2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Kevin Bubolz, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Kevin Bubolz

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

“Positive and driven leader who enthusiastically seeks challenges and growth opportunities.”

Hometown: Stratford, Wisconsin

Fun fact about yourself: While in Afghanistan, I saw first-hand the benefits of animal-assisted interactions on mental health. My unit deployed with a service dog who flew in my helicopter, bringing joy to the many men and women serving. Upon returning home from deployment, I decided to create the same happiness within my local community. I trained my golden retriever, Ellie, to become a therapy dog and together we volunteer in schools, nursing homes, and hospitals.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Marquette University, Bachelor of Arts

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? U.S. Army, Helicopter Pilot

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Field Nation—Product Marketing Manager, Minneapolis, MN

Where will you be working after graduation? Microsoft—Business Program Manager, Reston, VA

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

2020 Tillman Scholar: Created to honor Pat Tillman’s legacy of leadership and service, the Pat Tillman Foundation unites and empowers remarkable military veterans and spouses as the next generation of public and private sector leaders committed to service beyond self.

PAWS Therapy Dog Handler: The PAWS (Pet Away Worry & Stress) program seeks to advance the physical, emotional, and social well-being of others through the use of animal-assisted interactions.

Carlson Veterans Club President: Ranked the #1 graduate business school by Military-Friendly, the Carlson School is dedicated to supporting veterans. The Carlson Veterans Club promotes camaraderie and provides professional development for veteran students.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of my business school goals was to start my entrepreneurial journey. After two semesters of the Carlson Ventures Enterprise, an experiential learning program focused on entrepreneurship, I was ready to take the leap but didn’t know where to start. Then the COVID-19 pandemic changed the world. I was no longer able to volunteer in-person with my therapy dog, Ellie, so I pivoted to social media as a way to connect with others. During this process, I unexpectedly developed a global community passionate about my mission to spread smiles. Carlson recognized the potential of this opportunity and graciously offered to support me in my endeavors. I’m currently leading a team of four MBA students utilizing the scrum methodology. Our goal is to define the Golden Retriever Life market value and scale our ability to have a positive impact on the world.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As the Army’s only Chinook flight school manager, I faced a time-sensitive challenge. There was a pending pilot shortage, a shift in training priorities, and resource constraints requiring a new training curriculum. I realized this change would have significant impacts throughout the Chinook community, so I assembled a cross-functional team unified by a shared vision of developing the next generation of aviators. Through collaboration and iterative feedback, I received approval and implemented a reengineered training curriculum one-month ahead of schedule. As a result, Chinook students are now demonstrating increased proficiency, and training time has been reduced by 11%, saving over $10 million annually.

Why did you choose this business school? The Carlson School’s veteran’s program was the biggest factor in my school selection. As a nontraditional MBA transitioning out of the military, my top priorities were finding my new tribe and a sense of purpose. After visiting campus and connecting with veteran students, I knew Carlson was the place for me. Not only do veterans represent more than 20 percent of the Full-Time MBA population, but all veterans receive scholarship and stipend funding. Carlson’s commitment to veterans is above and beyond anything I expected from a school and the resources they provide have set me up for success in my post-military career.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Myles Shaver was my favorite professor at Carlson. He facilitated meaningful discussions, encouraged students to challenge assumptions, and provided me with a new perspective on business. I know without a doubt that the lessons I learned in the class will shape my future career.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Every spring, the incoming Full-Time MBA class is invited to Minneapolis for Carlson Up Close. This event is an excellent opportunity to meet future classmates, explore your new home and begin building your network with peers, corporate recruiters, and faculty. As someone pivoting careers, Up Close alleviated my concerns about going back to school and allowed me to realize I was more than just a number at Carlson.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would attend more non-academic events. In my opinion, one of the most valuable aspects of an MBA is the network, which is built through interactions with others. There were times I decided not to attend an event because I figured there would be plenty of opportunities in the future. However, this assumption was incorrect as my MBA experience passed quickly, and external factors, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, reduced the opportunities to expand my network.

What surprised you the most about business school? The quality of Carlson’s enterprise program was astonishing. This program is a unique experiential learning opportunity that combines MBA and undergraduate students on small teams to address real-world challenges of client businesses. As a Carlson Ventures Enterprise consultant, I served on three teams including a AgTech drone company, economic development organization, and my own startup. Through my experience, I learned how to conduct research, validation, and implementation of new business concepts using various entrepreneurial methodologies.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Visiting Carlson and connecting with current students was the biggest differentiator in my application process. Most business schools appear similar on paper, but visiting provided me with an insider’s view that I leveraged in my essays. This knowledge also helped me to convey my interest to the admissions committee and provided an opportunity to start developing my network early. I understand in-person visits may not be an option at this time, but would highly recommend it once it is available.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Sam Sapita! I met Sam at Carlson Up Close and immediately formed a friendship. He is the most genuine, dedicated, and inspiring person I have met at Carlson. Sam never settles for the status quo and always asks the tough questions. I’m fortunate to have worked with him on several projects and his contributions have greatly enriched my MBA experience. Post-graduation, Sam will be heading to the United States Airforce Academy as an Instructor of Management.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? I was pleasantly surprised with Carlson’s ability to shift to an online environment after COVID hit. The decision was made as students left for spring break, which provided faculty with a week to pivot to the new learning modality.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? It is my former manager, fellow aviator, and friend, Steve Bane. Steve is a trailblazer who helped me realize to never let perceived barriers limit my dreams. With his mentorship, I was able to make the challenging decision to transition from the Army to pursue a career in business. I’m grateful for his never-ending support and commitment to my future.

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

Stay humble and a lifelong learner

Become a TEDx Speaker

What made Kevin such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2021?

“Kevin is recognized as an exceptional leader by his classmates and the entire Carlson MBA community. This is most certainly true in the classroom, during client project work, and among his cohort. What really distinguishes Kevin is his kind and giving nature, his “operating platform” of putting others first. In this regard, he is an excellent example for us all to follow.

Kevin and his therapy dog, Ellie, have helped many adults and children, primarily in school and hospital settings. They have become TikTok stars and the subject of much media coverage including the Ellen DeGeneres Show. Kevin and several of his classmates are currently building the next great mission-driven business, Golden Retriever Life, to help further grow and accelerate the positive impact Kevin and Ellie are able to make.”

Toby Nord
Professional Director for the Carlson Ventures Enterprise



Questions about this article? Email us or leave a comment below.