A culture may be who you are, but a mission is what compels you to act. It informs everything you do — and pushes you every step of the way. Some describe it as a calling. To others, it is a duty or a heritage. Either way, that mission is a life-long vocation, a code for how to live and learn, a commitment to service and a transformative vision for redemption and reconciliation.
A mission isn’t a choice, it is an endless pursuit that comes with setbacks and doubts — and subtle gains that add up over a lifetime. At the Mendoza College, that mission can be summed up in five words: “Grow the good in business.” That means stepping forward to take responsibility and setting an example for others to follow, to bring out the best in others and make an impact. In a 2019 interview with Poets&Quants, John Rooney, director of graduate business career services, shared the underlying appeal of the Mendoza “Force for good” mission.
“[Students] feel like they’re joining a community and something that’s bigger than themselves. So that leads to viewing yourself as part of a group versus an individual getting an MBA. I think there’s a bigger message and a sense of community around the mission that pulls everybody together.”
During the same interview, Mike Mannor, associate dean for the MBA program, outlines exactly what they seek…and what MBAs can expect. “We seek exceptional young professionals who are yearning to make a difference, who we can equip to leverage the power of business to be a force that brings people together, elevates the heart and mind, and provides dignity and livelihoods. During their time at Mendoza, our students are challenged every day in and out of the classroom to think bigger, to think about both people and profits, and to live out their values in their work.”
Of course, the classroom is often the real world at Mendoza — and those daily challenges sometimes involve serving the forgotten and vulnerable. One of Mendoza’s biggest innovations has been its Frontlines in America course, which it launched in 2020. A semester-long course, Mendoza MBAs head to areas hit hardest by poverty, violence, and addiction. However, this course is more than a glorified listening tour. Instead, students step into the trenches and get their hands dirty. In the process, they experience the same barriers, fears, and hopelessness of stakeholders who live in entirely different worlds from themselves. In Appalachia, for example, MBAs have worked on models and training that help people find transportation, re-enter the workforce, and even start businesses. In Chicago’s Grand Crossing neighborhood, where nearly half of residents live in poverty, MBAs have enhanced the capabilities of an urban farm that produces fresh fruit and vegetables to combat food insecurity. In the process, they have exposed young people to work opportunities.
“This year, Frontlines in America partnered with three outstanding organizations: Homeboy Industries in Los Angeles, Coalfield Development in West Virginia, and the Gary Comer Youth Center in Chicago,” explains Joseph Sweeney, the Mendoza MBA’s academic director. “Each of these organizations serves vulnerable populations including former gang-members, recovering addicts, and at-risk youth. Each partner works with the Meyer Business on the Frontlines team to develop a scope of work that leverages the business skills of our MBA students and addresses a critical need for the partner organization. For example, Coalfield Development serves as an incubator and investor in social enterprises serving Appalachia while providing employment, education, and personal development opportunities for team members. They asked the Frontlines in America team to examine the commercial viability of developing a tourism ecosystem in Mingo County, WV to help drive economic activity while showcasing the natural beauty of the Appalachian Mountains. Through intensive research and collaborative problem solving virtually and in-person in the community, the team provided a set of pragmatic recommendations around support, strategy, and partnerships for Coalfield that are already being implemented to help develop the ecosystem and drive employment.”
Frontlines in America is an outgrowth of its more recognized cousin: The Meyer Business on the Frontlines program, popularly known as BOTFL. Launched in 2008, BOTFL has sent hundreds of Mendoza alumni to countries that suffer from war, poverty, malnutrition, and natural disasters. Over the years, Mendoza MBAs has worked in Lebanon, Sri, Lanka, Honduras, and Ethiopia on projects ranging from fighting sex trafficking to launching business incubators. Thanks to $15 million dollar gift, BOTFL has doubled the number of students who can participate in projects to 100.
“It’s a consulting class based on rigorous analysis, analytics, data problem-solving, and it’s also experiential, very team-based, very collaborative,” explains Dean Martijin Cremers in an interview with P&Q. “Those teams are five to six students with the faculty and alumni assistance. And it’s about business, of course, for good — actually serving people. It requires decision making in situations that are very ambiguous, complicated, complex. Our students have not been in situations where there’s that level of challenge.”
“The unique experiences that the students have in places like the Amazon rainforest, Rwanda, East Timor or Lebanon become part of the worldview that they carry with them the rest of their lives,” adds Mike Mannor. “So much so, many BOTFL alums return to continue their involvement as advisers and in other roles long after their graduation.”
Despite these headliners, you won’t find Mendoza resting on its laurels when it comes to experiential learning. This year, the school added Frontline Engagements, which enable second-years to build on their BOTFL experience with partners in Latin America. The school also introduced Ways of Rebuilding Community (WORC), where students work with local organizations such as a solar panel manufacturer that is hiring and training former felons. In addition, the Mendoza MBA is rolling out a Silicon Valley module at its Palo Alto facility. Lasting seven weeks over the holidays, the course addresses digital innovation and includes sessions with executives from firms like Google, Linkedin, Adobe, and IDEO.
At our core, Mendoza is about impact,” says Joseph Sweeney. “This theme is woven throughout our curriculum so that students learn viscerally the power of business to shape the world around them. While individual courses may focus on specific topics like capital markets or business strategy, instructors and case examples continually reinforce the positive influence that well-run businesses can have not only for shareholders, but for customers, employees, and society at large. This helps to create future business leaders with a perspective that their enterprises can benefit more than just their own bottom line.”
That impact is amplified by a highly-engaged alumni base. In the 2021 student and alumni survey conducted by The Economist, Mendoza ranked 2nd for Alumni Effectiveness (and 6th for Culture and Classmates). One reason: Golden Domers are always thrilled to help their own.
“One of the things that makes Notre Dame’s network so strong and valued is the willingness of our alumni to answer the phone or respond to an email whenever a student has a question, is looking for a mentor, or wants to have a conversation about a career,” explains Tim Ponisciak, director of mendoza graduate alumni relations, in an interview with P&Q. “One of our current MBA students reached out to a dozen alums. She was surprised that she heard back from every single one of them. She had a 100% response rate and saw how strong the network was. It was her first opportunity to experience what being a part of the larger Notre Dame community really meant.”