Meet The Texas McCombs MBA Class Of 2024

How can MBA students get real experience?

Chances are, they pursued freelance or volunteer gigs. Most raised their hands for lead or champion duties too. Those efforts may have tipped the scale with business school admissions, but now they crave the next step: high-stakes roles with high-profile companies. To get where they want to go, MBAs need exposure to key players and best practices, knowing they won’t learn it unless they can apply it…immediately.

Real experience turns MBAs into low-risk hires with a track record for delivering returns at the highest levels. That’s a major plus at the University of Texas’ McCombs School of Business – as in McCombs+.  Here, MBAs team up for 8-10 week microprojects that can start as early as their first semester. Think of McCombs+ as a dress rehearsal before the summer internship. Working alongside company leaders and faculty coaches, MBAs draw solutions using lessons from various core disciplines. In the process, they master the skills that matter: operating teams, managing projects, influencing decisions, and presenting findings. Even more , McCombs students are absorbing the inner workings of leading companies and building relationships with potential bosses and champions. That enables them to learn more, grow faster, and gain the edge in post-graduation job hunting.


The McCombs+ program is geared towards MBAs looking to change their function or industry. That includes students like Gabby Stone, a first-year who has worked as a professional athlete and marketer since graduating from Stanford. Now looking to make a third career transition, Stone is following in the footsteps of her sister, a 2014 graduate, in gaining experience that produce quantifiable results and narratives that reflect her capabilities.

“I’m excited to participate in an MBA+ program, which consists of a micro-consulting group project for client companies such as Dell, Deloitte, and Whole Foods Market,” she tells P&Q. “Joining this project during the fall semester of my first year is an excellent opportunity to gain work experience that I can apply to summer internship interviews. I plan to pivot my career from marketing to consulting, so partaking in this experiential learning program is an invaluable way to fill a professional experience gap and develop hands-on knowledge with potential employers.”

The McCombs+ program also appealed to Eric Martinez, another member of the Class of 2024 who has spent his whole career with one company. For him, the program means access to ideas and experts who would’ve been otherwise unavailable to him. “Not only can we get hands-on experience with a potential new industry or function, but we can also start to make personal connections with partner companies and grow our networks,” he adds.

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McCombs School of Business at University of Texas-Austin is coming off an impressive showing in U.S. News & World Report’s business school ranking. Courtesy photo


In recent years, the school has run up to 50 McCombs+ projects annually in the MBA program alone. This reach stems from its Austin locale. Colby Bermel, a former reporter, calls Austin “arguably the best place to pursue your MBA right now.” A tech and startup hub, the city has attracted $10.4 billion dollars in early-stage funding over the past two years, concentrated heavily in transportation, real estate, energy, health, and fintech. That doesn’t count the heavy concentration of Fortune 500 might in the city. Amazon, Apple, and IBM employ a combined 20,000 professional in the region, with Dell adding another 14.000 employees alone. You’ll also find Meta, Microsoft, Tesla, Intel, and Oracle maintaining payrolls of 1,000-5,000 employees. Last year, Google socked nearly $10 billion dollars into a downtown office. Such resources filter down to business students, observes Bermel.

“Countless companies have moved their headquarters to or opened major expansions in Austin, further solidifying the city’s status as a hub of opportunity and innovation. Many McCombs MBAs work on semester-long projects for locally-based organizations ranging from Fortune 100 companies to Austin’s municipal government, and those experiences often produce summer internship offers. Firms know McCombs and actively recruit its MBAs because, as our dean has relayed to us, they see us as “enterprising, tenacious, curious, and authentic.”


The area itself carries a certain spirit. After all, the city slogan is “Keep Austin weird” – a mix of Texas independence, liberal openness, and entrepreneurial ingenuity. Before Tuiana Omurbekova moved to Austin, a friend described the city this way: “Everybody feels young in this city, everybody’s doing something, building a startup or preparing for a marathon, trying out a new kale recipe or taking singing classes.” Thus far, Omurbekova hasn’t been disappointed with how “The Live Music Capital of the World” has stirred the imagination or fostered a sense of possibilities.

