2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Jonathan Rodriguez, University of Michigan (Ross)

Jonathan Rodriguez

University of Michigan Ross School of Business

Econ and data nerd, interdisciplinary thinker passionate about cross-sector partnerships in creating a more just world.”

Hometown: Bethel, CT (as my high school wrestling coach would say “it isn’t much, but we call it home”)

Fun fact about yourself: I once ran a self-organized ultra-marathon around the perimeter of Manhattan for fun.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Boston College, B.A. in Theology with a minor in Latin American studies. People often jokingly ask if by studying theology I know the “answers to all of life’s questions” – certainly not, but I learned to ask good questions!

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Pre-Ross, I was a Senior Specialist at the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation.

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Boston Consulting Group, Seattle WA. As a summer consultant, I was able to work with a fantastic team on a social impact project across Washington. I also spent several weeks working with Professor Justin Wolfers to develop instructional materials for his and Professor Betsey Stevenson’s new Principles of Economics textbook.

I also had the pleasure of working as a public policy intern with the Asia Foundation in Timor-Leste during the summer of 2019. I had the opportunity to work on tourism development with private sector leaders and government ministers while also getting to SCUBA dive in the most biodiverse reef in the world!

Where will you be working after graduation? Consultant with Boston Consulting Group in Seattle, WA

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

* Ford School of Public Policy Student Instructor for graduate-level microeconomics courses

* International Investment Fund: Capacity-building Manager (previously, recruitment manager and analyst), started in 2019 IIF is the first international student-led investment in the U.S. The fund invests and supports small and medium-sized enterprises in emerging markets.

* Open Road: Fellow and Leadership Board member, Open Road is an entrepreneurship program where fellows road trip across the U.S. working with small business owners to solve the complex challenges entrepreneurs face.

* Business + Impact Nonprofit Board Fellow with NEW (Nonprofit Enterprises at Work): The Board Fellows program pairs selected students with nonprofits in Southeast Michigan to work on a consulting project while gaining board experience.

* Awarded Rackham Master’s Award: a prestigious University-wide award in recognition of outstanding academic achievement performance.

* Consortium for Graduate Studies in Management fellow and co-lead of consulting recruitment prep sessions: CGSM works with corporations and business schools to increase the representation of students of color in top business schools and management

* Selected for the China Policy Course and Trip

* Member Hispanic Business Student Association

* Member Students of Color in Public Policy

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During business school, I am most proud of the work my fellow members and I have done in the International Investment Fund. IIF has grown from a couple of students to a fully-fledged fund with 30 members. We’ve partnered with local entrepreneurs in India to conduct more than ten investment screenings, four deep-dive due diligence projects, and seven capacity building projects in an effort to support small and medium-sized businesses, the backbone of emerging economies. In addition to my role as capacity-building manager and recruitment manager, I was proud to be part of IIF’s inaugural trip to India where I conducted customer interviews and analyzed product / market fit for a potential investment. I hope we can finalize our first investment and begin to show how a critical financing gap in emerging economies can be addressed!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am extremely proud of the work I was a part of at MDRC. MDRC is a social policy research nonprofit committed to building rigorous evidence to improve the lives of low-income communities. While there, I was part of a brilliant team of researchers evaluating the impact of a program designed to improve graduation rates for low income and underrepresented community college students. I was responsible for conducting a cost-effectiveness analysis that evaluated the additional investment against the program’s impact. The final report showed that the program nearly doubled graduation rates, making it substantially cost-effective! This led to an increase in funding, and the program was scaled and replicated in other states to better serve students.

Why did you choose this business school? There were many reasons why I chose Ross, but one main reason was the culture of the Ross community. Firstly, there is a strong culture of interdisciplinary learning and dual degree programs at Ross. In part due to the University of Michigan’s abundance of top graduate programs, there is a strong community of Ross ‘dualies’, whether in public policy, sustainability, information, urban planning, etc. Secondly, the Ross culture is committed to diversity, equity, and inclusion. Ross consistently boasts one of the largest Consortium classes and DEI is championed throughout student organizations. Lastly, the Ross culture is extremely collaborative and welcoming. Perhaps because students move from all over the world to idyllic Ann Arbor, Rossers are always looking to make new and lasting friendships and extend a helping hand however possible.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Every year, Ross has several TED-like events where students have an opportunity to share their stories with the class, like StoryLab, Outx, Vetx, etc. These are great events that highlight the diversity of the Ross community and celebrate the personal stories of our classmates. For example, this year I had the honor of listening to one of my best friends tell his story about his military experience for the entire class. Despite being great friends, I learned something new that evening about my friend that gave me greater insight into his life pre-Ross. I think it is sharing these moments that allows Rossers to form lifelong friendships in the short two years we share on campus.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Business school has zoomed by in a flash! There simply aren’t enough hours in a day to do all the interesting things available at Ross and the greater University of Michigan ecosystem. If I could do business school over again, I would strive to find a better balance between recruiting, classes, and social / extracurricular activities. It is easy for one of these to crowd out the others, leaving you out of balance. For example, one thing I’d do differently is participate in more case competitions during my first year. COVID-19 disrupted some of my ‘well-laid plans’ for the MBA2 year, so I would remind myself that there is no time like the present!

