2021 MBAs To Watch: Kevin L. Vargas, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Kevin L. Vargas

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

“Driven biomedical engineer turned healthcare advocate and businessman.”

Hometown: Round Lake Beach, IL

Fun fact about yourself: I’m the child of Mexican immigrants and the first in my family to graduate college.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Yale University, BS Biomedical Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? IntriCon, Quality Engineering Team Leader

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Medtronic, Minneapolis, MN (Remote)

Where will you be working after graduation?  Senior Associate, Corporate Strategy and Strategy Operations (Leadership Development Rotation Program) at Medtronic

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Managing Partner, Graduate Volunteer Consultants

Student Principal, Carlson Consulting Enterprise

Valuation Lab Fellow, Carlson Medical Industry Leadership Institute

Prospanica University Partnership Program Fellowship

3M MBA Fellowship

Ronald and Patricia Mangelsdorf MBA Fellowship

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school?  I’m incredibly proud of the work our Graduate Volunteer Consultants group has been able to accomplish thus far in the academic year. At a time when many student groups had to scale down or re-think events during the pandemic, our organization went full steam ahead with providing pro-bono consulting services to local non-profit organizations. With more than 40 student consultants and seven non-profit partnerships this year, we’re excited to give back to the Twin Cities community, especially after so many have been affected by the pandemic. I’m couldn’t be prouder to be a leader of this impactful organization.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? An employer once sent me to Costa Rica to resolve product quality issues that were disrupting our largest client’s supply chain. A lot weighed on me and the progress I would make as the sole representative of the company. Having never traveled to Central America before, I relied on my interpersonal and Spanish language skills to work alongside our client’s team to assess the problem and make recommendations on how to proceed. We were successful in working together to resolve the manufacturing issue. However, during the process, we also discovered a packaging issue that could have been even more detrimental than the initial quality issue. Because of my involvement, we accomplished even more than anticipated, allowing me to play a major role in saving a critical business relationship. Ultimately, the experience furthered my confidence and competencies in navigating unfamiliar situations by testing my ability to work under significant time constraints.

Why did you choose this business school? Knowing that I was coming to business school as a former engineer looking to develop my strategic thinking and problem-solving skills in business, I knew I needed to select a school that offered hands-on learning experiences. Fortunately, the Carlson program offers unparalleled experiential learning opportunities through the enterprise system. Since students work on high-impact projects with real organizations facing real business problems, students can leverage these experiences to advance their careers and continue building their critical-thinking skillset. As someone who is joining a rotation program with a role in corporate strategy, the enterprise system has been valuable for my professional development.

Who was your favorite MBA professor?  Siddharth Chandramouli. Siddharth, a former consultant and strategist at companies like McKinsey and UnitedHealth Group, is the managing director of the Carlson Consulting Enterprise (CCE). Though not a traditional professor in the sense that he lectures every week and grades homework assignments, he provides valuable mentorship and guidance as students work as consultants on high-impact projects. Through my time with CCE, I have honed my structured problem-solving skills and learned to distill complex, ambiguous problems into manageable workstreams. I have worked on consulting projects for companies in the U.S., including one of the largest public companies and one of the largest private companies, throughout my two semesters as a student consultant. Now I’m fortunate enough to return to the enterprise as a Student Principal where I serve as a mentor to student consultants. The best instructors find the right balance between challenging you and supporting you, so I’m fortunate to have had Siddharth as a mentor guiding me through the CCE experience.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Friendsgiving. In November 2019 (back when MBA life was normal), the Carlson MBA students gathered at Darby’s Pub & Grill in Minneapolis for a fun, pre-Thanksgiving together. We spent time together eating delicious Thanksgiving food alongside dessert favorites baked and brought by students. Meeting my classmates’ partners and loved ones was also a treat, too! But the highlight of the event was the pie-eating contest between the first-year students and the second-year students. It was easily the most aggressive pie-eating I’ve ever seen in my life. Events like Friendsgiving not only further demonstrate the tight-knit sense of community at Carlson but also our willingness to be silly and have fun.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? Had I known a pandemic would significantly affect my MBA experience, I would’ve spent even more quality in-person time with my classmates. One major aspect of business school is learning from your peers and forming long-lasting connections, so I hope to continue getting to know them, especially the first-year students, in a post-COVID world.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I’ve heard from peers and people I spoke to before starting my MBA that Carlson is a strong school for marketing with many second-year students going to into marketing roles at large companies. While true, we also have a strong strategy and consulting network as well with a good chunk of students heading into external consulting and corporate strategy roles post-graduation (including myself). Whether it’s our school’s recruiting partnership through the Graduate Business Career Center or the Carlson Consulting Enterprise projects, there are numerous opportunities for students. I know I will graduate from Carlson with a well-rounded skill set including skills in marketing, strategy, and finance.

