Meet Minnesota Carlson’s MBA Class Of 2021

Ah, the Midwest – the fly-over people. The region conjures up images of small towns and deserted factories. It is Trump Country: flat and frigid, cornfields and country music, John Deere and Budweiser. It is the place where dreams supposedly go to die, where life’s highlights come down to state fairs, fish frys, and cow tipping.

If you listen to the pundits talk about the Midwest, you’d think cheese is a food group, Red Lobster is fining dining, and Walmart is community central. Oh – and ranch dressing is supposedly the Midwest’s answer to hot sauce and ketchup too. Sure, the people are open and neighborly…but do you really want everyone knowing your business?


Of course, the Midwest is more than the farmlands surrounding Chicago. In reality, it is an education and commercial hub. And you won’t find a better combination of the two than the University of Minnesota and the Twin Cities. Cosmopolitan, courteous, and clean, they are the home to the Carlson School of Management, small school extraordinaire. Just a short jaunt from the mighty Mississippi – and downtown Minneapolis for that matter – the full-time MBA program blends the resources of an elite research university with a community geared towards personal attention and career transformation.

“Our class size averages about 90 per year,” explains Phil Miller, assistant dean for MBA and MS programs at Carlson. “This allows students to know each other well and for faculty and staff to provide individualized support. But our business school has 4,500 students and a faculty ranked regularly in the top 10 to 15 in the world. In other words, you get something rare: both excellence and intimacy.”

Corporate reception at Carlson

Davi Gordon, a Columbus native and senior tax accountant, was seeking a “big city school” experience after earning her undergraduate degree at a liberal arts college. This combination of small scale and abundant options led her to join Carlson’s full-time MBA Class of 2021.

“I was looking for a program with a recognized reputation, human-scale class size, a strong focus on experiential learning, and a location in a thriving business community,” she explains. “Long story short, the Carlson School jumped out at me as the best fit for my career objectives, offering the essentials needed to put my entrepreneurial venture to practice.”


Gordon’s classmate, Heather Stanislawski, placed a premium on “where students seemed the happiest.” Her takeaway? “Not only did the Carlson School check every one of my boxes, but I knew that I would be surrounded by kind, supportive, and impressive peers. And, of course, there is the tried and true cliché: once I walked on the University of Minnesota campus, despite the fact that it was 23 degrees below zero the day that I interviewed, I couldn’t imagine myself going anywhere else.”

Tiana Birawer, a 2019 P&Q Best & Brightest MBA, joined General Mills after graduating from Carlson last spring. Echoing Miller, she notes that her classmates didn’t have to choose between a big school for opportunities or a small school for community. They enjoyed both in equal measures.

“Our program size can be a big benefit,” she explains. “You get personal attention from professors and staff. You can actually know the names of all the students in our class and the other classes. Our alumni are committed to helping and staying involved. We have great placement rates with companies across the U.S. and the world. A small program may not be for everyone, but it can sure be for you.”

Orientation Week for full-time MBA class of 2020 kicks off with a welcome breakfast in the CSOM atrium.

One reason for this success is Carlson’s differentiating feature. It is a pioneer in experiential education, with hands-on projects and partnerships being the core of the programming. “We have one of the deepest experiential learning curricula in the nation,” adds Phil Miller. “All students participate in a year-long, eight-credit Enterprise program targeted at the industry or skill set they seek to develop – Brands, Consulting, Funds and Ventures. Each program is led by clinical faculty with deep experience at industry-leading firms like McKinsey. Our recruiters call out students applied experience as a differentiator in summer internships and early in their career.”


At Carlson, small doesn’t mean narrow. In the Class of 2021, you’ll find a diverse array of backgrounds. Take Hunter Brocato, an intern coach in New Orleans who prepared high school seniors for professional internships. Over two years, 95% of his students completed their internships – with half of them offered either a full-time position or a second internship. His medical assistant interns, for example, were able to shadow practitioners in various patient treatments. Another team of interns developed an app for GE Digital to market a music festival.

“I was blown away by the power of business in driving change in individuals and communities through this experience, Brocato observes. “The intersection of private and social sectors energized me in a way nothing else had and business was a clear next step. Additionally, I found that an MBA would be the best way to develop my ability to lead teams and organizations.”

The class also features Cleresa R. Roberts, a biologist who has published research on stemming aging in adipose-derived stem cells. Her next step: medical leadership – specifically reducing health care disparities for minorities. The class also includes many students like Roberts who are making career transitions. Matteo Panero, for one, has already shifted from industrial engineering to supply chains. He even spearheaded a warehouse upgrade that increased capacity by six times. His next step? Entrepreneurship, of course. At the same time, China’s Han Zhou made the switch from interpreter to revenue generator. To say her transition was seamless would be an understatement.

Carlson Consulting Enterprise team

“During my first year in business development, I successfully led the company’s market entry into two Fortune 500 customers, increased department revenue by 30 percent, and boosted customer retention rate to 100 percent.”


Mark Giannetti made his name by organizing a day-long leadership development and networking event for the LGBT community at General Mills’ corporate headquarters. Of course, every class has its career misfit…in the best possible sense. This year, that honor belongs to Davi Gordon…a volleyball player who parlayed a series of part-time jobs in engineering, logistics, and farming into her role as an “accidental” tax accountant.

“[It] ultimately helped me realize my passion for analyzing data and solving problems, which is something I want to continue post-MBA.”

Outside their careers, Cleresa Roberts trains shelties for dog competitions. Han Zhou manages her dad’s blog – which reaches 850,000 followers. Matteo Panero takes pride in her six-month internship at “the magical world” of Disneyland Paris. Just don’t tell Heather Stanislawski that Disney is the happiest place on Earth.

“I have broken my nose three times – twice at Disneyland,” she quips.

Go to Page 3 for a dozen student profiles from the Class of 2021.

Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.