Cornell Johnson | Mr. Electric Vehicles Product Strategist
GRE 331, GPA 3.8
Foster School of Business | Mr. Corporate Strategy In Tech
GMAT 730, GPA 3.32
Harvard | Mr. Harvard 2+2, Chances?
GMAT 740, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Mr. Big 4 To Healthcare Reformer
GRE 338, GPA 4.0 (1st Class Honours - UK - Deans List)
Columbia | Mr. Developing Social Enterprises
GMAT 750, GPA 3.75
Stanford GSB | Mr. Startup Guy
GMAT 760, GPA 3.3
Harvard | Mr. Overrepresented MBB Consultant (2+2)
GMAT 760, GPA 3.95
Wharton | Mr. Big Four To IB
GMAT 750, GPA 3.6
Rice Jones | Mr. Tech Firm Product Manager
GRE 320, GPA 2.7
Harvard | Mr. Billion Dollar Startup
GRE 309, GPA 6.75/10
Chicago Booth | Mr. Mexican Central Banker
GMAT 730, GPA 95.8/100 (1st in class)
Harvard | Mr. Comeback Kid
GMAT 770, GPA 2.8
Harvard | Mr. Tech Risk
GMAT 750, GPA 3.6
Chicago Booth | Mr. Corporate Development
GMAT 740, GPA 3.2
Wharton | Ms. Strategy & Marketing Roles
GMAT 750, GPA 9.66/10
Harvard | Mr. Bomb Squad To Business
GMAT 740, GPA 3.36
IU Kelley | Mr. Advertising Guy
GMAT 650, GPA 3.5
Duke Fuqua | Mr. IB Back Office To Front Office/Consulting
GMAT 640, GPA 2.8
Yale | Mr. Lawyer Turned Consultant
GMAT 730, GPA 3.7
Chicago Booth | Mr. Whitecoat Businessman
GMAT 740, GPA Equivalent to 3(Wes) and 3.4(scholaro)
MIT Sloan | Ms. Digital Manufacturing To Tech Innovator
GMAT 720, GPA 3.4
Cornell Johnson | Mr. Healthcare Corporate Development
GMAT 740, GPA 3.5
Yale | Mr. Education Management
GMAT 730, GPA 7.797/10
Columbia | Mr. Neptune
GMAT 750, GPA 3.65
Darden | Ms. Education Management
GRE 331, GPA 9.284/10
Columbia | Mr. Confused Consultant
GMAT 710, GPA 3.2
Harvard | Ms. 2+2 Trader
GMAT 770, GPA 3.9

2021 Best & Brightest MBAs: Samantha Brill, U.C.-Davis

Samantha Brill

University of California, Davis, Graduate School of Management

“Relationship builder, collaborative leader, driven partner, compassionate friend. Passionate about merging profitability and social impact.”

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Fun fact about yourself: Before starting business school, I made the trek to the Mount Everest Base Camp. I joined a group of seven others from around the world. Between the friendships formed and the striking beauty of the region, it’s a trip I will never forget.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Trinity College, Hartford, CT, English – Creative Writing

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Educators for Excellence (E4E), National Individual Giving Associate

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Private Wealth Management, Goldman Sachs, San Francisco

Where will you be working after graduation? Private Wealth Management, Goldman Sachs, San Francisco

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Community / Leadership

  • President, Charity for Change, UC Davis Chapter
  • Co-President, Net Impact Club, UC Davis Chapter
  • Full-time MBA Student Ambassador
  • Project Lead, Integrated Management Project
  • Teaching Assistant, Articulation and Critical Thinking (core MBA course)


  • National Net Impact Case Competition 2019 Finalist
  • Stephen G. and Shelley A. Newberry Distinguished Fellowship Finalist
  • Graduate School of Management MBA Scholarship Recipient
  • Graduate School of Management MBA Grant Recipient

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? During the first quarter of my second year at the UC Davis Graduate School of Management (GSM), I was selected to lead a team for our Integrated Management Project, the MBA program’s capstone consulting project. It’s an opportunity for students to collaborate with top companies looking for solutions to challenges they face. I led a team of four other students on a project for Mars, Inc. The world’s leading manufacturer of chocolate asked us how they could reduce their greenhouse gas emissions. Our team formulated a shared vision forward, developed a strategy, and delivered our recommendations to Mars on schedule. I learned valuable lessons from my team members as well as the leaders at Mars. Most importantly, we produced an actionable end product in answer to a GHG problem that I care deeply about, which is very rewarding.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At Educators for Excellence, I noticed that our Individual Giving department seemed to be stalling. No one was taking ownership or advancing the work in any meaningful way. I decided to step up and volunteer to spearhead our fundraising efforts. Over the next few months, I developed and executed a revised strategic plan that resulted in increased contributions from 25% of our donors while maintaining a 100% renewal rate. I increased our fundraising total by nearly $600,000 in just over two years and set the stage for the continued success of the department. What makes this my proudest achievement is not the total amount raised, but the initiative I took to innovate and improve upon the existing system.

