2021 MBAs To Watch: Sarah Izzo, Duke University (Fuqua)

Sarah Izzo

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

Jessica Day meets Josh Lyman. Passionate, optimistic eager for change, and always dancing.”

Hometown: Sharon, Massachusetts

Fun fact about yourself: My friends and family call me a lyric genius. I learn and memorize the lyrics to almost any song I hear more than once and can probably sing along to any hit song from the year 2000 to present.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Hamilton College, B.A., Neuroscience

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Fletcher Spaght, as a Senior Healthcare Analyst

Where did you intern during the summer of 2020? Vertex Pharmaceuticals – Boston, MA

Where will you be working after graduation? Vertex Pharmaceuticals, Manager in Patient Services

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: I was elected to be co-president of Fuqua’s MBA Association (our form of student government), alongside my trusted partner and friend, Mike Treiser. Our role traditionally involves two main functions: (1) overseeing operations and budget for our 11-person cabinet and sub-cabinet, as well as the roughly 50 professional, affinity and social organizations; and (2), serving as an advocate for student issues with the administration, offering the student perspective whenever applicable. With the advent of COVID-19, I’ve also represented Fuqua on the Duke COVID-19 Student Task Force, where we advised the Provost’s office on a range of issues, including COVID-19 student policies and surveillance testing operations. Serving as an advocate for hundreds of students during such a tumultuous time was extremely tough. We had to balance a range of perspectives and opinions, but I am grateful for the opportunity to be in a position to champion the priorities of my peers.

I have also served as an MBA Associate with the Duke Angel Network since fall of my first year. This is an organization that connects Duke-affiliated startups with Duke-affiliated angel investors. Being able to play a role in offering budding entrepreneurs access to funding for their innovative ideas has been incredibly rewarding.

Lastly, something I have become involved with in my last semester is volunteering several times a week at the Duke Health vaccine clinics. Providing a friendly, (half-covered) face to patients coming in to receive their vaccines has given me a feeling that there is a light at the end of this pandemic tunnel. It has also been a great way to give back to the local community, which has undoubtedly suffered greatly at the hands of this pandemic.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I’m extremely proud of my involvement with Duke’s COVID Task Force and what we’ve been able to achieve in coordination with university administrators and health professionals. The past few months have not been without challenges, but we’ve worked to thwart outbreaks with widespread testing, contact tracing, and (most importantly) student buy-in. As a result, we’ve not just helped protect our community and Durham at-large, but also maintained almost consistent access to the building and many in-person classes offerings since the fall.

Through my involvement, I’m proud of my efforts to present an unbiased view of the diverse, and sometimes conflicting, views of my classmates to decision makers across the university. As I don’t have final control over most decisions, my involvement has come with the price of sometimes having to deliver tough news that folks may not be happy with receiving. Though, in this role, I have learned that the goal isn’t to parrot back what folks want to hear, but rather be honest and transparent to both administrators and my student peers. I believe this has led to as trusting of a relationship as possible with all parties involved, a feat I wasn’t sure we could achieve when COVID first hit!

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? While working at The Advisory Board in healthcare research, I led a six-month research project assessing ways hospitals can address the opioid epidemic in their communities. The culminating playbook and online webinar became some of the most utilized resources the firm produced that year. More important than just the impact on our organization, we heard from dozens of health professionals about how the innovative recommendations on forming partnerships with providers, first-responders, and community organizations could result in hundreds of saved lives once implemented. There’s nothing better than working in healthcare and feeling like you’ve been able to significantly impact people’s lives. .

