Meet Duke Fuqua’s MBA Class Of 2022

It’s not a marketing ploy. It’s not a sales pitch. It’s just who we are.

That’s “Team Fuqua” in essence – the “we is greater than me” mindset that defines Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. Alas, every business school touts “community” – the sense that your MBA peers will watch your back as you grow stronger together. Team Fuqua elevates this inclination. The students have created a vision, handed down, where the individual is part of something larger and more profound. Even more, they’ve developed a framework to rally behind – a set of values that set clear expectations and hold classmates accountable for meeting them.

Will Armour, a 2020 MBA who earned a spot with Nike after graduation, heard the cynics who said Team Fuqua was too good to be true. After two years in Durham, Armour asserts the Team Fuqua is all very real.  “The selflessness and support I’ve seen here are really unlike any academic or professional environment I’ve been a part of,” he writes. “People here truly believe that a rising tide lifts all boats.”

FOLLOWING THE SIX PAIRED PRINCIPLES

Kaveri Gyanendra, a second-year MBA who spent six years at Bloomberg, equates Team Fuqua to “the feeling of never being alone.” In a 2021 essay with P&Q, she spells out the spirit that drives the Fuqua community.

“We embrace a culture and mindset of inclusivity, trust, and respectfully challenging one another to push our own boundaries. In a “together we go far” mindset, we unite to battle the many phases of business school: interviews and job searches, long-distance relationships, new and confusing curricula, and being away from the places we each call home. With a strong mentality of care and commitment, we bond to create a new home — one that embraces and celebrates our differences, expands our perspectives, broadens our reach, and develops a new understanding of unity and community.”

Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. File photo

The backbone of Team Fuqua is called the Paired Principles, which are designed to guide students in how to bring out the best in each other. These six principles encompass the following:

  • Authentic Engagement
  • Collective Diversity
  • Impactful Stewardship
  • Loyal Community
  • Supportive Ambition
  • Uncompromising Integrity

A COMMITMENT TO MAKING AN IMPACT – AND HELPING PEERS DO THE SAME

For the Class of 2022, each of these core principles resonated differently. Not surprisingly, Supportive Ambition generated the strongest reaction from class members. The school describes the principle as the “success of each individual member of Team Fuqua makes the whole team better.” Mike Pukala, an engineer from Illinois, appreciates how Supportive Ambition spurs collaboration over competition. Even more, he adds, this principle has motivated him to shift his personal goals so they better align with team goals.

“Any sense of accomplishment I’ve experienced in my career has been because I was surrounded by excellent people,” he explains. “With Supportive Ambition, my Fuqua teammates and I get to celebrate with each other in our successes but also encourage each other when things are hard. It demands that I help classmates with interview prep, homework or challenges in their personal lives, even if that means I have to put aside my own priorities for a time.”

Impactful Stewardship also resonated with first-year Fuquans. Students have defined this to mean being leaders who focus on long-term solutions to improving community. For Vineetha Athrey, an engineer-turned-journalist-turned-entrepreneur, that means pushing for impact, always looking to “harness our collective talents to move the needle.” Gabi Fernandez translates Impactful Stewardship to never being satisfied with the status quo.

“I need to be willing to create and implement solutions that will improve the community,” writes the U.S. Navy veteran and Georgetown alum. “This principle reminds me that I need to make a positive impact during my MBA and beyond.”

A COMMUNITY FOR LIFE

When Jim Fiene was applying to Fuqua, he would talk up principles like Authentic Engagement and Supportive Ambition. After joining the Class of 2022, he found Loyal Community took on greater importance. Reflecting on his relationships, he considers loyalty to be a virtue that helps him stand out. He even jokes that a friend told him that, if he was ever in jail, “I’d use my one phone call for Fiene.” This penchant for supporting others – no matter when, how, or why – aligns closely with the Team Fuqua mindset.

“Team Fuqua is far beyond a saying,” Fiene explains. “It’s a lifestyle. Loyal Community means I will have everyone’s back when they need it and they will have mine. We listen to each other when we need someone to talk to, and if necessary, we can be that one phone call.”

Basketball: 36 hours of camping for tickets is worth it for the excitement of cheering for Duke Men’s Basketball from the graduate student section at Cameron Indoor Stadium.

