the MBA is confirmation that the future is wide open and the worst is well behind her.

“There are not enough words to describe the “I made it” feeling that I got when I was accepted to Ross,” she asserts. “17 years ago, my challenge was to finish high school, and now, here I am, ready for this next chapter of my life with my daughter…I’m aware the MBA is just the beginning of the journey, but somehow I believe I’m now ready to reach my full potential.”

For Xavier, that means making an impact by driving digital transformation and serving as a role model for other female leaders. “Ten years ago, I would never even imagine myself here, so I hope to be positively surprised by life again, not by chance but because I’ll be ready to take the opportunities that will come my way.”

INSEAD’s Jayan Fazal-Karim


What might those opportunities for the rest of the Class of 2021? In 10 years, Christian De Allie, a dual MD-MBA at Columbia Business School, plans to become a Physical Medicine and Rehabilitation physician who develops biomedical devices. After earning his MBA at Vanderbilt University, Joshua Olamide Eniola is looking forward to returning to Nigeria and tackle its “twin bugbear” of infrastructure limitations and institutional challenges” – particularly with making investment easier and more transparent. All the while, Yale SOM’s Ezra Nelson is mapping out even grander plans.

“Opening the first charter school on Mars,” he jokes (maybe).

Jayan Fazal-Karim also brings a sense of humor to his class, pointing out that he earned a license in skydiving before piloting in case he struggled in the cockpit. When it comes to business school, he prefers to live in the moment…without a parachute.

“If I look too far ahead, I’ll lose sight of what’s in front of me right here, right now,” he explains. “I know the immediate goals I have are excel and learn as much as I can at INSEAD, make long-lasting relationships, come back to helping to build the family office in an impactful way and be a great partner to my significant other. A crack at the question for the question’s sake: In ten years, I see myself enjoying a bike ride through the Tuscan hills with some of my fellow INSEAD alumni.”

To read over 30 in-depth profiles of top MBAs from over 30 programs, jump to page 4.



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