Why did you choose this business school? I distinctly remember sitting in an Uber on my way to the airport after visiting Fuqua’s annual Women’s Leadership Weekend. My face hurt from smiling and laughing so much those few days. I always feel at home in communities that empower and encourage individuals to connect through authentic relationships. I remember feeling like everyone was their genuine, vulnerable selves that weekend. I recall thinking to myself, “Sarah, if you are blessed with the opportunity of deciding on whether to attend Fuqua or not – don’t forget this feeling.” I never forgot that moment and coming to Fuqua was one of the easiest decisions I’ve ever made.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? It was Professor David Ridley in Fuqua’s Health Sector Management Program. I had the pleasure of not just taking his lauded Biotech and Pharma Strategy elective class, but I also took an interdisciplinary health policy class with him during my first year, culminating in a trip to Washington, DC. Professor Ridley’s classes are enhanced by the fact that he’s ardently well-versed and connected in the nuanced American healthcare system. He also has an uncanny ability to masterfully engage the diverse, pre-Fuqua backgrounds and internship experiences of the students. One of the best parts of Fuqua is learning from your peers, who have first-hand exposure with many of the topics discussed in class. Professor Ridley takes the time to get to know all his students well enough to stop, mid-class, and call on someone who mentioned (off-hand, several months ago) a relevant experience they had to the class topic. His management of class discussions is an art akin to conducting an orchestra!

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Our MBA Association’s Diversity and Inclusion team puts on several events each year called Daring Dialogues. These discussions are themed around a certain topic such as race, gender, COVID-19, or religion. They serve as a chance to hear the personal stories and experiences of your classmates on that specific topic. There’s usually a panel followed by breakout discussions. As a result of the talented moderation by our VP of Diversity and Inclusion, these conversations often bring dozens of classmates together to hear brave community members share some of their most vulnerable thoughts. Some of the best outcomes of these discussions include individuals realizing they’re not alone in their struggles, but also the potential for eye-opening insight into what those around you may be going through.

What is the biggest myth about your school? I think some people may think Fuqua is an extremely social school, filled with a majority of extroverts. Even before COVID-19 hit, I often enjoyed smaller weekend game or movie nights with friends. Fuqua has a range of individuals, many of whom prefer smaller gatherings and forming close-knit relationships with peers in more intimate settings. Business school in general has a reputation of being a very social place, but I think it’s important to remember that in a pre-COVID, and even post-COVID world, folks are more likely to publicize their, “nights out” than their “nights in.”

What surprised you the most about business school? The ability of business school to make you evaluate every facet of your life, not just professional, has been a welcome but surprising part of my MBA experience. I often describe pursuing an MBA like temporarily stepping off the hamster wheel of post-college professional life. Having time to learn for the sake of learning from classes, speaker events, peers, and even self-reflection, has led me to get closer to finding both my professional and personal homeostasis. I feel like I will graduate with a better sense of what type of citizen of the world I want to be and how to lead a more holistic, fulfilling life.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I searched the internet for blogs, videos and any other relevant media featuring random things about the school. Whether it was school-sponsored or made by students (e.g., FuquaVision), I felt like I got an in-depth view of what it was really like to be a student. It also gave me a vast toolbox of anecdotes and stories I could bring to my conversations with current students, school visits and interviews.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? The student whom I admire most is Yun Hong, and I’d also say his friendship is one of those that I am most grateful for. Yun and his wife, a student in another graduate program at Duke, both came to Durham from South Korea and have worked hard to raise an intelligent, spunky and thoughtful daughter while also focusing on their studies. Observing them and conversing with Yun about raising a family has vastly changed my outlook on many aspects of my own life and future. Yun also has an incredible ability to take seemingly random, mundane events or observations and elicit deep, philosophical lessons from them. As an example, we recently discussed the connection between a recent robbery he had witnessed and his thoughts on finding something you are passionate about in life.

One of the biggest benefits to business school is the opportunity to converse with individuals whose perspectives, backgrounds and life experiences differ vastly from your own. I will be forever grateful for the opportunity to become close friends with Yun, and have no doubt he will forever be a go-to whenever I need some sage wisdom.

