2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Simone Rodriguez, University of Pittsburgh (Katz)

Simone Rodriguez

University of Pittsburgh, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

“Creative innovator, using passion and empathy to drive a positive impact in the world.”

Hometown: Williamstown, MA

Fun fact about yourself: I was a competitive Irish Dancer, traveling to Ireland, England, and Scotland on multiple occasions to compete in the World Irish Dancing Championships and other international competitions.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

  • Boston University, Bachelor of Arts in Biology: Cell & Molecular Biology and Genetics, Electrical Engineering minor
  • University of Pittsburgh Swanson School of Engineering, Master of Science in Mechanical Engineering (expected 2020)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Ras Labs, Inc. – Product Development Engineer

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Cognizant Consulting – MBA Intern, Dallas, TX

Where will you be working after graduation? Consulting Healthcare Manager at Cognizant Technology Solutions – Dallas, TX

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • President of Katz Consulting Club (2019-20)
  • Case Writer, 2020 Katz Invitational Case Competition
  • The 457 Club Inductee 2020: Named after Bill Mazeroski’s famous game-winning home run in the 1960 World Series, the club formally recognizes a select group of Katz MBA students for their success in the program and their positive impact on the Katz community.
  • Graduate Editorial Board for Ingenium, Swanson School of Engineering (2018-19)
  • Kenneth R. Woodcock Leadership Fellow (2019)
  • MBA Student Ambassador, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business
  • Financial Management Tutor, Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) Neurotech Entrepreneurs Workshop provided engineering graduate students and young professionals with the business aptitude to commercialize their research. As the lead student coordinator, I worked with brilliant minds across multiple universities and companies to develop an intensive and rigorous curriculum in market analysis, customer and stakeholder analysis, intellectual property, regulatory affairs, fundraising, and entrepreneurial tactics.

Drawing from my MBA and start-up experiences, I led the development of a pitch competition to be incorporated into the workshop. Knowing that engineers love to solve problems, I formulated a challenge that tasked teams to develop a “go-to-market” strategy for numerous neurotech products by using the entrepreneurial toolkit they acquired throughout the workshop. The teams presented their commercialization plans to a judging panel of industry professionals. It was amazing to meet driven engineering students who recognize the importance of acquiring business knowledge and industry leaders that push the boundaries of innovation in the neurotechnology field. My personal goal in participating in this event was to share the knowledge I have obtained from the MBA program at Katz with my peers in the engineering community. I am incredibly proud and honored to have been part of organizing this workshop, and I look forward to my involvement in entrepreneurial events in the future.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career?

  1. To be the first MBA Intern to visit a client site for a meeting alone
  2. To present on the Cognizant Consulting Monthly Healthcare call in June

I spent the summer in Dallas as an MBA Intern at Cognizant Consulting on the AI Healthcare Solutions team. For one of my projects, I worked with a healthcare organization and a small firm that developed an algorithm with a lot of potential to solve a growing healthcare problem. I had been on the project for a couple of weeks and already met my clients with my manager, Sashi Padarthy, to lay out the scope of the project. As our second meeting date approached, Sashi told me I would fly out for the meeting by myself and that he would support me virtually. I am so grateful for his confidence in my abilities to build significant trust with my clients and run the meeting successfully. When I returned from the meeting, Sashi shared that he received an email from one of my clients saying that I am a great addition to the team. Building trust amongst my clients and team is one of my proudest moments from my internship at Cognizant. Additionally, Sashi gave me the opportunity to present with the Digital Health team on the Global Healthcare call to the entire healthcare consulting business unit. The opportunities Sashi afforded to me throughout my internship forced me to push my boundaries, increased my self-confidence as a business professional, and affirmed the type of work I want to pursue when I graduate. I am incredibly excited to return to Cognizant in June to drive an impact on the millions of lives Cognizant’s services reach.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? This is a tough one. Entering the program with a technical background, I was absolutely mortified of accounting and finance. After our first accounting quiz, I reached out to my professor, Elise Boyas, to ask her a few questions. On a Sunday night, she had a Zoom session to help me understand the early accounting principles. From that point forward, she challenged me and worked with me to ensure I succeeded. Aside from being an incredibly supportive professor, she has become a friend and mentor. One of my favorite interactions with her was after the Red Sox won the 2018 World Series. I was wearing my Red Sox sweatshirt when I picked up my midterm exam, and enjoying the rivalry with a New Yorker Elise said, “Get out of here with that sweatshirt before I change your grade!”

Elise and Frederik Schlingemann, my Financial Management professor, made those two “scary” courses my absolute favorites in my first semester of the MBA program. I enjoyed learning from them so much that I decided to concentrate on finance. Katz has an exceptional accounting and finance faculty. Ken Lehn, David Dennis, Andrew Washburn, Frederik, and Elise are incredible minds both in industry and academia, and I’m grateful to have had the opportunity to learn from all of them.

