Meet The Michigan Ross MBA Class Of 2021


That word is a staple in every movie trailer. Dubbed over chases and explosions, “action-packed” promises a “gripping, edge-of-your-seat” drama that never lets up. In an action-packed world, you’re not sitting back on the sidelines. You’re part of the action, doing what you can’t do anywhere else.

“Action-packed” would also be an apt description of the University of Michigan’s Ross School of Business. Instead of a sense of danger, Ross supplies a hands-dirty, project-based, experience-driven curriculum where students run businesses, partner with top firms, and simulate real-world events. This approach made all the difference for Kristin Mixon when it came time to choose an MBA program.


Michigan Ross MBA Class of 2021

“Action-based Learning was the key factor that led me to choose Ross,” writes the U.S. Army Captain.  “Having the opportunity to apply academic lessons to real-world problems in an academic environment made me feel that I would be able to push myself outside my comfort zone and optimize my MBA experience. I knew that Ross would help me get comfortable with being uncomfortable.”

Without question, the Multidisciplinary Action Project (MAP) is Ross’ signature learn-by-doing event. A required course lasting seven weeks, MAP provides first-year teams with an opportunity to partner with sponsor companies to complete projects. For example, the Class of 2020 completed eight projects on behalf of Microsoft, ranging from developing three-year growth plans for Xbox to conducting market research on potential AI and analytics services. Overall, Ross MBAs worked on 100 projects in 2019, with half held overseas or organized by Ross alums. In addition, over three-quarters culminated in a presentation to c-suite execs.

Bottom line: MAP enables Ross MBAs to roll up their sleeves, practice leadership, and gain high-level experience, all while reinforcing their skills and building their networks. This chance to contribute early, solve problems, and make an impact, inspired TJ Banks, an engineer and future NBA general manager, to make the trek to Ann Arbor.


“I can’t wait to dive into a new industry and provide first-hand insights to optimize business performance,” writes Banks. “This opportunity to learn through experience is unrivaled at any other program! It’s basically an internship prior to my summer internship. It’s an opportunity to work in a different industry, without the pressure of recruiting for full-time employment. MAP provides an opportunity to travel, both domestically and abroad. It gives insight into industries that, unless you recruit for explicitly, you would have no opportunity to explore.”

Of course, the Ross Class of 2021 already brings impressive credentials and experience to the full-time MBA program. Take Balaji Pandian, a Harvard-trained computer scientist and Michigan medical student who is a self-described “sailor, pilot, road biker, and motorcyclist.” In addition, he serves as head of artificial intelligence at Invenio Imaging, where he is busy using AI and machine learning to support surgeons in operating rooms. In his previous venture as a medical student, he updated an “outdated” genetic sequencing software package that he eventually sold back to the University of Michigan.

“While incredibly taxing, founding this company provided a first-hand experience of the difficulties of both creating a company as well as working with healthcare systems,” he shares. “I am enormously proud of our product and the fact that our system aids in the care of real cancer patients.”

Group photo from the Class of 2021


Before joining the Class of 2021, Deb Xavier ran a women’s empowerment business, where she partnered with firms like Google, Facebook, and the Brazilian government. Eventually, she sold it to Spotify – a true success story for someone whom many might have written off. At 15, Xavier became pregnant – a path that she calls “remarkably difficult and lonely.” Despite this, Xavier pursued her education, earning a degree in international relations and certifications in marketing and management. Xavier’s success was a collective achievement, thanks to flexibility from teachers and bosses and support from family and friends. Now, Xavier is ready to take an even bigger step as a Ross MBA.

“There are not enough words to describe the “I made it” feeling that I got when I was accepted to Ross,” she explains. “Seventeen years ago, my challenge was to finish high school. Now, here I am, ready for this next chapter of my life with my daughter, Tathiana, and our cat, Amora. 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.”

Xavier wasn’t the only member of the class who could do it all. Kristin Mixon is a former Blackhawk helicopter pilot who led 200 soldiers in the 101st Airborne Division…when she wasn’t busy raising her two children while her husband was deployed. At a boutique wealth management firm, Kaitlyn Lo helped manage portfolios for clients with a net worth exceeded $100 million dollars. Nadia Ogene launched Hulu Black, a support network for African American employees at Hulu, eventually growing membership to 100. At the same time, Patricio Zirion Rivera launched Uber in three Mexican cities totaling 1.7 million people.

“The feeling of pride I felt after arriving a couple of weeks before launch, hustling, setting everything up, and then “turning on” Uber in the city is unlike any other I’ve had in my career,” he notes.


The class also boasts its share of politically-minded students. Suman Gidwani, for one, has developed a behavioral-based voter turnout program that motivates Americans to get three non-voters to the polls. According to 2018 test results, the initiative delivered ten times the return of traditional GOTV strategies. Marcus Tenenbaum was actually stationed in the White House during the Obama and Trump administrations. As an Air Force officer, he headed up an eight-member team that provided cybersecurity and communications support for the President, Vice President, senior staff, and the First Lady. How important to Tenenbaum to the executive branch? He took 41 flights on Air Force One.

Despite his critical role, Tenenbaum considers his biggest achievement to be the team he groomed, with members moving on to prominent positions at Facebook, VISA, and the Office of Barack and Michelle Obama. “The family we built – and the culture we created – was one where people could bring their whole self to work and lean on their teammates. The trust we developed led to the adoption of a team-wide growth mindset and that provided the catalyst for each of us to grow closer as a group and become leaders in our organization.”

University of Michigan, Ross School of Business

Jeremy Leung’s career has been equally colorful. He worked as a policy advisor to the Australian Government’s Minister of Foreign Affairs and headed growth initiatives for Cettire, the largest Australian-owned online luxury fashion merchant. In between, Leung served as director of business, innovation, and policy at the American Australian Association (AAA), where he set up the American Australian Business Council (AABC). It was here where he achieved his greatest feat…He got Donald Trump to change his mind on slapping aluminum and steel tariffs on Australia.

“I responded on behalf of the AABC by writing a letter to the President from our CEO members led by prominent Australian businessman Andrew Liveris, former Chairman and CEO of Dow Chemicals.  The letter outlined the strong bilateral relationship between the U.S. and Australia and asked President Trump to reconsider the tariffs. I also asked former professional golf player and prominent Australian Greg Norman to make a personal phone call to President Trump to reinforce our message. The next day, we were pleasantly surprised by an announcement by President Trump that Australia would be exempt from these proposed aluminum and steel tariffs.


That’s not the Class of 2021’s only brush with fame. Suman Gidwani was a dancer at the 2010 Orange Bowl halftime show, which featured the Goo Goo Dolls. Growing up in Boca Raton, Patricio Zirion Rivera attended the same school as soccer star Jozy Altidore and tennis legend Andy Roddick. Then again, Kaitlyn Lo won three NCAA Division I water polo championships – two at Stanford and one at (wait for it) the University of Michigan!

A month into the program, what does the Class of 2021 have to say about their fellow students. For Balaji Pandian, this class – like those before them – personify a “work hard, play hard” ethos. “Having many friends who are currently MBA2s, I have tagged along to the winter ski trip, Thursday night happy hours, and various case competitions. Ross students are engaging inside and outside the classroom. I have been impressed with the variety of backgrounds of the student body, from NGO directors to startup founders to financial traders.”

In contrast, Deb Xavier has been struck by the “sense of belonging” inherent to the class. “As a non-traditional MBA candidate, and a single mother, the collaborative and inclusive community was more than I could ever expect. Right from the beginning of my interactions, I knew I would have friends for life.”

Go to page 3 for in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021

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