What surprised you the most about business school? I was not expecting my classmates to be so friendly and such great people! Right off the bat, we were so eager to learn about each other and everyone’s different backgrounds and interests. I immediately knew we would become a collaborative class that would support each other as we navigate the academic coursework as well as the recruiting process. We have celebrated each other’s personal and professional accomplishments during the program, and I know we’ll continue to do so in the years to come.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Every student considering MBA programs should take full advantage of the resources and contacts provided by the school’s Admissions Office. Don’t be afraid to ask to meet one more student or one more alumnus of the program. This will allow you to get a better sense of the true school experience beyond a website or brochure (and you will also increase the size of your network). Some programs will even let you meet with a professor in a class you’re interested in! You never know until you ask. Through these conversations, I learned about how the Carlson experience can shape my career path and professional journey. Because of this, I knew the Carlson program was perfect for me.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Amanda Maharaj. Amanda and I were members of the same core team during our first semester at Carlson. She immediately impressed me with her analytical mind and always contributed powerful insights and effort to our group’s projects. Her involvement with Carlson’s Graduate Women in Business (GWIB) student organization, which involves putting together events on gender, the workplace, and much more, is admirable. She was also a great thought partner as we navigated a consulting project for a local non-profit and we supported one another throughout the on-campus recruitment process. Did I mention she’s a mother to two (one of which was born during the program)? I admire her ability to balance academics, motherhood, and professional development while making a strong impact at Carlson and the local community.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? Fortunately, shifting to a primarily online experience wasn’t as disruptive as I had anticipated because the Carlson administration acted quickly to transition to online learning. Expectations were also clearly communicated to us during spring break last year. Additionally, many instructors had experience teaching online courses because of the online classes Carlson was already offering pre-COVID, so they were ready to switch to an online modality.

Once the University had a plan in place, some instructors were permitted to have a hybrid modality where students could decide to either come in-person (while wearing a face mask and spread out by at least six feet) or participate in class and view the lecture online synchronously. There were some days where I went in-person and other days when I stayed home, which was perfect for me!

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My then-fiancé and now-husband, Tyler, was my strongest advocate for pursuing an MBA. After working four years as an engineer, I began to realize I wanted to move away from engineering while focusing more on complex business problems at my own company. For me to understand more business, I need to either wait for the right opportunity to show up and hope I could break into it, or I could make a more significant change by enrolling in a graduate program. Though the significant time and financial considerations made me hesitant at first, his encouragement was what I needed to make that jump into learning about different business school programs.

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

  • Lead a team through a medical device product launch
  • Become a general manager

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

“Kevin was a participant in the Carlson Consulting Enterprise, a highly regarded experiential learning program aimed at helping students develop core consulting and general management skills through intensive project-based work with leading corporate, government, and non-profit organizations. In the program, he was an active CCE participant, who was always willing to learn from the faculty and others in his cohort, while sharing his considerable experience in healthcare and the med-device industry, and his unique perspective as a first-gen student with an undergraduate student from Yale, a student of color, and as a member of the LGBTQIA+ community. He is a strong advocate for equity and justice.

He is a highly respected team lead for a project with a global healthcare company, where he effectively led a team consisting of an MD/MBA student, an MBA student with a Ph.D. in Engineering, and an undergraduate, working closely with clients, physicians, and healthcare professionals to better understand the ways technology could cause provider burnout. Through these insights, the team made key recommendations to help the client in their product development to mitigate these burnout issues.

Following two semesters with CCE, he is now a mentor to the new cohort of CCE students and is also a leader in Graduate Volunteer Consultants, a student-run organization providing consulting services to mission-driven organizations on a pro bono basis.”

Siddharth Chandramouli
Managing Director for the Carlson Consulting Enterprise



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