“Austin is a great place to “work hard” and get your MBA because you can’t escape this frenzy of doing stuff: exploring and daring, crashing out of your comfort zone, making friends and meeting new people. Austin gets you in the flow…you find yourself bursting with creative, and proactive energy, to do, to act, to make, to dare. It’s the perfect MBA attitude. And for the “play hard” portion of the week? You’ll find that perfect something, whatever your lifestyle: hiking, water sports, bar hopping, live shows, sports, museums, and of course, eating.”

Better yet, Rowling Hall – the home of the McCombs MBA – is just ten blocks from downtown Austin. In other words, MBAs are just a short walk from where it all happens. “Austin is one of the most hip cities in the country,” adds Bermel. “There’s the Austin City Limits music festival in the fall and the South by Southwest tech conference in the spring, among other top-tier events – in addition to an endless supply of concerts, tacos, and barbecue. Austin has plenty of natural beauty too, be it swimming at Barton Springs, kayaking the Colorado River, or hiking to Mount Bonnell.”

Austin, Texas, has a great music scene


Bermel himself worked as an energy reporter for Politco before starting business school. His beat focused on California, where he focused on the “business and politics of climate change.” Along the way, he made headlines on several fronts, such as releasing the state governor’s tax returns before a recall election. As an MBA student, he is looking to “pivot” from writing about events to driving change as a businessperson.

“I looked for programs that featured strong energy and environment-related offerings, and I found plenty of them at McCombs. The school’s institutional support for climate action is evident in its Global Sustainability Leadership Institute and KBH Energy Center for Business, Law, and Policy. McCombs has academic concentrations and student organizations focused on the cleantech and energy finance sectors, along with a cleantech fellowship, a Net Impact chapter, and the MBA Impact Investing Network and Training program. And in February, McCombs [hosted] ClimateCAP, the annual summit that rotates between top business schools.”

Bermel isn’t the only member of the Class of 2024 making a major career jump. Gabby Stone played water polo for Team USA and later professionally in Europe. While she admits that her background is “unconventional”, she adds that absorbed plenty of lessons pertinent to business success.

“Resiliency through hardship, listening empathetically to teammates, and learning how to create an effective game plan with those from differing perspectives were fostered in this high-stakes environment.”

Christopher Blanton is accustomed to high-stakes and high-pressure environments. After all, he is a third-year medical student at the nearby Dell Medical School. Before that, he worked as an emergency department nurse, where he often played a major role in the “preservation of life-or-limb” of patients. Like Bermel, Blanton is planning to use his MBA to make a difference in the larger world.

“As a current dual degree MD/MBA student, I believe the opportunity to dive in and learn more about health technology, healthcare systems, and learning how to lead within the complex structure that makes up our healthcare here in the US will help me to be a better provider in the long run.”


David Dossett and Connor Hunerfauth are making similar transitions as McCombs MBA students. The former was previously an infantry officer in the U.S. Marine Corps who also taught rock climbing in the service. The latter served as a combat engineer officer with the Canadian Army. While the latter avoided combat operations, he did experience a harrowing moment.

“I went running with the bulls this past July in Pamplona, Spain and a bull went running into me,” he tells P&Q. “I managed to walk away with just a bruise and a memorable story.”

Several class members were also involved in education. In Philadelphia, Lauren Vague once worked as a tour guide on a double decker tour bus. After college, she channeled this impulse to teach into development for a Philadelphia Catholic high school, where she set a fund-raising record. In China, Steven Huang enabled High Ground Education’s footprint of one Montessori nursery to nine. By the same token, Tuiana Omurbekova turned a sleepy branch of ani international youth organization into one of its most vibrant operations.

“Upon graduation I took on the challenge of running AIESEC Kyrgyzstan. I started the year with 10 people, no office, no strategy, and no partners. By the end of the year, we were one of the fastest growing entities among 120+ countries, with over 100 volunteers and 3 independent offices. We sent 180 Kyrgyz students on volunteering and professional internships abroad (China, India, Europe). After returning home, many of those students joined us to run social projects. Whenever I touch base with my old AIESEC buddies, I’m always delighted to hear they’re still shining bright, navigating through their careers as socially conscious and responsible leaders.”

Next Page: Interview with Tina Mabley, Assistant Dean and MBA Director

Page 3: Profiles of 12 Members of the Class of 2024

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