What is the biggest myth about your school? One hesitation I had when applying to Ross and that I hear from prospective students is a worry about moving to Ann Arbor. There’s a concern that moving to a ‘college town’ will disconnect you from opportunities in large cities. But I would firmly dispel this myth! The Ross brand consistently attracts the world’s best employers across a host of industries and students take jobs all over the globe (Go Blue, Go Anywhere!). As mentioned earlier, I also think that relocating to Ann Arbor inspires a close-knit and welcoming community. Lastly, there is so much to explore in Michigan! Detroit is a vibrant city and northern Michigan is beautiful. I have enjoyed every minute spent camping on the dunes around Lake Michigan and cabin weekends with friends.

What surprised you the most about business school? When applying to business school, students across many programs forewarned me that MBA1 year is like ‘drinking from a firehose’. It’s hard to appreciate just what this means until you step foot on campus! There is so much available, that I am glad I took the time before arriving to reflect on what opportunities I wanted to prioritize. All the courses, student clubs, centers, and initiatives that Ross offers provided me the opportunity to be involved in a variety of activities that resulted in much greater learning and leadership development than would be possible elsewhere.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I spent a fair amount of time reflecting on exactly why I wanted an MBA, why Ross was the best program for my goals, and the specific skills I hoped to gain. I think it is crucial to be able to clearly articulate a coherent personal and professional narrative during the application process. As a dual degree student, it’s particularly important to clarify exactly what you hope to gain from each program, and how the skills from both would complement each other in pursuit of your professional goals.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? One classmate I admire is Kalane Abbey. Kalane and I met as members of the Consortium and became friends as we shared the struggles and successes of the consulting recruiting process! I also had the pleasure of co-leading consulting prep sessions for MBA1s with Kalane. I don’t think there was a greater champion for the MBA1s than Kalane. Kalane has the rare skill of balancing gentle encouragement with tough love motivation. Kalane is also an authentic leader who brings her full self to all she does and therefore creates space for others to do the same. In addition to the prep sessions she led, Kalane enriches the Ross community by being an active member of the Consortium, and a leader in Ross’ Black Business Students Association where she co-chaired the Alfred L. Edwards (ALE) Conference, among many other accomplishments!

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? When Ross announced that classes were going completely online starting in March 2020, there was certainly collective disappointment among the MBA1s as we were just starting our MAP projects. I was fortunate enough to have fantastic teammates and great partners at Ford Motor Company, so we were able to roll with the punches and have an impactful deliverable. In fact, the online MAP experience helped me prepare for my virtual internship during the summer of 2020. Perhaps counterintuitively, what felt more disruptive was returning to hybrid / online classes in the fall. I think many students, myself included, needed time to process the disappointment of a virtual MBA2 year. However, the Ross community has rallied around the challenge and found ways to form connections virtually. For example, the ‘Final 100’ committee is hosting great events like an online pasta-making class live from Italy!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? One person who influenced my decision to pursue an MBA was my mentor and former MDRC supervisor, Timothy Rudd. Tim is currently Budget Director for the City of Syracuse and served as a legislator for the city. At MDRC, Tim was the lead research associate for cost-benefit analysis and played a critical role in the first Social Impact Bond in the U.S. Working together instilled in me a passion for the role of private-public partnerships in addressing many of the challenges we face today. Additionally, Tim encouraged my interest in economic and quantitative analyses while also pushing me to take on more leadership roles and responsibilities. During our many wide-ranging conversations, even after we both left MDRC, Tim helped me clarify my professional goals, imagine the role I could play in addressing the problems I was most passionate about, and understand the skills I could develop during an MBA / MPP.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? While I don’t keep a separate professional bucket list, there are a couple of ‘north stars’ that will orient my professional career. First, I hope to always do work that is intellectually challenging and contributes to solving the greatest challenges we face (inequality, climate change, etc.) at an organization that is aligned with my values. Second, I strive to be a leader so I can serve as a resource and mentor to those who come after me. Any success I’ve experienced has been the product of countless people who helped along the way and I hope to do the same for others. I have been lucky to have been a part of UN Women, MDRC, and the Gates Foundation – all organizations that have allowed me to work toward these bucket list items in small ways. I am also fortunate, thanks to the University of Michigan, that I can continue to do so at BCG.

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

“Jon wasn’t just the bright student who understood the material, he was the guy who would reach out to his classmates to make sure they understood. And that conversation wouldn’t just be about whether others understood the material, but also whether they understood its broader context, why it might be useful, and how they could apply it. My favorite part of working with Jon was the time he spent as my teaching assistant, and he not only worked to help his fellow students better understand the material, he worked to make sure that I could better communicate it. COVID-19 presented so many of us with challenges, and Jon wanted to be part of the solution, and he did some really cool things, like volunteering much of the summer of 2021 to develop some covid-related teaching materials that are being used in classrooms around the country. So who knows, even if you aren’t at Michigan, Jon may have helped you, too!”

Justin Wolfers
Professor of Economics (College of Literature, Science and the Arts)
Professor of Public Policy (Gerald R. Ford School of Public Policy)
University of Michigan



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