Why did you choose this business school? I selected UC Davis because of the school’s focus on collaborative leadership. Davis defines collaborative leadership as simultaneously knowing and leveraging your strengths while also relying on others to successfully complete complex initiatives. I firmly believe that success is not an individual pursuit. Achieving excellence within an organization or as a part of a team requires that you recognize and utilize all team members’ skillsets. I was attracted to UC Davis GSM because the school recognizes the importance of teamwork within the classroom and how that translates into the professional world. I knew I wanted to be the type of leader who builds coalitions across stakeholders, accepts responsibility and demonstrates values-based leadership and that Davis would help me to become that person.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Elizabeth Pontikes taught Organizational Strategy and Structure in my first year. The course was entirely new territory for me – focused on the strategic management of organizations from strategy formulation, to implementation and decision-making. Associate Professor Pontikes utilized case studies from well-known companies to examine each new topic, which made the topic real and relevant. I thoroughly enjoyed every minute of class. But it wasn’t just the subject matter, it was the way in which Professor Pontikes commanded her classroom. She guides and engages the entire class in thought-provoking conversations. I’ve never been in the presence of a professor who could inspire such lively and engaging debates. Even students who were normally shy about contributing to group discussions regularly raised their hands to participate. Our three-hour classes flew by and the quarter was over before I knew it.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Each year, on the weekend before Thanksgiving, the Graduate School of Management (GSM) hosts a Friendsgiving. It’s the first event that the first years put on without the help of the second years and it’s a great bonding experience for the first year class as well as a fantastic opportunity for friends and family of GSM students to meet and get to know one another. Given that Thanksgiving falls towards the end of our first quarter, Friendsgiving marks the point in the year when the first year class really starts to come together. Approximately half of our class is made up of international students. For many, Friendsgiving is their first Thanksgiving experience. Everyone brings a dish or beverage, typically their version of “comfort food” and writes a short note describing the dish. Students, family, and friends sit together at long tables, interspersed by Professors and other GSM staff members, all talking over one another, eating, laughing, and giving thanks. Friendsgiving demonstrates the importance of community that is the backbone of the GSM – from staff, to students, to families; Davis fosters a feeling of “togetherness” that is never more present than at our community events.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why?During our first quarter I began hosting a women’s dinner for my female peers. Our class is small, which is the only reason it was possible to cram all the female members of our cohort into my tiny apartment. Everyone brought a dish or a beverage, and we spent the evening getting to know one another, sharing food, and laughing. While I very much enjoy the company of my male colleagues, I’ve always thought female friendship and female support systems are vitally important, which is why these evenings were so special to me. Once the pandemic hit, and many of my classmates were sheltering in place outside of Davis, I held off on reinstating those dinners thinking we’d be back in person in no time and the dinners could resume. Looking back, I wish I’d kept the dinners going even if they had to be conducted over Zoom; it would have been a great opportunity to connect amidst the turmoil of the past year.

