2023 MBA To Watch: Sophia Leung, University of Rochester (Simon)

Sophia Leung

University of Rochester, Simon Business School

“Impact-driven product manager, passionate about the intersection of innovation, equity, and sustainability.”

Hometown: Queens, NY

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a competitive dragon boat racer. I initially joined a meetup group to learn about this cultural tradition. I quickly fell in love with the sport! In 2018, my team won first place in the Women’s Heat in the Hong Kong Dragon Boat Festival in New York.

Undergraduate School and Degree: City University of New York – Hunter College, Bachelor of Fine Arts & Bachelor of Arts in Geography.

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Domio, Inc | Design Lead

Where did you intern during the summer of 2022?  Verizon | Product Manager Intern – Consumer Group, Basking Ridge, NJ (Remote)

Where will you be working after graduation? Verizon | Product Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Fielding Leadership Fellow

I earned a full-tuition scholarship to Simon Business School. This honor is awarded to the top 4% of the MBA class, and is based on academic excellence and professional leadership.

  • Forté Fellow

I was awarded a Forté Fellowship, based on my leadership track record and my commitment to advancing women’s opportunities in business.

  • Simon Product Management Club | President

During my second year, I led a team of 12 in the Simon Product Management Club. We organized networking events, curated guest speaker programming, and developed interview resources for students passionate about tech product management.

  • Forté Foundation at Simon | Vice President of Mentorship

I oversaw a four-month mentorship program that brought together 28 mentors and 33 mentees. Mentees were first-year students seeking guidance on internship recruitment.

  • Consortium Member

As a member of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management, I upheld the Consortium’s mission and values, and co-led the group’s social media presence.

  • Benet Career Peer

I currently work with and mentor students through peer career preparation.

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? As president of the Simon Product Management Club (SPMC), I led 28 students on a four-day corporate trek to Silicon Valley. This program had been a recurring Simon tradition prior to the pandemic. Working with colleagues from the SPMC and the Simon Data Analytics Club, I revived the program—and leveraged existing relationships with the Jay S. and Jeanne Benet Career Management Center—to coordinate visits across five corporate campuses and engaged with over 50 alumni. I was proud to have played a part in reviving such an important and memorable program for the Simon Business School student body.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Before attending Simon, I worked as a designer at a furniture design firm. In general, design firms aren’t always environmentally friendly; they produce thousands of yards of sample fabrics during the product development phase, only to discard most of it when the project concludes. So, I created a textile recycling program that met company-wide sustainability goals and minimized operational costs. This process included finding a vendor to recycle our discarded samples into a poly-fiber fill that could then be upcycled into hospital bedding. I grew the program, with 18 associates across four different brands. In two years, we prevented over 14,000 lbs. of textile waste from entering landfills.

Why did you choose this business school? As a female entrepreneur, first-generation student, and woman of color, it was important to me to find a business school where I could have “a seat at the table.” Every alumni and student I spoke with said that Simon fosters an inclusive and diverse community. The first alum I connected with was Bridget Nowak (née Heinsler). She shared her love for Simon Business School and the Simon Women’s Alliance’s dedication to fostering opportunities for women. She explained how, even years after graduating from the MBA program, she and her fellow alumni were still “giving back” by sponsoring a female student. It was evident that I could thrive at Simon Business School.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Ravi Mantena is among my favorite professors. His business modeling course laid the foundation for my understanding of data analytics and predictive models, and his instruction was always patient. It was by far one of the most helpful courses I’ve taken in terms of applicable skills. During my internship and Product Management practicum projects, I found myself continually applying tools learned in Prof. Mantena’s class.

What was your favorite course as an MBA? Advanced Marketing Strategy was my favorite course in my MBA. The course is a simulation in which teams run their own companies and launch new products. You get to taste the pressures of competition and market saturation. It gives you the opportunity to practice all of the skills you’ve learned—new product strategy, financial statement analysis, pricing, and operations management.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Building with Habitat for Humanity during Orientation Week is my favorite MBA tradition at Simon Business School. At the beginning of the MBA program, my classmates and I spent a day constructing the foundations of home projects in Rochester. This tradition reflects Simon Business School’s dedication to the greater Rochester community and local families in need.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why?
I focused my networking efforts on alumni and industry professionals. While those connections are important, I believe it is equally valuable to prioritize connecting with your classmates. Two years of business school go quickly and it’s easy to stay within your cohort or get caught up in assignments. As classmates, we really are one another’s best assets—so make sure you’re taking the time to grab some boba tea together and take a stroll around campus.