Indeed, Team Fuqua is a way of acting as much as a way of thinking. Before business school, Ross Feng held a VP role in market risk at Bank of America. After receiving the offer from Fuqua, he was struck by how much the community rallied around him. That made joining “Team Fuqua” last fall a “no brainer” for him.

“I could feel the amount of attention they put on me as an individual and the support from the alumni and the 2nd year students was far greater than what other programs provided.  It was always clear to me that my goal as an MBA candidate is not to get a good job, but to build a career. The programs with higher rankings may get you an extra $5,000 at your first job, but an engaging and loyal community can get you a successful career.”

RISKING HER LIFE TO BREAK STORIES FOR CNBC

And success tends to rub off too. After all, the Class of 2022 was wildly successful long before they decided to camp out in the Fox Center. Take Abby Larus. Growing up a Harry Potter fan, she attended her first fan convention at 17. Fast forward a decade and she was running fan events for franchises ranging Game of Thrones to (of course) Harry Potter.

“When I was hired to my full-time role [at Mischief Management], I was the fourth paid employee,” Larus explains. “During my time at the company, I worked to scale our operations and we grew to a team of 20+ employees that ran nine annual fan conventions and served more than 190,000 attendees. I’m incredibly proud to have been a driving force of this growth and innovation.”

Vineetha Athrey spent seven years with CNBC as a financial journalist. Her claim to fame, she writes, is exposing a $3 billion dollar illegal mining scam in India. “It was considered a dangerous sector to track, especially for a woman journalist, as it meant taking on some very powerful people. It was a test of my courage, perseverance, and my personal spirit of justice! Initially, I was scared. But I pushed on despite death threats, building a solid network of sources across the industry and bureaucracy. I managed to break a majority of the stories of this scam over 18 months, cementing CNBC’s leadership position in the coverage of the scam and also winning prestigious awards.”

At Bank of America Merrill Lynch, Russ Feng helped spearhead the design and rollout of the company’s risk management platform – one that now handles 80% of the firm’s processes and capital analysis in the area. Kelli Valdez, who headed up regional institute strategy for Teach For America, launched seven teacher training sites. Over four years at Education Resource Strategies, Rony Cepeda – an economist by trade – helped school districts re-allocate nearly $375 million dollars to better support high-need students. As a consultant, William Ramos shepherded diversity and inclusion initiatives. These included “deploying the largest LGBTQI+ business resource group in Brazil, pioneering in transgender inclusion in the workplace, and mentoring the launch and revamp of Black, women and people with disabilities inclusion initiatives in Latin America.”

Graduation day. Duke photo

AN IMMIGRANT’S PERSPECTIVE

The class also included several students engaged in service. Ezban Morrissette, for one, assisted the U.S. Navy in the construction and support of ships and combat systems as a production engineer with the Naval Sea Systems Command. This role likely supported Gabi Fernandez, who once led a 20-member team in firing the first missile from her destroyer. That exercise pales in comparison to when Fernandez was place in charge of her ship’s entire navigation and operation.

“At that moment, I became responsible for the safety of the 300-person crew and the execution of the naval operations of a warship. I had received extensive training on navigation and experienced various types of operations. Despite all this training and experience, there is a moment of doubt when you are placed in charge of the entire bridge team for the first time. However, I realized that I could not let my own uncertainty prevent me from ensuring the safety of the ship and achieving the mission.”

The Class of 2022 also experienced defining moments that shaped the purposes they would pursue. For Rony Cepeda, that moment came as a seven-year old. As an immigrant from the Dominican Republic, he can still remember flying over the United States and thinking, “This place definitely has a lot more street lights and electricity.” However, Cepeda soon witnessed some of the darkness behind the glitter – which gave him a unique perspective on leadership.

“While growing up as an immigrant, I saw how systems and institutions in high-need communities always seemed under-resourced and under-performing – creating vicious cycles of poverty and trauma. That moment of coming to the United States, coupled with my first-hand experience of seeing inequity through the lens of an immigrant, has led me to always think about the bigger picture as a leader. How do our decisions impact our communities? How can organizations also focus on social impact? These are questions and viewpoints that I bring to business school and beyond.”

Page 2: An interview with Russ Morgan, Senior Associate Dean For Full-Time Programs

Page 3: In-depth profiles of 13 members of the Class of 2022

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