Meet USC Marshall’s MBA Class Of 2021

Class of 2021

P&Q: USC Marshall is well-known for its “Trojan Network” – or intensive alumni support. How does Marshall foster such powerful support from its alumni?  

SPK: “At Marshall, we believe our 93K+ strong Marshall alumni network is a true differentiator. We operate by the guiding principle that engaged students will become engaged alumni and engaged alumni are essential for a great student experience. Students are given the opportunity to make an impactful connection with alumni who return to Marshall as guest lecturers, career mentors, and open doors to their professional networks. The involvement by students and alumni is intended to foster a true vested interest in each other’s success and in the School that continues beyond commencement. To further the relationship between Marshall Graduate Programs and our alumni, in the fall of 2018, Marshall Graduate Programs created the position of Senior Associate Director of Alumni Initiatives – a non-fundraising position committed to deepening connectivity and engagement between the Graduate Programs and its alumni.”


Cassie Tate didn’t have to look far to witness the impact of the Trojan Network. Her mom earned her undergrad degree at USC. “I grew up being surrounded by it and wanted to become a part of it myself,” she explains. “It was really important to me because ultimately life is about who you know, not what you know. The corporate world can be incredibly tough, and having a strong network and support system is truly a make-it-or-break-it factor. And I have absolutely gotten to experience the Trojan Network so far. Before I even started, people from the class above me reached out and were so sweet, happily answering my millions of questions, and connecting me with their classmates.”

Tate’s classmates share similar stories about the Trojan Network. Minxing Zhao, a UCLA-trained dispute consultant, lauds the “100% response rate” he experienced from Marshall alums so far. These responses aren’t just acknowledgments, adds Jamie Bock. “Prior to coming to business school, I reached out to second- and third-degree connections for informational interviews with limited success,” she shares. “In the past three weeks at Marshall, I’ve spoken to dozens of alums with similar career interests, something I had not been able to achieve in the past two years.”

The network is particularly powerful in entertainment. That’s hardly a surprise, Katya Buchneva explains, given the school’s entertainment-centered locale and “strong relationships with all major players in the market.” That doesn’t necessarily mean that the best opportunities are in these fields, notes Jasmine Hagans, a 2019 Marshall grad and P&Q Best & Brightest MBA who joined PwC as a tech and media consultant.

2019 MBA Orientation


If you are interested in entertainment, it’s totally the place for b-school. However, LA and our USC Marshall alumni network are so diverse across industries. Being involved with the Marshall Energy Club enables me to see the innovation happening around clean energy and the High Tech Association and Entrepreneurship & Venture Management Association connected us with incredible people from Silicon Beach and Silicon Valley. Marshall sends a great number of people into consulting as well and our connections across the firms are outstanding. No matter what industry you’re interested in, there’s excitement around it at Marshall!”

For the Class of 2021, some of that excitement is centered around PRIME, a staple of Marshall programming for generations. In a nutshell, PRIME is a required spring course where students head overseas for 10 days to nations like Thailand, South Korea, Singapore, Japan, China and Spain. In the process, they visit companies and quiz executives to better understand their economic, political, and operational situations and better embrace a more international perspective. At the same time, teams conduct research on a given countries’ demographics, resources, social norms, and business culture. The course culminates with students completing a project for a company, including a presentation to help their host solve a challenge, better deploy their capabilities, or capitalize on opportunities.

“Getting the chance to travel to an international company for a week to provide meaningful work is going to be a valuable learning experience I can apply towards my future role upon graduation,” writes Jeff McDermott.

USC Marshall students


C4C is another activity that stirs up the USC Marshall community, including the Class of 2021. For nearly 40 years, USC Marshall students have volunteered their time to non-profit activities on behalf of Challenge For Charity partners like the Special Olympics. Over this time, Marshall students have volunteered over 60,000 hours and raised over $2 million dollars – including $100,000 during the 2018-2019 school year. Come April, USC Marshall is again in contention to take home another Golden Briefcase in its ‘friendly’ rivalry with MBA peers like Stanford GSB and UCLA Anderson.

“I believe it will be a memorable experience for me to cultivate my social responsibility as a future leader,” says Xin Chen.

This commitment to the small acts of kindness and the greater good may be what unifies Marshall MBAs – past and present – more than anything. That came as the biggest surprise to Catherine Davila, a 2019 grad and P&Q MBA To Watch.

“I saw Marshall through the lens of fraternities, finance, and football,” she writes. “I was sure that I would be an artsy outsider in a class full of “finance bros” and girded myself to be surrounded by business jocks. What I found instead was that my view was embarrassingly narrow and clichéd. My classmates came from a broad constellation of backgrounds, from aviation and theater to healthcare and professional poker playing. Of course, there are the requisite finance bros, and true to the Marshall brand, they are the nicest bros with whom I’ve ever had the pleasure to work.”

USC’s Marshall School of Business


There is one myth that is true, however. While USC is hardly the “University of Spoiled Children,” there is an easy case to be made for calling it the “University of Summer Construction.” “As the spring semester ends, multiple new projects sprout up all over campus,” adds 2019 grad Michael Annunziata. “It’s true and it shows…the campus is beautiful.”

Six months in, where does the Class of 2021 see themselves once they’ve graduated and returned to the real world? Jeff McDermott pictures himself as a Disney Imagineer, “creating the strategy behind the development of their next ride, theme park, hotel, or cruise ship.” Aria Aaron’s plans are even more precise.

“In ten years, I see myself on the Oscar stage accepting the Best Picture award for a film I produced through my production company, Village Theory Productions – one step closer to receiving an EGOT.”

For Katya Buchneva, the future involves building a global media firm, one she says is “helping creative talents to be heard across the borders, and connecting people through powerful stories that make this world more inclusive and pluralistic.” In the end, it is a dream she shares with classmates like Jeremiah Pearse.

“I see myself in a leadership role for a company that evaluates performance with the triple bottom line,” he writes. “I want to be in a position to make a measurable impact on an industry I care about, and on the community as a whole.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.

MBA Student Hometown Undergrad Alma Mater Last Employer
Aria Aaron Nashville, TN Florida A&M University Georgia-Pacific LLC
Manya Agarwal  Pune, India University of Exeter Transaction Advisory Group
Jamie Bock San Diego, CA New York University Ipsos
Katya Buchneva Voronezh, Russia Moscow State University Current Time TV
Xin Chen Shanghai, China Shanghai Jiaotong University Westlake Partners
Sandra Luo Pleasanton, CA Brandeis University Liberty Mutual Insurance
Betsy Mastropieri Baltimore, MD University of Notre Dame Morgan Stanley
Jeff McDermott Little Silver, NJ Virginia Tech University Deloitte
Jeremiah Pearse New York, NY Oberlin College U.S. Marine Corps
Lawrence K. Rolle Atlanta, GA University of Miami Keck SOM
Cassie Tate Los Angeles, CA Temple University NBCUniversal
Minxing Zhao Jinan, China UCLA Shenghuaweiye Real Estate Development Company