How disruptive was it to shift to an online or hybrid environment after COVID hit? In some ways it was incredibly disruptive, but in other ways, it wasn’t at all. Fuqua’s emphasis on being a supportive community and leaning into traditions was what helped mitigate any disruption to either the academic or social experience. While professors had to unexpectedly shift and change many aspects to the classroom, students were incredibly supportive of the professors. Whether it was guiding them virtually in how to use certain functions on Zoom during a class or facilitating a relevant discussion if a professor had internet issues mid-class, the Fuqua community did and has continued to show up for each other to overcome the initial hurdles in switching to a new format. Second, we’ve worked hard to be creative and maintain as many traditions as possible, ranging from new, socially distanced Fuqua Fridays to Section Olympics during orientation. Our orientation co-chairs managed a virtual version of our annual pizza and Oreo eating contest by delivering the food to students at home and judging the competition live via Zoom! The entire community has leaned into their creativity and resilience to create the best experience possible for each other.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I had every intention of going to medical school until shortly after graduating college, where I studied Neuroscience and took all the required pre-med classes.  I ended up in health care consulting a little bit by chance, with little knowledge of what, “the business world” meant or looked like. After just a few days, I realized that thinking more strategically, and high-level about the health care system was where I was most comfortable. Throughout the next few years, I interacted with several leaders across my two prior firms, notably Alicia Daugherty while at the Advisory Board and Dr. Guy Fish at Fletcher Spaght, both of whom had MBAs. While their experiences and paths toward their MBA differed greatly, the combination of leadership skills and analytical frameworks led me to believe the MBA was a great laboratory to learn and practice the skills to be a more effective and strategic leader.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? First, I am eager to be involved in the operations of launching a new product or service. Being in consulting, I got to contribute to launch plans from afar, but never experienced the excitement of seeing something go to market first-hand. I hope I get the chance to see that while at Vertex Pharmaceuticals!

Second, I would love to eventually get involved in politics in some way, focusing especially at the local level. If there’s one thing we’ve learned from this pandemic, it’s that having strong, dedicated leaders in all levels of government is critical to addressing the needs of our communities.

What made Sarah such an invaluable member of the Class of 2021?

“In trying times, we meet heroes. One of my heroes is Sarah Izzo.

A year ago, Sarah courageously and selflessly raised her hand to serve her classmates as President of the MBA Student Association.  It is incredible to think that a student who I barely knew in February of 2020 has genuinely become family in less than 12 months. Sarah’s unique combination of intelligence, resilience, decency, and drive stands out. However, the fact that she has consistently aspired to improve, to learn, and to grow, is something I deeply admire.

Sarah couldn’t have known shortly after she took on the role, and as she left for Spring Break, that the world would turn upside down. Her experience, and the experiences of her classmates, changed in an instant, as did almost every aspect of the Fuqua community from the challenges and disruptions brought on by COVID-19. Sarah and her team immediately brought the class together and hosted the first ever, virtual Fuqua Friday on Zoom. She championed a school wide pledge to learn and grow in an effort to support anti-racism, and helped our administrative team think through the new challenges presented by the pandemic.

For the next 12 months, Sarah passionately leaned in with compassion, care, and commitment, in service to her peers and to her school. She didn’t take a day off in her support of others. Nights, mornings, weekends…day after day…week after week…month after month…she was always “on.” Time and time again, Sarah answered the bell, a bell that was constantly ringing. Sarah was always present and supportive of her leadership cabinet and was amazingly accessible to both her first and second-year peers. She enthusiastically formed task forces to prepare for, and respond to the pandemic and was always eager to weigh in with a selfless opinion on strategic issues facing the school.

Sarah has been an incredible partner and an amazing role model. In a year where nothing is certain, and during a period when it has been difficult to remain positive, I am incredibly grateful to have shared in this time with Sarah. I am certain she made Fuqua a much better community.”

Steve Misuraca
Assistant Dean for the Daytime MBA Program
Duke University, Fuqua School of Business


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