Meet The Rice Jones MBA Class Of 2023

You can read every article, talk to every alum, and dissect every message board. In the end, business school is still full of surprises. You have to live it to understand it. Those campus visits are closer to trailers than actual shows: a glimpse into the best school traditions, resources, and routines. There are just some things you need to find out yourself — because they are most often about yourself.

Zachary White, now a senior consultant at Infosys, had done his homework before he started at Rice University’s Jones Graduate School of Business in 2019. He admits that Jones “pulls no punches,” adding that the MBA felt like “drinking from a fire hose” early on. Yes, MBAs often struggle with the mix of heavy workloads and tempting options. At Jones, some of the biggest surprises were, in the words of painter Bob Ross, “happy accidents.” They were experiences and discoveries that changed these students’ trajectories. In many cases, they answered the questions that had been dogging them: Can I can do this and Do I belong here?

Catalina Vasquez came to the Class of 2023 from Colombia, where she was a communications and marketing manager. For her, Rice was a place where she could step out and forge a new identity as a leader. “I’ve been pleasantly surprised to learn how many opportunities there are to prepare students to be better leaders if we put in the necessary commitment and effort,” she tells P&Q. “One crucial resource that Rice Business has to help us become better leaders is the Doerr Institute for New Leaders, which has several programs to help students develop strategic leadership skills. In the fall, I was accepted into the institute’s Activation program, allowing me to take part in 1:1 coaching sessions with a former executive director of one of the biggest oil and gas companies in the world. This has been one of the most rewarding experiences of my first semester.”

Classmates for two years, friends for life.


Arwa Hasanali started her career in investment management. A Chicago native, she was initially surprised by the caliber of her classmates. Despite their achievements — along with their varying “experiences, cultures, and backgrounds” — the class has been able to find common ground and gel with each other, Hasanali adds.

“We inspire, motivate and support one another. The biggest surprise is in our teamwork – even though we are all recruiting for the same positions, there is no sense of competition. Everyone helps each other, whether it be interview practice, casing or simply keeping each other upright and focused. We all share our triumphs humbly, bear our challenges together, and champion each other through it all.”

Others encountered more traditional (and potentially dangerous) surprises. Diana Bueso-Mendoza has realized that companies “can describe their financials or raise capital in different ways that gives them a higher tax break.” By the same token, Maria Kalina is still surprised that she survived courses like accounting, analytics, and economics coming from a non-traditional business background.

“To say I was intimidated is an understatement,” she admits. “However, the support I’ve received from classmates and faculty, and the diversity of the program, has made me realize that I do, in fact, belong in business school. Each of us is unique in our own way, and we all carry our own strengths—it’s our responsibility to not compare ourselves to each other, but rather to recognize how we can use these unique strengths to positively impact society.”

McNair Hall in spring.


Technically, Kalina studied Psychology and Government at Harvard. Before college, she was a figure skater who earned a medal in the Junior Nationals. She isn’t alone in taking a unique path to the Jones MBA program. Next year, for example, Diana Bueso-Mendoza will become a Doctor of Medicine after studying at Baylor.

“One of the areas I was in during medical school was the pediatric intensive care unit,” she writes. “These were the most complex cases that I had seen. It was very rewarding to help these kids go from being on a ventilator to being awake and able to transfer to a different floor in the hospital. This transition could take anywhere from a day to months later, but I was always glad to be a part of that journey back home.”

Continuing the “Be Bold” ethos of Rice University, Zachary Green received a Master of Music from Julliard. A professional bassist before launching a career in fund-raising and client services, Green was once featured on posters that hung at New York City’s famed Lincoln Center. At the same time, Brad Simmons taught Physics and Biology in the Tulsa Public School system.  There, he built a high school girl’s soccer team from literally the ground up. At its worst, his teams lost six games by eight or more goals. But at their best…

“Over four years, we grew our team’s roster to over 30 players,” he writes. “Several girls have been offered athletic scholarships, including three this past season all playing for a junior college in Kansas together. We almost made the playoffs the past two years, losing in overtime to an eventual state-semifinalist. When I look back on the most important thing I did, it was doing everything I could to create a culture of excellence that could continue even after my time coaching ended.”

Students brainstorm during class.


Simmons isn’t alone in bringing a winning pedigree to Houston. Before business school, Mark Watson worked in baseball development for the Tampa Bay Rays — including the 2020 season when they won the American League Championship.

“I am most proud to serve as a mentor to so many diverse, early-career baseball professionals through a developmental program that I established while working with the Tampa Bay Rays,” he writes. “This program is centered on data analytics, labor economics, and computer programming and is focused on finding the next generation of extraordinary front office minds. Over the course of its life, the program has helped over 15 diverse professionals break into Major League Baseball with an intention of doubling that number by 2023!”

Technically, Maria Kalina may have downplayed her business acumen. As a human capital consultant, she guided one client’s growth from 10 to over 80 employees. During COVID-19, Catalina Vasquez partnered with public and private sector clients to help over 2,000 small businesses “stay afloat” by developing strategic plans. In Los Angeles, Taylor Anne Adams spearheaded the planning and execution of a Women’s Leadership Conference.

“I worked directly with the CEO of HelloSunshine and was able to support in building out programming, sponsors and event logistics for 500+ women,” explains Adams, who appeared in Wal-Mart and Dr. Pepper commercials as a teenager.

