2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Sophia Fischer, UC-Irvine (Merage)

Sophia Fischer

UC Irvine Paul Merage School of Business

“Driven, determined, and competitive with a tendency of being first to the dance floor.”

Hometown: Split between Walnut Creek, CA; Perth, Australia; and Cobham, England.  My family moved frequently due to my father’s job.

Fun fact about yourself: I hold dual American and Australian citizenship but was born in Spain.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Davis:  B.S. Neurobiology, Physiology, and Behavior with a minor in Technology Management.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Stryker, Medical Education Specialist

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Johnson & Johnson Medical Device Companies, Irvine, CA

Where will you be working after graduation? Johnson & Johnson Medical Device Companies, Marketing Leadership Development Program

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School: Merage Fellow Scholarship

Student Ambassador

Teaching Assistant

Social Chair, Merage Student Association

President, Merage Women in Business

Vice President, Merage Beach and Surf Club

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? My international experience and subsequent career in a male-dominated industry instilled in me passion for diversity and advocation for equal representation.  I’m most proud of growing the Merage Women in Business Club during my presidency. My executive team and I assigned a theme to each quarter: awareness, advocacy, and action. We facilitated an unconscious bias workshop and a discussion on imposter syndrome to raise ‘awareness’. We promoted ‘advocacy’ through conversations with financial advocates, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. We took ‘action’ in our community through our mentorship program with the undergraduate Women in Leadership club. In the past year, we’ve grown from six members to over one hundred and gained non-female identifying members. The response from Merage students underscores our community’s commitment to advocating for equal representation. Merage has the highest percentage of female faculty globally and prioritizes gender parity in our cohorts.  I’m proud to align myself with a school that values the advancement of women in business.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My work on the Stryker Women’s Network was a deeply meaningful part of my career. My colleagues and I established a career center at the local YWCA, providing resources for disadvantaged women pursuing financial independence. We also launched an Unconscious Bias campaign within Stryker, promoting greater diversity in interview panels, the elimination of gendered language in performance reviews, and advocacy from male employees for their female counterparts.  Since the launch, corporate HR has released an Unconscious Bias training across the organization.

Why did you choose this business school? Merage’s location was a deciding factor. The small program size gives me close contact to professors, personalized advising from the career center, and strong relationships with my cohort on campus. Merage’s location in Irvine grants me access to an array of companies across industries, enabling me to build a large network off-campus. Southern California is a hotspot for healthcare and device companies, and Merage has close relationships with brand-name companies in this industry. For example, several Fortune 500 medical device companies partner with Merage for our consulting projects class. When I took this class, I consulted for a locally based device company on a make versus buy decision. It was an invaluable opportunity to apply myself to a real-world problem while forging connections with management and learning about the company’s culture.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? If I could do my MBA again, I’d enter more case competitions. Participating in a case competition was a highlight of the program.  My team and I, with no previous experience in financial services, created a strategy for a global bank to better serve minority small business owners. The support we received from the Merage network was overwhelming.  We connected with alumni at major banks across the country, who made time to speak to us at a few hours’ notice. We also tapped into the diverse student organizations at Merage, like the Black Management Association and the Latinx Initiative, to talk to entrepreneurs and small business owners about their perceptions of the financial industry and their unmet needs. Additionally, we pressure tested our solution with faculty in fintech, finance, and organizational behavior departments. It was daunting to enter a competition early in our MBA careers while taking classes and recruiting for internships, but the experience increased my confidence and solidified bonds with my teammates and the wider Merage community.

What is the biggest myth about your school? The biggest myth about Merage is that our small program size limits networking opportunities. Merage is a close-knit community and alumni have a strong connection to the school. During my summer internship, I traveled to a conference in Colorado. At an industry dinner, I struck up conversation with the man sitting next to me and discovered he was a Merage alum! Between the shared school and industry connection, we hit it off. He was interested in my post-MBA career path, offered to stay in touch, and connect me with others at his company.  This experience highlighted the reach and quality of the Merage alumni network.

What surprised you the most about business school? It was how much of my development occurred outside of the classroom. My friendships, involvement in campus clubs, and mentor relationships have been as integral to my growth as my academic skills. I could easily dedicate my waking hours to the constant stream of class assignments, tests, recruiting, and professional networking that accompanies an MBA, but I’m glad I also took time to enjoy the journey with my peers. My fondest memories include beach happy hours, hosting social mixers on business school terrace, and a team-building ropes course with my cohort. When I moved to Irvine a couple years ago, in the midst of a pandemic, I didn’t know a single person in Southern California. This June, I’ll be graduating with my best friends, photo albums full of good memories, and a community that will support me personally and professionally for years to come.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I was specific about my post-MBA career goals and demonstrated clearly how a Merage MBA would help me achieve them. In my role as a student ambassador, I review applications and provide input to the admissions team. Stand-out candidates focus on their post- MBA goal and chart a clear path for how a Merage MBA will help them get there. It’s exciting to see an applicant whose career goals are complemented by the school’s strengths. When I was applying to Merage, I reached out to student ambassadors in my career field and asked them about classes, program offerings, and extra-curriculars that were relevant to our industry. This enabled me to show the admissions team how I planned to leverage a Merage MBA to secure my desired post-grad role.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Paige Mayer exemplifies the Merage community spirit. She is always willing to spend time helping a classmate, either with a network connection, prepping for an interview, or understanding an assignment.  She also is the Vice President of the Merage Women in Business Club and uses her experience working at a tech start- up to provide mentorship to other women pursuing a career in tech. I admire her natural leadership qualities: she pushes people to be better while lending her encouragement and support.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mother finished her college degree when I was in second grade; I remember many afternoons spent writing stories in the library at her university. She’s always encouraged me to invest in my education so I can achieve my career goals.  A few years ago, I was interviewing for portfolio management roles and kept losing the opportunities to colleagues with MBAs. My mother reminded me of the value of education and advised me to pursue an MBA to realize the next step in my career. I’m thrilled that my post-grad job, a rotational leadership development program, facilitates continued learning after I leave Merage.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list? As a marketing leader in the medical device industry, I get to shape the future of healthcare. In my role before business school, I marketed a device that treated chronic pain, which is usually managed by opioids. The opioid epidemic has affected my family, so giving patients an alternative to opioid pain management was incredibly meaningful to me. In this vein, I want to lead the development of new devices that restore patients’ quality of life.

