Meet The Rice Jones MBA Class Of 2021

Rice on the rise.

In a year when MBA applications plunged at just about every U.S. business school, the Jones Graduate School of Business experienced a surge – joining the University of Chicago as the only Top 25 MBA programs that increased applications. Of course, Rice has long been an ascendant program. It is the Southeastern sparkplug with grand ambitions, never satisfied and always evolving. In the process, Jones has increasingly lived up to the larger university’s “Ivy of the South” reputation.

Despite its small school stature, Rice Jones can compete with the big names in every category that matters to MBAs: academics, resources, location, financial aid, employment, and alumni. It is a program that has become a headliner in entrepreneurship and technology, areas that enrich its already diverse and global programming. The Jones MBA also produces some of the most satisfied and engaged alumni, with over 80% of students enjoying financial aid. On top of that, the program is based in boomtown Houston, an epicenter for energy, healthcare, biotech, aerospace, and real estate. It is a city that thinks big, the home of NASA and the nation’s largest port and medical center – not to mention two dozen Fortune 500 firms.


While Houston is big and brassy, Jones is more small and intimate. That’s part of the program’s appeal for the 107-member Class of 2021. “Rice is nice” is more than a slogan at the school. It is a pact based on mutual support and respect that’s expressed through warm greetings and knowing smiles. Here, students are more than numbers. Instead, they are contributors, each one essential to the success of the class. In the words of Dean Peter Rodriguez, each student “is handpicked for their experience, perspective, background, and interests.” That creates a special responsibility for each member of the MBA class.

“At Rice, the impact of every student can be felt,” writes Matthew Manriquez, a U.S. Army Combat Engineer Officer. While that can be a heavy burden to carry, I have found that students embrace that responsibility.”

That impact is amplified by the closeness of the students. All classes and activities are held in the same building. This includes the weekly “Partio” mixer (aka Party on the Patio). A long-time tradition, Partio brings together full-time, executive, and master’s students for food and drink. It is a venue to build networks, with alumni and recruiters joining faculty and staff in the festivities. It is culture, says Edward A. Banner, where you can “get to know all of your classmates on a personal level.” That’s by design – with fellowship fostering a culture based on devoting personal attention, sharing ideas, and delivering feedback that enhances the learning experience. This personal touch extends beyond students too, with Marcio Perino noting that faculty and staff already know his classmates’ names!

Jones MBA students in the classroom


That’s the point of coming to a close-knit program like Rice, adds Baldwin Luu, a cybersecurity consultant from Deloitte.I wanted to meet people who aren’t around for only two years during the program but are friends and colleagues for life. This is instantly apparent when you visit the campus and meet the students here.”

What words describe the Class of 2021? Colorful, diverse, and accomplished all come to mind. Each brings a great story (or two) to tell. Take Joann Stephen. Growing up in India, her defining moment was stopping a man from beating a boy for simply spilling his coffee. It was a moment, she says, that cemented her belief that she was more capable than she knew. That came in handy right after college, when she was assigned to work on the world’s largest gasification complex, a role that often required 16-hour days with the knowledge that any lapse in attention could spark a disaster. In addition, the project had no precedent, meaning (in her words) “we were on our own to figure out the right path forward.”

In the end, Stephen did that – and more. “My biggest accomplishment during this period was a temperature tool that I built which could accurately predict the temperature inside the Gasifier reactor. I was able to save my team millions of dollars in terms of the money that they would have had to spend to acquire the tool.”


Marcia Barnett’s rite of passage came when she came out to her family as transgender in college. The moment was terrifying as much as a cathartic for Barnett, who was also coping with the death in the family. In the end, revealing her identity only served to strengthen her family’s bonds.

“It was an incredibly difficult period of time, not just for me but for my family; they had to grieve not just the loss of my grandparents, but the loss of their “son” and “oldest brother,” she writes. “I discovered then just how truly resilient my family and I were and I would not have made it through my transition or through medical school without them. I have a unique position as a black transwoman in medicine and business, and I want to leverage it as well as I can to benefit those who didn’t have the advantages that I have had.”

Matthew Manriquez’s turning point came even earlier. In 4th grade, he watched the World Trade Center collapse after the terrorist attacks. That moment, he says, clarified his purpose and ultimately routed him to West Point where he developed a passion for leadership.

“The subsequent journey gave me an invaluable global perspective through missions in South Korea and across the Middle East in addition to partnership with a whole host of foreign allies. All these experiences reinforced my commitment to a lifetime of service and showed me more ways to fulfill that calling.”

Jones Graduate School of Business from the air


Manriquez wasn’t alone in finding his calling in the military. In Afghanistan, Joe Louis Williams spent nearly a year installing and running an information system that enabled the U.S. to track all military and government personnel around Kabul – earning him a U.S. Army Meritorious Service Medal in the process. Before joining Facebook, Gloria Escobar ran fundraising and marketing campaigns for food banks that ultimately produced 820 million meals – or “almost enough to give everyone in the U.S. breakfast, lunch and dinner for one day,” she says. Don’t think that a pressure-packed, ‘drink-from-a-firehose’ curriculum is going to scare Marcia Barnett – not after medical school, that is.

“I have delivered babies during my OB/GYN rotation; performed intubations during an anesthesia rotation; taught junior medical students how to perform in a clinical setting during my general surgery sub-internship; first-assisted and sutured gaping wounds on a plastic surgery rotation; built rapport with, counseled, and calmed patients on psychiatry rotations; and been a part of a ‘code’ team—resuscitating patients and grieving with loved ones in the ICU.”

Indeed, the Rice Jones MBA attracts students from all walks of life. That includes Julianne Katz. After graduation, she hit the road for 90 cities, playing Hodel on the Fiddler on the Roof Broadway National Tour. Afterward, this aficionado of “New York City hustler life” worked as an associate Broadway director and choreographer, fitness instructor, and owner of Broadway Kids Auditions (BKA). In addition, Joann Stephen reached the national level in judo and can throw someone twice her weight. By the time Edward Banner was 18, he already had a pilot’s license. How is this for a memorable childhood?

“I had an ostrich, giant tortoise, llama, and a bunch of other pets growing up,” writes Jenna Wenyon.

Go to Page 3 for a dozen in-depth profiles of the Class of 2021. 

Go to Pages 2-3 for a Q&A with Dean Peter Rodriguez

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