A rigorous curriculum always makes room for laughter.


Of course, some achievements are difficult to quantify…but no less critical. Exhibit A: Arwa Hasanali. “My biggest professional accomplishment is becoming a subject matter expert in 401(k) investments at a really young age and earning my clients’ trust. It’s not easy when you are the youngest person in the room, and earning their trust was an uphill battle. I’m proud that I was not only sitting at the table with C-suite executives, but also sought out for my input and advice.”

At business school, Hasanali didn’t just gain her classmates’, but some belief in herself as well. “I consider getting through the first semester without a major meltdown as a huge accomplishment,” she tells P&Q. “Between juggling classes, team projects, exams, case competitions, social activities, recruiting, coffee chatting, and networking to secure an internship in the summer, it’s hard to stay afloat. Top that all off with my personal life – I have an 8-month-old daughter and husband, both of whom I rarely see – and there is obviously a lot to manage in those first four months. I’m grateful for the help and support I receive from within and outside of the program, but tackling all of that while staying mentally stable is a huge win in my books.”

Catalina Vasquez notched an equally impressive win during her first semester at Jones. “Before starting B-school, I knew I wanted to advance in my career in marketing, broadening my impact in a product manager role,” she explains. “To make this a reality, as soon as I joined the Jones Graduate School of Business, I started working with the Center for Career Development to polish my application materials and start applying for a product manager position for my internship. Just a few months later, I received an offer to do my 2022 internship at Amazon as a senior product manager.”

That means stepping away from one of the best parts of the Jones experience: Houston. “I’ve traveled to many countries over the years, but the sunsets here are spectacular,” Vasquez observes. “The glow of oranges and pinks in the sky is simply stunning! Besides that, my favorite part of Houston so far is seeing how multifaceted the city is. This ranges from the weather, which can go from a warm afternoon to a chilly evening in the blink of an eye, to the people in all their diversity.”

Making space for quiet moments.


How diverse? 1 in 4 Houston residents were born outside the United States, making it the most diverse city in the United States. That means a wide variety of religions practices, food, and cultural customs for MBAs to experience. That’s just the start for Houston, whose 7.1 million people rank it as the 4th- largest metropolitan area.  The region boasts 3.1 million jobs, with a GDP that’d place it 27th in the world. Houston ranks as the country’s largest exporter too. In a state whose identity revolves around size, Houston boasts the world’s largest medical complex in the world in the Texas Medical Center.

It is also known as the “Energy Capital of the World” — and that doesn’t just apply to exploration, production, and shipping. Home to 4,600 energy-related firms, Houston features 100 solar and 30 wind firms. When it comes to CleanTech, Houston finishes 5th in venture capital funding. The region also includes 60 organizations that support tech startups, such as incubators, accelerators, and R&D centers. In fact, 250,000 or more Houston professionals work in the tech field. And 350 aerospace and aviation companies are found in Houston too. Overall, Houston is the headquarters for 24 Fortune 500 companies. Make no mistake: the roster is impressive: Phillips 66, Sysco, Hewlett Packard, Baker Hughes, ConocoPhillips, Waste Management, Halliburton, and more. Combined, these firms accounted for $398.6 billion dollars in revenue in 2020. That makes for some great opportunities for Rice MBAs.

If you ask the Class of 2023 about Houston, the best reviews are reserved for the food. “I rave to my friends back in Tulsa about Houston’s incredible food scene. Within my Midtown neighborhood alone, I can walk to grab breakfast tacos, poke burritos and banh mis. A few second-year students even started a Global Foods club this fall; I can finally check Ethiopian cuisine off my list.”

His favorite?  “I would be doing this city an utter disgrace if I didn’t mention the delectable stuffed pastry balls otherwise known as Kolaches,” Simmons adds “If you visit Houston, you have to check out the Kolache Shoppe and try their ham, egg and cheese. Get there early before they run out!”

Mónica Hicks, a Rice alum who grew up in Houston, views the city this way: “I often hear Houston described as one of those places you never intended to stay in or fall in love with,” she explains. “Yet, once people move here, they often don’t look back. I would say it is equal parts the people and rich representation of diverse cultures and foods, the warmer climate, and the affordability factor that make life in Houston such a great place to earn an MBA.”

Finance professors take a break between classes.


By the numbers, the Class of 2023 includes 178 full-time MBA students. This year’s class entered with a 705 average GMAT, up 16 points from the year before, with scores ranging from 680-730 in the mid-50% range. The class also averaged a 316 GRE and a 3.51 undergraduate GPA, with averages coming in at 311-323 and 3.3-3.3.7 in the same range as GMATs.

Overall, 39% of the class hails from overseas. Women account for 33% of the class and U.S. minorities for 30%. As a whole, the class averages 5 years of professional work experience. At the same time, 21% of the class are first generation students.

Academically, the program skews towards STEM, as 55% of the 2023 class holds undergraduate degrees in fields related to Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math. The remainder of the class studied Business and Economics (33%) and Social Sciences (12%). In terms of recent professional experience, the largest percentage of the class last worked in Financial Services (15%). Energy veterans hold 13% of class seats, followed by Consulting and Technology at 10% each. The rest of the class includes professionals from the Healthcare, Government, Manufacturing, Real Estate, Consumer Product Goods, and Manufacturing sectors. Another 4% of the class are entrepreneurs.

Next Page: Profiles of 9 members of the Class of 2023

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