I also want to mentor young women in business. At my previous company, an executive shared the moment that inspired his advocacy. His three- year old daughter visited him at work and he took her to a female executive’s office to introduce the two. Upon leaving, his daughter told him that “she didn’t know women could have offices”.  That story demonstrates how much progress still needs to be made in achieving equity and fuels my passion for advancing women in the workplace.

How has the pandemic changed your view of a career? The pandemic blurred the lines between personal and professional in a physical sense, literally forcing people to bring the office into their homes.  In doing so, it exposed challenges people face in their private lives that were previously hidden from their colleagues. I believe hybrid work environments will continue to erode the boundaries between personal and professional spheres.  As a future leader in this environment, I’ll be mindful of opportunities available to remote versus non-remote employees, provide creative delivery methods for networking and team- building events, and ensure benefits adequately support the modern challenges employees face.

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

It is a privilege to write about what makes Sophia an invaluable addition to the Merage MBA Class of 2022. From the moment Sophia started an MBA at Merage, she was focused on being an advocate for diversity and creating a sense of community within the school and Sophia has had tremendous impact on Merage in these areas and beyond. I’ve had the honor of working very closely with Sophia on her job search and had an opportunity to watch the larger impact that Sophia has made on the Merage School due to her strong leadership and commitment to diversity initiatives.Sophia is one of the most engaged, motivated and passionate students we’ve had at Merage and has accomplished so much in her time at Merage.

From early in the MBA program, Sophia took a leadership role in the UBS/USC Everyone’s Business Case Competition. Here, she led a group of Merage MBAs and proposed strategies to increase banking services to POC who are small business owners and was recognized by winning second place out of nine business schools globally in this competition.As President of the Women in Business Club, Sophia has increased membership and the number of events scheduled significantly and has created several events focused on making sure Merage students are prepared to lead in a diverse world. For example, Sophia has partnered with the Black Management Association (BMA) for Women’s History Month, shared female stories for International Women’s Day and scheduled events on Unconscious Bias and Self Advocacy which helped to create more awareness across Merage. Sophia also worked to create a yearlong mentorship program for undergraduate students as part of the Women in Business Group. These accomplishments as a club leader have added a lot of value to the Merage student experience and have helped to educate other Merage students and create more awareness, education, and advocacy for diversity initiatives.

I am really impressed by Sophia’s constant dedication and commitment to the school and enhancing the student experience for many years to come. Sophia has worked tirelessly to serve as Student Ambassador and lead Preview Days for Admits, serve on student panels, and help recruit and shape future Merage MBA classes. While all of these accomplishments and leadership opportunities are impressive on their own, I believe what truly sets Sophia apart is her collaborative approach and willingness to coach and mentor others around her as well as serve as a connector for the community.  Throughout her MBA, Sophia served on multiple panels providing advice and tips for incoming students on the job search and spent a lot of her personal time helping her classmates prepare for interviews and job applications and rooting them on in their job search. Just recently, Sophia just served on a mock interview panel and helped provide her classmates with constructive feedback to improve their interviewing skills. Her participation in this panel showcased the level of research Sophia has done for interviews and the strategic approach she takes.

In addition to being a strong leader and collaborator, Sophia has a very personable and welcoming approach to anyone that meets her.  In fact, she has introduced many students and served as a connector to students across all Merage programs. As Social Chair of the Merage Student Government, Sophia put on events during distance learning last year that allowed students from all programs to connect and feel part of a larger Merage community.Sophia has really helped Merage students to forge strong relationships with each other even when classes and programming were all virtual. There have been many students across all programs at Merage that have been coached and mentored by Sophia and have gained a lot from these interactions whether it’s an internship, an interview or helped feedback and tips or a connection. Sophia has continued to lift other students up and champion their success every step of the way.

Sophia is a natural leader with the drive and vision to improve any organization she is part of. Sophia has made a tremendous impact on the Merage School and our students by helping to make Merage students’ better leaders for a diverse world and by helping to forge connections across the community; she has truly been an invaluable part of the MBA Class of 2022!”

Leaat Modiano
Associate Director of Career Services
The Paul Merage School of Business 



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