Just one semester…and then the whole world is yours.
That’s one selling point to MBAs at MIT’s Sloan School of Management. Take six core courses. Pay your dues. Master the fundamentals. When the first semester is over, do what you want to do.
And there is plenty to do at MIT. An epicenter of research and innovation, MIT is the place for restless spirits to ask far-reaching questions about the forces remaking the world. Here, faculty and students are constantly observing, testing, and discovering. Parsing data sets and prodding scientific truths, the MIT experience involves collaborating and commercializing, mobilizing talent into action — perfecting frameworks, inventing platforms, and expanding capabilities.
In other words, the MIT community points the way forward to practical applications. And you can’t do that hunkered down in a classroom (or a laboratory).
DIFFERENT AVENUES, SAME VISION
Hence, Sloan MBAs are unleashed before their first Christmas. Bryn Coughlan, a first year who studied Opera in college, likens Sloanies to architects: each custom designs a curriculum that aligns with their passions and pathways. Coughlan herself intends to make her mark in affordable housing development. Her classmate, Mert Can Yavuz, plans to become a “disciplined entrepreneur” whose startup mixes social change with a diverse culture. Despite Sloan’s reputation for entrepreneurial prowess, their startup spirit isn’t restricted to launching a company notes Ragini Bhattacharya. Before moving to Cambridge, she served as an investment research manager at Nike. In her career, Bhattacharya has witnessed how technological innovation has “democratized” industries like health and wellness — a transformation she intends to advance after earning her MBA in 2023.
“Near-term, I hope to continue to be involved with corporate entrepreneurship and help new entrants rethink their business model and offerings to develop consumer-facing healthtech initiatives and partnerships grounded in social purpose.”
Rebecca Durr joins the Class of 2023 in true MIT fashion: she already holds a Ph.D. A self-described “queer female scientist,” Dura is transitioning from research and development to investor and entrepreneur. “My ultimate goal is to promote more female-led ventures in STEM, both as a founder and as a funder,” she tells P&Q. “During my MBA, I plan to gain exposure to operations and entrepreneurship, and explore the venture capital and new technology evaluation sides of the start-up sector as well. In the short-term post-MBA, I’d like to lead an early-stage venture.”
THINK. ACT. REFLECT. REPEAT.
Indeed, you’ll find first-years looking to revolutionize spaces ranging from educational technology to product design. To achieve this, they’ll leverage the school’s expansive and interdisciplinary programming. That’s particularly true for Austin Cole, whose post-MBA mission is to pursue solutions to racial and economic disparities in American cities.
“I’m especially focused on building or expanding economic models that can solve labor market, housing, finance, and climate justice issues that make it difficult to reduce poverty and the racial wealth gap,” he writes. “I’m particularly excited by opportunities that combine inclusive local production, democratic forms of business (like cooperatives), participatory budgeting/planning, and non-extractive finance. I’m not sure whether this means I will be working for a startup nonprofit, joining a public entity in a large city, or starting my own project, but I’m hoping to figure that out over the next couple of years!”
Flexibility. Expertise. Opportunity. Resources.
Call them the secret mix that makes the MIT Sloan MBA so formidable. That isn’t the only Sloan secret that comes in fours. The program is predicated on a formula…
Think. Act. Reflect. Repeat.
The reflect part is particularly emphasized. Every fall and spring, Sloan MBAs can take a SIP — as in Sloan Intensive Period. Here, MBAs enjoy a week-long break from coursework to take micro courses. Covering leadership and ethics topics, SIP courses have addressed areas like following values under management pressure using role plays with real executives. This reflective element is reinforced in January, when MBAs spend the month in IAP (Independent Activities Period) pursuing independent study and research. This can take the form of completing site visits, internships, and competitions to taking a course in standup comedy. Such activities tap into MIT Sloan’s philosophy of making content real through hands-on activities that provide both context and practice.
EARNING HIGH PROFILES AT MICROSOFT AND NIKE
“As an educator, it was also critical to me that the program I chose included multiple opportunities to roll up my sleeves and learn by doing,” explains Christina Peña, a former charter school principal. “MIT’s motto, mens et manus, which is Latin for mind and hand really spoke to me. At the same time, Sloan’s curriculum is designed to be flexible with just one core semester and multiple opportunities to get that hands-on experience whether that is through action learning labs, the Independent Activities Period (IAP), or entrepreneurial resources to start something while in school. Coming from such a non-traditional background, I’m confident that MIT Sloan’s rigorous program is going to allow me to get the hard, technical skills that I need to be successful in the business world.”