Why did you choose this business school? When I started applying to graduate programs, I was only looking at Engineering Masters and Ph.D. programs. With a little push from a board advisor at Ras Labs and a LinkedIn message from Melanie Krugel, the Katz Assistant Director of MBA Admissions and Diversity Recruiter, I began looking into MBA programs. The more I learned about the MBA program and the dual degree option between Katz and Swanson School of Engineering, the more I wanted to attend Pitt. Throughout the application process, it was evident how supportive the culture is at Katz. Current students and faculty were happy to speak with me about the curriculum, extracurricular opportunities, and the daily ins-and-outs of being a Katz student. Because it is a small school, Katz MBA students are not just a number. The faculty and staff care about their students and create a supportive and collaborative environment across the Katz community. Additionally, healthcare and medtech innovations have largely driven my undergraduate and post-graduate career. Pittsburgh is a growing hub for healthcare and innovation, and with its strong connection to the city of Pittsburgh, Katz has an abundant amount of opportunities open to students.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? I have two pieces of advice for a prospective MBA:

  1. Don’t underestimate the importance of self-reflection. What is your story and what is your destination? How do you envision using the business knowledge you acqiore while going through the program to achieve your long-term goals and drive impact on this world? Your ability to answer these questions will help you choose a program that you will thrive and be challenged in.
  2. In addition to communicating with the Katz MBA Admissions Office, reach out to alumni and utilize the MBA student ambassador program to ask questions. Speaking with current students gave me insight into what I can expect out of the Katz MBA and dual engineering programs, and it helped me shape my goals for my career post-graduation.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think the biggest myth about Katz is that its size can put a constraint on your learning outcomes and experiences. Small professor-to-student ratios create intimate classroom experiences and allow students to build strong relationships with the Katz faculty and staff. Additionally, experience-based learning opportunities, such as consulting projects and global research practicums, put Katz students at the forefront of applying business theory to the real world.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? While I am grateful to be completing both my MBA and Master’s in Mechanical Engineering simultaneously, I have felt limited from fully immersing myself into either program. There are some classes and opportunities that were offered by both Katz Graduate School of Business and Swanson School of Engineering that I wanted to be part of but could not because of the rigor of the program. I would have loved the opportunity to audit or take those courses online.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Luke Lamb – Luke is a hard-working, debate-loving finance guru who I’ve had the privilege of working with on multiple projects through my MBA program. Within our friendship and school-related interactions, Luke challenges me to view situations from different perspectives. He has helped me grow both professionally and personally, and I am proud to call him a friend. Luke has a passion for working in healthcare finance and will join Highmark Health for the Finance Leadership Development Program.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? Matt Cusack – an engineer, entrepreneur, mentor, and friend – influenced me the most to pursue my MBA. During my undergraduate degree, I talked to him about my technical courses and my goals and aspirations as an engineer. When I joined Ras Labs, Matt was able to mentor me as both an engineer and an entrepreneur. I loved his ability to speak both technical and business languages, and I wanted to emulate that. When an advisor on Ras Labs’ Board of Directors told me that I would be a good fit for an MBA program, I immediately turned to Matt. Not only was he supportive in my pursuit of entering a dual MBA / MS-Engineering program, but he helped me in my self-reflection to determine what I wanted out of a graduate degree and how I envisioned using my acquired business knowledge to accomplish my long-term goals.  

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  1. I would love to start a tech transfer consulting company that supports the commercialization of technology at academic institutions and companies.
  2. Learn new languages and cultures well enough to communicate in a business setting to grow as a global leader.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I would like my peers to remember me as a bubbly, thoughtful, and caring friend who will challenge them to think differently and push their boundaries while cheering for their success.

Hobbies? I love traveling to explore new cultures and see new places. I have this mini-goal to take sommelier classes because I love learning about wines. I’ve visited vineyards and gone to wine tastings in Italy, France, and California where I learned all about wines, and now I love reading sommelier books and materials. I also love running. Being a dancer my whole life, exercise was both a release and a stress inducer because I had to compete. Running gives me time to decompress and clear my mind.

What made Simone such an invaluable member of the Class of 2020?

“Simone Rodriguez is the definition of professionalism. Her personality is one that is impossible to forget. Her willingness to help others, her take-charge positive attitude, friendly, and open personality, and genuine desire to contribute and make a difference filters through everything that Simone does. You can’t help but want to be around her. She exemplifies the qualities that we strive for our students to obtain through their experience at Katz.

Simone’s drive and passion to combine medical technology, health care applications, and business actually derive from a tragic event. Growing up as a competitive Irish Dancer, the members of Simone’s Irish dance school became family over the years. Unfortunately, a young fellow dancer from her school became a transtibial amputee as a result of the Boston Marathon attacks. It was devastating to Simone to see someone that had worked so hard to lose the chance to do what she loved through a senseless act of violence. Instead of letting this tragedy define her, she began exploring prosthetic advancements and found multiple researchers working in different areas of bionic medicine to advance the quality of life for amputees. She was so intrigued by this that she ended up incorporating electrical engineering into her undergraduate biology degree at Boston University.

After gaining experience as a Product Development Engineer and Scientist at Ras Labs, Inc., Simone was exposed to the crossroads of entrepreneurship, business, and technology. She attended the Beat-the Odds Boot Camp and NSF SBIR/STTR Phase I Grantee Workshop where she gained insights on entrepreneurship in technical fields and participated in ECO leadership training by investors. She gained experience negotiating joint-development agreements and winning grant funding. Simone’s post-graduate goal is to be a part of a team dedicated to developing solutions that provide patients with state-of-the-art medical devices to improve their health care treatments and quality of life. She knew that in order to obtain her goals, going back to school for her MBA was critical.

Not only is Simone an astute student and leader of this year’s class, but she is the President of the Katz Consulting Club, runs mock case interviews and case interview workshops, brings in outside speakers and recently developed a strategic case interview book for her fellow students to help improve their interviewing abilities. She actively helps to recruit diverse students to the Katz program and worked with other parts of the university to create a Spanish/Latino alumni organization at Katz. From an academic perspective, Simone is at the top of her class and serves as a finance tutor. Simone will graduate in April and start her career as a Manager in Cognizant’s Consulting Healthcare division, but she will definitely leave Katz a better place because of her contributions.”

Dana Romano
Interim Director of Career Management
University of Pittsburgh Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business


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