What is the biggest myth about your school? This isn’t exactly a “myth,” but more of something I wish was better known. While most know that Simon Business School has an excellent program in corporate finance, I think our marketing and product management programs are also top-notch. We have a solid and growing network of alums in Product and Technology, as well as a robust practicum called the Product Management Workshop. And we continue to develop new opportunities to prepare students pursuing careers in tech product management.

What did you love most about your business school’s town? The best part of being in Upstate New York is the plethora of outdoor activities. I can kayak the Erie Canal with classmates during the summer, snowboard in the winter, hop between the many gorges in the fall—or tour a Finger Lakes winery any time of the year. Rochester is certainly underestimated, and visiting the campus and the city made the choice to attend Simon Business School easy.

What surprised you the most about business school? Business school doesn’t have to be cut-throat! For my undergrad, I attended a large, liberal arts college in NYC that offered a “choose-your-own adventure” style curriculum. So I was initially intimidated by b-school’s competitive reputation. However, I quickly made friends with my Consortium cohort before the MBA program began. Our annual OP Prep program prepares students for recruitment by pairing incoming first-year students with second-year students. This fostered some great relationships right out of the gate. Our school grounds us in the community we begin with and the community we walk across the stage with.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? I used my application to articulate my story. Having a non-traditional pre-MBA career, I knew that it was vital for my application to draw a line between what I’ve done and where I want to go. I needed to articulate my value proposition to the school’s admissions team and I needed to clearly express what motivated me to pursue a business degree from that specific institution.

Also, writing is rewriting. So don’t be afraid to ask supportive friends, family, and mentors to be your audience. Feedback is an essential part of ensuring that your story is clear.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Raghava Komanduri—he’s an exceptional classmate, as well as the VP of Academic Affairs for the Graduate Business Council and the president of the Simon School Venture Fund. He makes a conscious effort to get to know every student. I admire his work with Academic Affairs to ensure equitable resources are available to all students and to improve academic programming that prepares students for their post-MBA career. Raghava’s unwavering commitment exemplifies our University motto—Meliora—meaning “ever better” in Latin.

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

  1. Develop a software product that will tackle climate change and help build environmentally conscious habits among consumers. My experience as a designer in the textile industry taught me the importance of resource management and balancing ethical sourcing with the demands of consumers’ purchasing behavior. My passion for tech product management has pushed me to reconceptualize how I can create an impact for the greater good.
  2. Build my own charitable foundation to provide financial support and mentorship to first-generation college graduates attaining their MBAs. Being from a working-class family, I recognize the importance of having a support system to pave a new path for oneself and for the generations to follow. I believe I wouldn’t be getting my degree today if not for those who helped me overcome my struggles. I feel passionate about the importance of helping those who come after you.

What made Sophia such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2023?

“Sophia has been a student leader in every sense of the word since she began her Simon Business School journey in the summer of 2021. In my role as assistant dean of the Benet Career Management Center (BCMC), I work with and get to know student leaders and rely heavily on them to lead their peers by example and to model the behavior of professionals with high emotional intelligence. Sophia demonstrates this behavior daily; both amongst her peers and as she partners with the BCMC staff.

Prior to COVID, the BCMC coordinated student treks to the Silicon Valley/Bay Area. During these treks, students would have the opportunity to visit corporate headquarters, hear from recruiters about internship and job opportunities, and connect with Simon alumni. We began planning our first post-Covid trek back in October 2022. As president of the Simon Product Management Club, Sophia played an integral role in planning and coordinating the student logistics, communications, and transportation, as well as working with the BCMC team to schedule corporate campus visits. Between November and January, the headlines of mass layoffs in the tech sector began to spark concern and we questioned whether we should go at all. Despite the uncertainty—and that some of the reported layoffs were at companies we planned to visit—in January 2023 staff from the BCMC traveled with 28 MBA and MS students to the Bay Area. We visited five corporate campuses and attended a reception with over 50 Simon alumni in attendance. Sophia’s outreach efforts to both our students and corporate partners contributed to us reviving a program that had become a tradition. She not only had a hand in the planning but also played a key role on-site. She made the trip both engaging and memorable and created a blueprint for us to follow in the years ahead.

The University of Rochester and the Simon Business School are defined by a deep commitment to Meliora—ever better.  As you can see in Sophia’s nomination form, she embodies Meliora; constantly seeking ways to make the Simon student experience better for her peers, future students, corporate partners, and alumni.”

LaTanya Johns
Assistant Dean, Jay S. and Jeanne Benet Career Management Center


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