Alas, you’ll find many class members have already achieved success in the toughest roles for the most prestigious companies. Take Sean Oh, a Dartmouth grad and Microsoft product manager. During his tenure at Microsoft, he oversaw the development of Windows 11’s new Start Menu and File Explorer features.
“For both features, our primary focus was to create a product that truly puts ALL users at the center of their device,” he explains. “Inclusive design was a must and I believe was achieved as a result of the concerted effort we placed on comprehensive user research and feature experimentation. After years of leading cross-disciplinary teams across the organization, I felt so relieved and accomplished when our work was publicly released and met with high praise.”
Ragini Bhattacharya also shouldered major responsibilities in Nike’s digital business incubator. For her, the job taught her how traditional products and services often leave some populations behind. These segments, she says, are exactly where she focused her efforts.
“In my role, I identified new investment opportunities that broadened Nike’s digital offerings to increase access to mental and physical wellness for underserved groups, including BIPOC, transgender, larger body, older, and pregnant individuals,” she explains. “Creating new business models for these communities, I learned to lead with inclusion from the beginning and engaged a diverse set of perspectives to craft investment proposals and early opportunity analysis. Through outside traditional healthcare, I found a strong sense of purpose shaping the innovation team’s portfolio through these lenses and impacting Nike’s evolving digital wellness and partnership strategy.”
COVID CHANGES EVERYTHING
Bhattacharya has probably already found a kindred spirit in Austin Cole. As a portfolio manager for racial-equity-focused organizations, he invested millions of dollars in efforts designed to boost social and economic mobility. Anna Eckhoff took the road less traveled during an externship from Bain & Company: she launched a sustainable tuna company in the Republic of the Marshall Islands. In contrast, Justin Mueller’s assessment of U.S. Naval operations in Eastern Africa led to a 150% bump in funding for the region. Come spring, Rebecca Durr may turn into a class celebrity.
“I developed a sustainable consumer product innovation, which will be the first-of-its-kind product in the United States, set to hit the market in Spring 2022,” she explains. “It is a big accomplishment to develop and commercialize the product itself, but I am particularly proud of managing the international supply chain and materials palette in unprecedented detail at scale. Even more, I am proud to have led the cross-functional efforts to navigate the regulatory landscape for this product.”
Durr’s achievement comes in the wake of COVID-19, which provided an impetus to “reexamine [her] career — and “build giant LEGO kits on [her] dining room table.” Bryn Coughlan experienced a similar return to her roots, when her employer’s work-from-home policy pushed her to return to Rhode Island to be around her family and the water.
“This time away from the hustle and bustle of New York City reminded me how important it is for me to regularly take time for myself, preferably in nature,” she explains. “In Block Island, my day would start with a surf before my 8:30 AM meeting. Around lunch, I would make sure to take a mid-day walk to go see the seals. While I know this lifestyle isn’t sustainable as the world re-opens, I realized how much calmer and more productive I was at work after stepping out in the sun for a few minutes each day.”
STUMPING IN YOUR BOXERS
Indeed, COVID-19 became a wake-up call for the Class of 2023. Sean Oh describes it as the first time she truly felt vulnerable, a reinforcement that “anything can happen, including the unfortunate.” For Justin Mueller, the pandemic was a reminder that hard times often bring out the best in others.
“My wife and I were living in Naples, Italy during the onset of COVID-19, and what we saw in terms of response, community, and kindness was incredible,” he reminisces. “Witnessing younger community members deliver groceries to older members and all of the “Andra Tutto Benne” (everything will be alright) signs made by children allowed us to keep our blessings in perspective.”
Mueller has certainly come a long way on his road to Cambridge. Before business school, he worked as a Nuclear Surface Warfare Officer, making him responsible for some of the most technologically advanced systems in the world. However, you might not expect that based on his teenage years.
“In high school, I ran for student body Vice President. My running mate and I performed our campaign speech wearing only boxers. We reversed the adage of imagining the audience in their underwear to calm nerves because our classmates should have been nervous voting for such an important position.”
Next Page: An interview with Maura Herson
Page 3: Profiles of 9 First Year Sloan MBAs