2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Songee Barker, Notre Dame (Mendoza)

Songee Barker

University of Notre Dame, Mendoza School of Business

“A resilient, compassionate, optimist focused on leveraging data and analytics to improve healthcare.” 

Hometown: Cave Creek, AZ

Fun fact about yourself: I twirled fire batons in front of over 50,000 spectators at Georgia Tech football games. As the Georgia Tech Golden Girl, I am also featured in the College Football Hall of Fame.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Georgia Tech, Bachelor’s in Business Administration, and IT Management

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Viking Cruises, Senior Database Marketing Analyst

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Abbott Nutrition, MBA Brand Management Intern, Columbus, Ohio

Where will you be working after graduation? Accenture, Senior Consultant, Chicago, IL

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Forté Fellow, VP of Communications – Women in Business Club; VP of External Relations – Marketing Club; Marketing Research Teaching Assistant, Volunteer – Cultivate Culinary a local food kitchen; Member WMBA Bookstore Basketball team.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As the VP of Communications for the Women in Business Club, I was able to help the club reach more women at Notre Dame by expanding our social footprint and promoting the club to a broad group of female graduate students (women from all graduate programs at Mendoza are invited to join). This year, the Women in Business leadership team held the first ever Women at Mendoza Mixer, celebrating 50 years of women at Notre Dame. Being a part of the Women in Business leadership team and community is something I am very proud of and grateful for.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? This past summer I was tasked with creating a social media strategy for the Abbott’s Ensure brand. Over my twelve-week internship, I developed a strategy that led to the launch of an Instagram account for Ensure. I had the opportunity to work with incredible people and have an impact on social strategy and content creation (I directed a video shoot that generated over 100,000 views on Facebook!). Building a strategy and see it come to life in twelve weeks is something I am very proud of.

Why did you choose this business school? The emphasis Notre Dame places on developing compassionate leaders really resonated with me. Ethics courses are a curriculum requirement, and for me that was important. I work hard to create impact through my work and place value on making sure my impact generates positive social change.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? At Notre Dame, we are fortunate to have professors who are not only experts in their fields but genuinely care about their students. One of my favorite professors was Vamsi Krishna Kanuri, a marketing professor that I had for Marketing Decision Models. Professor Kanuri does an excellent job of blending real world challenges with academic theory. He also brought a lot of enthusiasm and energy to every class.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Being able to experience Notre Dame football games as a student and cheer on the Fighting Irish with a crowd of 80,000 people is a tradition that is hard to describe. It also doesn’t hurt that the historic Rudy Game was played against Georgia Tech and I get to see my two alumni schools play each other. I also appreciate the women’s sports tradition at Notre Dame especially, basketball.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I would have put more energy into connecting with professors outside of classes sooner. Notre Dame has a very collaborative culture between professors and students. When I first started my program, I was reluctant to reach out to my professors. Fortunately, the school created opportunities to connect with professors and through that experience I realized that professors really are open to having conversations about almost anything and are a valuable resource.

What surprised you the most about business school? The personal growth that happens. I knew I would be getting refreshers on typical business topics, but I made a concerted effort to push myself outside of my comfort zone and lean into leadership opportunities. I did everything from volunteering to playing intramural sports to attending on campus lectures and events, which lead me to experience more personal growth than I had expected.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? Getting really clear on my “why” for attending business school and more specifically why Notre Dame enabled me to bring authenticity to the application process. Knowing the emphasis Notre Dame places on growing the good in business, I used my application to communicate not only how I would benefit from attending Notre Dame but also how I would give back to the Notre Dame community. We are so fortunate at Notre Dame to have one of the most impressive and engaged alumni networks; when you become a part of the Notre Dame family there is a sense of responsibility to pay it forward.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Kyle Grba. At orientation every year, a cohort is placed on learning teams. We do our first group projects with this group. I was fortunate to be put on Kyle’s learning team. Working with him on projects and learning about his professional aspirations and focus was inspirational. But his humility is something that really stood out, especially as he successfully ran the Finance & Investments Club and helped many other classmates to reach their professional goals. Success and humility are a rare and special combination that I admire in Kyle and personally strive for. I think you encounter many hard-working, humble people at Notre Dame and it is something that makes Mendoza so special.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My Mom, Debra Bieber. She earned her undergraduate degree from Notre Dame in Civil Engineering. She had a strong influence on the way I saw women in the workforce and the perceptions I had about pursuing a professional career. Seeing my mother work professionally and the emphasis she put on education shaped my personal standards of what I could achieve. Specifically seeing the Notre Dame network growing up made my decision to pursue a Notre Dame MBA even easier. Being able to share my professional accomplishments with my mom is a joy and now we will get to share the Notre Dame experience and community.

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

Short Term: Successfully launch my post-MBA career at Accenture and refine my analytical skill set while working across different industries.

Long Term: Become the CMO of a large Healthcare System.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The “great resignation” that resulted from the pandemic refined my view of the importance of human capital management. At Notre Dame, I have completed several case studies on how leaders succeed and fail at handling workplace conflict. Often, it returns to the human element behind conflict. Socially responsibility has always been an important aspect of careers, but the pandemic highlighted the need to remember that business decisions impact both shareholders and stakeholders. It also heightened my interest in healthcare because of the essential need of the healthcare system during a global pandemic.

What made Songee such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Sandra (Songee) Barker was a student in two of my MBA elective classes in the Fall 2021 semester, following which I immediately hired her as a Teaching Assistant to help with the spring classes. Songee is in that elite “top 5% of the class” and shares all the characteristics of that peer group: smarts, great work ethic, exemplary classroom performance (quizzes, case assignments, projects), and persistence in their pursuit of every bit of knowledge they can take away from the program.

What’s important, though, is what separates Songee from others in that top group. Here’s my basis: I’ve graded a dozen or so of her deliverables across two classes, engaged in lots of in-class discussions and then class-related discussions in her later TA role, and observed her approach and thinking in reviewing the work of other students as a grader. So lots of data, all leading me to the conclusion that Songee differs from most other top 5-percenters in that she adds a distinctive extra layer of value to most everything she does.

As a student, Songee revels in the more difficult assignments. She sorts through them grounded in a strong existing knowledge base (a function of her professional experience and education) and the new concepts and frameworks she’s being asked to apply in the assignment. She treats the latter with both a healthy appreciation and a respectful skepticism, which is a powerful combination. Further, in her assessment of any business situation, Songee applies a managerial intuition that is surprisingly deep given her years as well as common sense, both in the right measure. Her work product always answers every question in superior depth and even more superior (if that’s possible) clarity.

As an assistant and reader, she has been a joy to work with. I ultimately grade everything in the classes, but I would have Songee and her grading partner do a “screening” of each assignment, providing comments on where they thought some assignments were on/off the mark and why. As in her assignment deliverables as a student, Songee in the reader role would always provide extremely thoughtful insight into questions, answers, and what students were likely thinking when answering. All of that helped me immensely in turning around my own feedback to the students and also often forcing me to think about the assignments from a different and better perspective.

Songee has continued with me as a reader on another course this term and continues to do a superb job — all of this on top of a tremendous amount of service and volunteer work while she has been in the MBA program.

Songee is off to Chicago with one of the big consulting firms after graduation and I have no doubt that her star will continue to rise.

I know you ‘ve got a ton of outstanding candidates for this distinction — it is a very big deal. By now, you’ve figured out that Songee gets my highest personal recommendation. She is very, very deserving.”

Joe Urbany, Marketing Professor
Mendoza College of Business
University of Notre Dame

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