Meet Yale SOM’s MBA Class Of 2021

Purpose. Calling. Vocation. Passion.

They are words you’ll often hear from the MBA students in the Class of 2021 at Yale School of Management. So is the word mission. It is an end that reflects impact and defines legacy. It can take the form of a venture launched or community served. For mission-driven MBAs, the value of every course or activity is measured against this pursuit.

That’s especially true at Yale SOM. The top MBA program for the non-profit sector, the school tends to attract a different type of professional: big-picture thinkers and local community doers who operate at the intersection of business and social good. That’s exactly where Yale SOM’s culture and curriculum overlap with their students’ larger purpose.


Cyclist outside Yale SOM. Photo Credit: Tony Rinaldo

“I think people who are mission-oriented, they’re thinking not just about the private sector but the public sector, the non-profit sector, and how they’re interrelated, says Bruce DelMonico, assistant dean and director of admissions at Yale SOM, in a 2019 interview with Poets&Quants. “They’re also very global in nature, so we’re trying to teach our students to be very broad-minded about how they approach things.”

What types of missions do the 345 members of Yale’s MBA Class of 2021 plan to undertake? Eva Leung, a Hong Kong banker, hopes to become a “consequential leader” – one who applies technology to drive upward mobility. In contrast, Swapna Kumar, a clinical researcher, is focusing on raising health outcomes for children. After working in advancement at the Smithsonian’s Hirshhorn Museum, Anna Troein intends to learn how to adopt more diverse hiring practices in the arts. For Kiara Feliz, the larger purpose is to reduce the financing gap that dooms smaller impact funds.

“All too often, new, yet promising, impact investing funds are passed over by HNWIs seeking VC/PE rates of return and by traditional investors favoring senior, more established funds,” she explains. “[This] leaves early-stage funds struggling to scale. “As I seek to address this financing disparity, I plan to call on lessons I’ve learned working in impact investing and insights gleaned at Yale.”


Yale SOM itself maintains a mission: “Educating leaders for business and society.” It was a promise that resonated with Lee Young, a Delta Air Lines project manager. “As business continues to become more intertwined with key global issues, so should a business school curriculum,” he asserts. “Yale SOM provides a thoughtful, holistic approach to the MBA experience, by not only providing the traditional business courses but also encouraging its students to seek out opportunities to collaborate with non-MBA students.”

It is a philosophy of integration. Not only does every lecture and project connect the business disciplines, they also incorporate other academic fields – never neglecting larger social impact or the influence of culture on business fundamentals and issues.

“If you want to be an effective business leader, you cannot think of your business in isolation from the society in which it operates,” says Edi Pinker, deputy dean and BearingPoint professor of operations research, in a 2019 interview with P&Q. “If you want to be a leader in society – a leader in the public sector – you must understand the business world. These things interact; they are co-dependent. How they interact is important.”


It takes the right type of student to maximize this purpose-driven approach. The early returns from the Class of 2021 are promising. Shared missions foster mutual respect. Thus far, Yale SOM first-years are decidedly bullish on their classmates. Allen Xu, a Stanford grad from Kansas, has been struck by how his classmates are more interested in hearing others’ stories than sharing their own. This sense of curiosity was also cited by Diego Ordoñez, who notes that every person he has met so far is motivated to answer “why, how, and what if.” For Abhishek K Agarwal, a Unilver-trained product manager, humility is the defining virtue of the class.

Faculty member and student celebrate a success. Photo Credit: Tony Rinaldo

“They see and accept their own strengths and limitations without defensiveness or judgment. When I meet someone who radiates humility, my shoulders relax, my heart beats a little more quietly, and something inside me lets go.”

Not surprisingly, passion also made the list. “There is a sense that people here care a lot – about the world, about their classmates, about the future,” adds Teach for America’s Ezra Nelson. “It’s the opposite of apathy.”


As a group, the Class of 2021 is formidable. Individually, they are equally impressive. Take Neil Noronha. In Panama, he once played a drug mule during a DEA training exercise. Chances are, Noronha was sent to Panama for pressing business; he ranked among the youngest political appointees in President Obama’s Department of Defense (not counting two years as a special assistant to the National Security Council). He isn’t the only Beltway bruiser in the class. Taylor Barnard worked in the White House and the U.S. Treasury Department under President Obama.

The class’ impact can also be measured in big dollars and shining accolades like “first-of-its kind.” The latter could be applied to the urban community center that Abhishek Agarwal helped develop to serve the sanitation needs in slum catchment areas. As a Peace Corps volunteer, Kiara Feliz spearheaded the development of an aqueduct that’d provide water access to 20,000 Costa Ricans. Not only did she negotiate with government officials, but she raised the $8 million dollars it would take to build it (with the project slated to be completed in 2020). At the same time, Nomawethu Moyo combined her interests in Africa and economic development to produce groundbreaking research.

“I completed two research projects on how decentralized energy solutions are closing the energy access gap in Sub-Saharan Africa and how African governments’ inadequate support for entrepreneurship retards development, which the think tanks published. Later I leveraged these projects into more work with both think tanks, including the roadmap for Zimbabwe to become a middle-income economy by 2030.”

Next Page: A statistical profile of the Class of 2021.

To access 15 in-depth profiles of Yale SOM MBAs, go to page 4. 

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