2020 MBAs To Watch: Peter Zanca, Notre Dame (Mendoza)

Peter Zanca

University of Notre Dame, Mendoza College of Business

“Passionate about drawing insights from data, driven by curiosity, and committed to serving others.”

Hometown: Memphis, TN

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve never had a drop of coffee in my life. Just not interested.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Rhodes College, BA in Political Science

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Accenture, Manager

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Indiana Pacers, Indianapolis, IN

Where will you be working after graduation? Undecided

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: President, Business Analytics Club; Vice President, Men As Allies; Vice President, Sports Business Club; Team Lead, Service Corps Project with Unity Gardens

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? In September, a teammate and I won the basketball analytics track of the 2019 NBA Hackathon with a research project that identified optimal use cases for the NBA’s newly-implemented coach’s challenge. Having come to business school with the goal of transitioning into sports analytics, I was excited just to participate in the Hackathon and network with analytics professionals from the league and its teams. Upon arriving, however, we found that several of those league and team representatives were interested in discussing our findings and how their teams might use them in the upcoming season. Their interest signaled to me that there may be a place for me in the industry, a feeling that was amplified when we learned we’d won the competition.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? With three days’ notice and no prior coding experience, I taught myself Visual Basic and developed a tool that enabled college counselors at the KIPP Public Charter Schools, a national network of charter schools, to track over $10 million worth of financial aid packages for over 3,000 high school students. The project made a major impact on an organization I admire greatly and gave me my first exposure to programming and working with data.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? This year, our MBA Association began the tradition of “Mendoza Mixers,” monthly events where students, faculty, staff, and alumni come together over food and drinks at different spots around campus. It’s a terrific opportunity to come together as a community outside of the classroom. At these mixers, I’ve been able to reconnect with professors I haven’t seen since the first semester, meet alums serving on the college’s Career Advisory Board, and catch up with staff members. It’s in this sort of relaxed setting that we build bonds that will last beyond graduation.

Why did you choose this business school? Three main reasons: 1) The MBA/MS in Business Analytics dual degree program is an incredible opportunity to earn two highly valuable degrees in two years. 2) The program’s small class size offered the strong sense of community I was seeking in a business school program. 3) Based on conversations with students and recent graduates, it was clear that the Notre Dame alumni network was different from that of any other school I considered. Everyone I spoke with had multiple stories about great connections made with alums.

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Just be yourself. Mendoza is all about community, and that community is built on people who bring their full authentic selves to school.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Mendoza is that it’s all about football here. While Notre Dame football season does help bring our community together in a way that’s probably unique compared to other business schools, it’s far from the only way our students build community. From clubs to service projects to case competitions, there are endless opportunities to get engaged in the program.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If I could do it again, I’d pursue more opportunities to work on my public speaking. It’s an invaluable skill and Mendoza offers several safe opportunities to step outside your comfort zone and practice, including a Toastmasters chapter that meets every other week.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My classmate Emily Clark has demonstrated an incredible commitment to serving others during her time at Mendoza. Upon arriving on campus, she was struck by the gender imbalance in our class and took action to raise the issue of gender equity within the program. Along with other leaders in our Women in Business Club, Emily organized focus groups to gather students’ perspectives and reported findings to the administration. Since then, the school has made improving gender representation a major focus for the program. At the same time, Emily has served as a leader in our MBA Consulting Club, helping other students prepare for and pursue highly competitive opportunities in consulting.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My decision to pursue an MBA was rooted in a conversation over dinner with a friend a few years ago. My friend had just been promoted to Creative Director at a major university, a role he referred to as his “dream job.” It occurred to me that I’d always thought of “dream jobs” as some sort of unattainable thing. Seeing my friend achieving his dream at such a young age inspired me to reflect on what my dream job would be and how to attain it. That course of thought led me to sports analytics and the MBA/MSBA dual degree program at Notre Dame.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? First, I want to work in the analytics department of a major sports organization’s front office or league office. As a follow-up to the first item, I want to develop insights that contribute to winning a league championship.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want my peers to remember me as someone who demonstrated integrity, who was there when they needed me, and who tried to do the right thing the right way.

Hobbies? I love playing and watching basketball at any level, and I enjoy playing guitar and singing even though I’m not very good at either.

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

“If tasked with building the ideal MBA student, it would be nearly impossible to imagine a person without all of Peter Zanca’s best qualities. Peter is the perfect blend of curious, capable, and collegial, with all of the ability to go deeper into a topic that you would hope for. There is no challenge that Peter will turn down and he has the all-important academic resilience to see any challenge through to the end. Peter did not grow into a standout student — he started as one and has only continued to get better.

Just looking at Peter’s work in the classroom would be enough to warrant merit; however, it is all of the stuff that he has accomplished outside of it that makes him truly stand out. His (along with his co-author) winning project in the NBA’s Data Hackathon was a testament to just how bright Peter’s future is. Most students only dream of such an accomplishment on a national stage, but Peter took his win and put it to good work; he has used his experience to present to undergraduate students and his fellow graduate students.

Peter using his work to inspire and help other people is not surprising – he can generally be found fielding questions from his fellow students during class time and is clearly the “go-to-person” for difficult questions. This translates directly to his leading role in the Analytics Club, where he has implemented competitions, such as predicting Oscar winners and brought more visibility to the club. Just to compound how impressive all of this is, Peter manages everything related to his academics while balancing professional work and his family life.

My only wish as one of Peter’s professors is that I could take even a shred of credit for his success. Everything that Peter has accomplished has been through his own work and determination. As graduation creeps closer, I am genuinely excited to see how Peter unleashes all of his skills in the world.”

Seth Berry
Assistant Teaching Professor
Department of IT, Analytics, & Operations
Mendoza College of Business


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