Meet Washington Olin’s MBA Class Of 2021

Lecture in an Olin classroom

ASKING THE BIG QUESTIONS

The Global Immersion Program wasn’t the only benefit that motivated the Class of 2021 to head to Olin. Several members praised the program’s “data-driven and values-based decision-making” framework, one that – in Alexandra Ignatius’ words – explores the intersection of organizational, personal, and societal values. In other words, Olin MBAs are grappling with the same issues – impact and integrity – that are increasingly consuming the time of senior executives.

“We don’t just work with bottom lines and profit margins,” writes Kellan Roybal, who is earning a Master’s degree in social work alongside his MBA. “Here, we work both in and out of the classroom testing business principles, questioning process ethics and reflecting on our impact. We’re asking big questions and working for even bigger answers.”

In some corners, Washington Olin is dismissed as a “regional school.” In reality, half of Olin MBAs find jobs outside the Midwest. Still, St. Louis is becoming an increasingly enticing proposition for business students. The metro area boasts nine members of the Fortune 500, including #51 Centene. Two mainstays on the list – Express Scripts and Monsanto – were purchased by out-of-town firms but still maintain a sizable presence in the region. The same can be said for household names like Boeing and Anheuser-Busch.

A STARTUP HUB

Such infrastructure lures ambitious talents and creates opportunities for partnerships. Not surprisingly, entrepreneurship has been thriving in the Gateway City. Last year, the city attracted $545 million dollars in venture capital. The success of standouts like LockerDome and Varsity Tutors have opened the eyes of potential founders and investors – as did the city’s ranking #2 in Forbes’ 10 Rising Cities for Startups. It is a city that has it all in the startup space: low cost of living; deep-pocketed investors like Cultivation Capital and SixThirty; large accelerators like T-Rex, Capital Innovators, and the Cortex Innovation Community; and generous programs like Arch Grants. Such luxuries ultimately inspired Lori Ashley Witherspoon to remain in the Midwest.

Lecture at the Brookings Institution

“WashU is in the heart of St. Louis, Missouri—a city which enjoys a booming business economy and a city that fails its minority communities every day,” she writes. “My desire is to foster growth and prosperity in these forgotten communities by helping minority small business grow and employ more people from their communities.”

To support students like Witherspoon, Olin maintains the Skandalaris Center, which provides startup training along with connecting students with area experts, investors, and resources. Looking ahead, Witherspoon also plans to take advantage of Olin’s Center for Experiential Learning. “This center allows students to work on teams that bring business solutions and strategies to various classes of businesses in and around St. Louis,” she adds. I am truly excited about the chance to work with small businesses and NGOs.”

Perhaps the biggest differentiator at Olin, however, is the program’s traditional small class sizes that help bind tight-knit communities. It was a dynamic that goes beyond the students…and one that Raymond Wagner has picked up on early. “WashU Olin prides itself on “knowing your name and your story and this was important to me,” he writes. “I did not want to be just another number in a large class. From day one, every member of the staff and faculty have known me by name and made it a truly welcoming experience. Olin Business School has that “Midwestern feel” that is welcoming and friendly.”

In the end, those relationships are often the biggest takeaway from business school, adds Elizabeth Hailand, a 2019 Poet&Quants Best & Brightest MBA. “The diversity in the friends I have made and staff with whom I have connected has opened my eyes to different cultures and perspectives and reminded me of the importance of maintaining an open mind. I have significantly expanded my “external mirror” of people from whom I seek honest feedback about my areas of strength and growth. And, I have formed some of my strongest life friendships during these short two years.”

Sure enough, two years soon become ten. Where does the Class of 2021 hope to be in that time? Tianyuan Chen hopes to bring more advanced technology into China by starting her own healthcare venture capital firm. Alexandra Ignatius plans to pursue a similar end by developing marketing strategy with a social purpose. The same could be said for Jennifer Sylves Lanas, who paints herself as a “techno-optimist.” Her goal is to help companies and communities leverage technologies in ethical and inclusive ways.

“The future is being written at the speed of trust—it is up to us to give voice to that story.”

MBA StudentHometownAlma MaterEmployer
Tianyuan ChenTongling, ChinaFudan UniversityMulberry Capital
Irina GrekovaMoscow, RussiaPlekhanov Russian University of EconomicsSalym Petroleum Development
Alexandra IgnatiusWashington, DCColumbia UniversityEdelman
Kendra KellyKing of Prussia, PAGeorgia State UniversityExperience
Tarhe OsiebeLagos, NigeriaUniversity of KentuckySouthern Company
Kellan RoybalDenver, CORegis UniversityRegis University
Gabriel SamanezLima, PerúUniversidad de LimaStigmergy Mining SAC
Jennifer Sylves LanasPittsburgh, PASaint Vincent CollegeCarnegie Mellon University CREATE Lab
Lungile TshumaBulawayo, ZimbabweLindenwood UniversityThe Barry-Wehmiller Leadership Institute
Raymond T. Wagner IIISt. Louis, MOU.S. Military AcademyU.S. Army
Lori Ashley WitherspoonO’Fallon, ILHoward UniversityEPIC Systems Group
Nitish Kumar YadavGoa, IndiaMotilal Nehru National Institute of Technology AllahabadNTPC Limited