2020 Best & Brightest MBAs: Will Phelps, U.C.-Irvine (Merage)

Will Phelps

University of California Irvine’s Paul Merage School of Business

“A basketball lover and skier who seeks out opportunities to make an impact.”

Hometown: Columbia, Illinois

Fun fact about yourself: I have visited every major city in America!

Undergraduate School and Degree: The University of Kentucky, Bachelor of Accounting

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Program Manager, Zulily.com

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Markets Intern, Blue Shield of California’s CalPERS Account Team

Where will you be working after graduation? I’ll be returning to Blue Shield of California to join their Shield Emerging Leaders program!

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

President, Merage Student Association: As President of the Merage Student Association, I led over 1,000 graduate students and supported our club leaders as they put on events to enhance the student experience of our business school. Together with my peers and club leaders, we’ve put on and planned over 50 events to enhance student life and help candidates reach their professional goals.

Merage Student Ambassador, Full Time MBA Admissions Office: Along with five others, I was selected to represent my MBA program at recruiting events and speak with prospective MBA applicants.

Student Representative, UC – Irvine School of Business Dean Search Committee: I was nominated to represent the Paul Merage School of Business student body on the twelve-member committee to select the next Dean of the Paul Merage School of Business.

Scholarships: I received the Peter H. Stevens Jr. Memorial Scholarship and the Faculty Fellowship.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’ve had the opportunity to speak and work with prospective MBA applicants as Merage Student Ambassador, the opportunity to help mold future MBA cohorts and learn about the journeys of our applicants has provided immense personal development and a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make a unique impact on my MBA program.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of my non-profit work with Rise & Dine, a homeless-focused non-profit in the Reno-Sparks metropolitan area. Each year Rise & Dine provides meals for thousands of homeless individuals and opportunities for our clients to rise above their situation. Volunteering with Rise & Dine provided a special experience where I served over 5,000 clients with housing vouchers, meals, and employment support.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? The annual Challenge for Charity (C4C) Halloween Party is my favorite MBA event. The party is a celebration of the hard work both MBA classes have done to raise funds for the Special Olympics. It is also our first big yearly get together event to connect and build life-long friendships between the MBA cohorts.

Why did you choose this business school? I choose the Paul Merage School of Business for their focus on developing collaborative leaders, the operational excellence demonstrated by the staff, small elective class sizes, the digitally-driven world curriculum, and the unique resources dedicated to refining our executive leadership ability to ensure we’ll be successful for our entire career.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? In your application, focus on demonstrating what you have done to prepare yourself for an MBA program, why you want to earn an MBA, and what resources you want to utilize while in school. Amongst my friend group, the happiest MBA candidates and graduates were those who really spent the time to understand why they wanted an MBA and what they wanted to do while in graduate school to achieve their dreams.

What is the biggest myth about your school? Our smaller class size has not taken away from our MBA experience or recruiting opportunities. If anything, it has created a more tight-knit cohort and alumni group.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I wish I would have skipped a few more classes to attend more networking events and social mixers. Those are the aspects of my program that I look back on the most.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? While our student leaders, section leaders, and club leaders have each contributed so much, Pranay Etoori has made huge efforts to help international students succeed in finding post-MBA roles and puts in five hours each week to bringing in executive speakers to enhance student life. Pranay has had an “alumni” mindset from the beginning and has always been focused on what he can do to help the Paul Merage School of Business grow.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I am a big fan of Warren Buffet’s Youtube talks and annual letters. Those who read Mr. Buffet’s letters know that he is a huge proponent of wonderful businesses that provide a great return. While I don’t want to be the next Warren Buffet, I chose to study business to build on his teachings and build business models that make a positive impact in my community

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? I would like to start a benefit corporation dedicated to helping the homeless escape their situation and launch a billion-dollar product.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you: I have aspired to give my all to my school and want to be known as someone who sought to grow the impact of the Paul Merage School of Business.

Hobbies: I love to ski and play basketball, I’m looking forward to moving back up north for the 7 ½ month ski season!

What made Will such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“It is my pleasure to answer this question on behalf of Will Phelps. In my role as Assistant Dean of MBA and Specialty Masters Programs, I interact with many students in all our programs on a regular basis.  Without any doubt, Will stands above the crowd in terms of what he has contributed to our FTMBA program and the Merage School overall during his time in our program. In fact, in my over 20 years of working at various graduate schools of business, I would consider Will to be one of the most valued students I have engaged with during that time.

Just being a very successful Merage Student Association (MSA) President over the past year singles Will out. In this role, he has provided strong strategic leadership to our student body and has distinguished himself as a wonderful partner for our staff and faculty. Will is very skilled at engaging with fellow students and forwarding conversations about potentially contentious issues in a very positive way. His friendly demeanor is complemented well by his extraordinarily strong work ethic and I can see how it is easy for other students to embrace Will as their MSA President, as he leads well by example. There is no question he will be successful in his business career because he regularly displays that magic combination of intelligence, work ethic, and empathetic leadership.

In particular, I would like to point out how skillfully Will has embraced the chance to serve on the committee that is leading the search for our next Dean. He has embraced this rare opportunity afforded a student by spending an extraordinary amount of time doing research on potential candidates and interviewing staff and faculty. Through this due diligence, I am confident that Will is making sure all possible opinions and ideas are included in the decision process and is in turn, representing our student body very well.

I believe that Will has made our program significantly stronger than it would have been otherwise. In my years in academia, I have come to appreciate the difference strong student leadership makes for a class and a school. When there is a void in student leadership, it is felt by all involved and everyone suffers. When a strong student leader is present, everyone thrives. This year, we all have THRIVED!”

Jon B. Kaplan
Assistant Dean, MBA and Specialty Masters Programs
The Paul Merage School of Business
University of California, Irvine


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