What is the biggest myth about your school? One misconception that I hear often from prospective students is that because the UC Davis MBA program isn’t ranked among the top 20, as graduates they won’t have the same career opportunities as students attending higher-ranked programs. I, too, had the same concerns. But I came to find out nothing could be further from the truth. While the UC Davis Full-Time MBA program is smaller than many others, this only means the business school’s alumni network is that much more tightly knit – while also part of the much larger 260,000 global UC Davis alumni network. Similarly, the career development team at the GSM is a dedicated group who work tirelessly to help us pursue careers at companies we want to work for and most admire. The combined efforts of our alumni network and the career services team have helped students, including me, to take the next step in their career path. There’s no company I’d rather be working for after graduation than Goldman Sachs. The UC Davis GSM career services team played a big role in helping me land that opportunity.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was surprised by the amount of group work required for nearly every class. Looking back, it makes a lot of sense. Fruitful collaboration is a tenant of high-functioning organizations. Learning how to work with individuals with varying skillsets and styles is critical to ensuring an effective and collaborative corporate environment. However, the emphasis that business school places on group work is unlike anything I’ve experienced as an undergrad or elsewhere. Over the past two years, I’ve exercised underdeveloped muscles and have built up an entirely new skillset as a direct result of this type of work.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? When I was applying to business schools, I didn’t just look at the schools with the highest rankings. Instead, I thought about my professional goals, my personal experiences, and what I really wanted to get out of the two years at school. I did a lot of research. I considered which schools had the classes, extracurricular activities, and the network that would allow me to accomplish those goals. I included those details in my application and I described how I thought my addition to that particular school’s student body would be of unique value. Finding the right school is as much about you choosing the school as them choosing you. Describe to the admissions officers why you chose them and then tell them why they should choose you.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Stephen Perry has been a leader within our cohort from the beginning. He knows when to step up but perhaps more importantly when to step back. He leads by example with a diligent work ethic balancing challenging classes and a full family life with three young children. As a group member and classmate, he is dependable and always willing to put in extra work to ensure he understands the material or to help put a project over the top. Not only is his dedication exemplary, but Stephen also demonstrates compassion in the way a leader should. He checks in on classmates who might be having a difficult time, offers help to those who might need it, and provides guidance whenever he can. Stephen has served on student government, as a student ambassador, an informal mentor to several first years, and regularly organizes group events. In addition, Stephen is also a great friend. I’m so lucky I’ve been able to count on him as a partner and a comrade throughout school.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? The answer to this question is two-fold. In terms of the educational value of my degree, I haven’t found the shift to an online environment very disruptive. When COVID first hit, our professors rallied and within a week’s time were able to fully transition their courses to an entirely digital format. Dependent upon the class this format has taken different forms, from utilizing asynchronous content, to digital break out rooms, to holding a full length class – complete with discussion sections over Zoom. I’ve found this combination of methods to be no less effective than being in a classroom from a learning perspective. However, the digital shift caused by COVID has made it much more difficult to connect with my classmates in an informal manner. While we still make the time to meet online for group work and some of us have been lucky enough to see one another in person, I do miss working side-by-side with my colleagues on a project or studying for a test under the same roof. The spirit of community that is unique to the Graduate School of Management still lingers, but it would be dishonest to say that the inability to gather under one roof hasn’t altered that special feeling.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My Dad was the most influential person in my decision to pursue business school. He has always been my role model both in business and otherwise. His work ethic, servant leadership style, and relentless pursuit of excellence both for himself and the companies he leads, are all characteristics I hope to emulate. After serving five years in the U.S. Navy, my Dad used business school to pivot into a career in the finance industry. When I came to the decision that I too wanted to make a career pivot, I spent many hours discussing my decision with my dad weighing the pros and cons of returning to school or diving right in. Ultimately, it was his own positive experience as well as the support and belief in my ability to succeed that gave me the confidence to make the jump to apply to business school. I hope someday I’m able to give back and mentor others in the same way he has mentored me.

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

1) I’ve always been passionate about giving back. For the first seven years of my career, I made that passion my job, working for a variety of different non-profits. As I transition to a career in the finance industry I’d like to find a way to build a bridge between my two passions – finance and social impact.

2) To build my own business. I enjoy the challenge of building something from scratch: developing a strategy and executing on it, confronting new challenges and finding ways around them, adapting to changing environments and ultimately growing a business that is both resilient and innovative. I am very much looking forward to my next role as a private wealth advisor at Goldman Sachs, where I will have the chance to do just that.

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

“With more than three decades of teaching experience at the Graduate School of Management, I’d be hard-pressed to think of any student worthy of more superlatives than Sam Brill. In my 2019 class, Sam had the highest grades by far, and demonstrated tremendous collaborative leadership with all her peers. Then Sam agreed to serve as my teaching assistant for Articulation and Critical Thinking in the Zoom world of fall, 2019, a time that we’ll all never forget. She brought her nurturing, supportive style to the students in this alien environment, devoting endless hours to grading, coaching and problem solving.

If I may borrow from the term “perfect storm,” Sam brings its antithesis to the world–the perfect blend of financial talent, collaborative leadership, and the soft skills America longs for in future top performers. Her integrity runs deep. Sam excelled prior to her MBA program in philanthropic fundraising, and soon she evolves to become a private wealth advisor with Goldman Sachs. Sam reached the Mount Everest base camp at a young age. I fully expect to look up and see her contributing to all on the highest ground.”

Daniel Kennedy
Lecturer, Articulation and Critical Thinking