Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Class Of 2024

Life moves pretty fast. Just ask Cameron Porter. Over the past three years, he became a father to a baby girl and transitioned from the U.S. Army to Amazon Web Services. Here, he quickly earned a promotion, which required him to move his family from Colorado Springs to Amazon’s Atlanta office. Along the way, Porter found the time to complete an online MBA degree from Auburn University’s Harbert College of Business – all while pursuing another Master’s degree in Information Systems.

Ambitious? The cross-country move was a familiar routine for Porter. After all, he had re-located 17 times earlier, growing up in the military and serving in elite units like the 82nd Airborne Division and 10th Special Forces Group. Between various deployments and leadership roles, Porter learned to shoulder big workloads and pivot as conditions shifted. Even more, Porter’s service reinforced his appreciation for teamwork and how he was only as strong as those around him. That was particularly true at the Harbert College, where he found allies among faculty and support staff who adapted to the ebb-and-flow of his work and family demands.

Cameron Porter, Auburn University (Harbert)

“MY SUCCESS WAS THEIR SUCCESS”

“They worked with me to customize my schedule, provide academic accommodations when needed, and ensure I stayed on track amid the chaos,” he tells Poets&Quants. “I never once felt like just another number. They proactively checked on my well-being, celebrated milestones with me, and made it feel that ‘my success was their success’.”

Currently, Porter helps government clients implement cloud technologies. That is one area where his MBA programming came in handy, teaching him the fundamentals of driving digital transformation. More than that, he adds, the MBA coursework provided an immediate return on investment. After learning an academic framework – or discussing a situation with a classmate – Porter could test out potential solutions and produce results right away, increasing his credibility and value in the process.

“I took analysis from my marketing courses and directly applied them into a go-to market strategy I was building. I also took a statistics class where I applied the same functional formulas to calculate various KPIs for a project I was working on in my current job. The MBA program fundamentally transformed how I approach business strategy and decision-making holistically. I also have frameworks for assessing value creation opportunities, how to appropriately measure risk versus return, and the program equipped me with the tools to become data fluent in a digital world.”

TOP PROFESSIONALS ATTENDING TOP SCHOOLS

Porter is among the 54 graduates chosen for Poets&Quants’ 7th annual Best & Brightest Online MBAs feature. Each spring, P&Q invites the world’s top-ranked online MBA programs to submit nominees from the Class of 2024. Like previous years, these Best & Brightest MBAs were chosen by students and faculty based on criteria like academic excellence and class contributions, always going back to this question: “Which students are so fundamental that you can’t imagine the class without them?” Overall, P&Q chose 36 top online MBA programs to participate, with 35 ultimately submitting candidates. These included each of the 20 highest-ranked programs in the 2024 P&Q Online MBA Ranking, such as Indiana University’s Kelley School, Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School, and the University of Washington’s Foster School.

Dr. Megan Cahill, University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

This year’s class features 30 women and 24 men, whose ages stretch from 27-56 – or in the words of Indiana Kelley’s Ana-Maria Visoiu-Knapp: “Old enough to have wisdom through experience, young enough to shape tomorrow.” As undergraduates, they studied at institutions ranging from MIT to North Carolina A&T, majoring in disciplines as divergent as Pastoral Ministry, Physics, and Food Engineering. As professionals, you’ll find this year’s Best & Brightest working at firms as prestigious as Microsoft, JP Morgan Chase, Google, Apple, Raytheon, and Cargill. They are entrepreneurs, computer scientists, sales managers, lawyers, investors, and doctors. While some took online classes within 20 miles of their business schools, you’ll find other digital commutes that stretched from San Diego to Boston and Saudi Arabia to Virginia.

Dr. Megan Cahill is a Division Chief of the Medicine at Henry Ford Macomb Hospital in Michigan. That would be a nine-hour drive from the University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium, where she took her graduate business courses. The online format worked perfectly for Cahill, who is a mother to five children under five years of age (and wife to a husband busy with his PhD dissertation). Beyond providing the flexibility for Cahill to operate on her own schedule, the Consortium’s MBA program also differentiated her from her peers and positioned her for leadership.

“When I started the program, I was working full-time as an Emergency Medicine Physician,” she writes. “After about a year in the program, my track record of success and investment in my professional development had caught the eye of senior leadership. It was at this time that I was invited to apply for a position as the Division Chief of Medicine. After receiving this new role, I scaled back my clinical hours and currently oversee 750 physicians and Advance Practice Providers across 20 medical specialties.”

PHYSICIANS, ENGINEERS, AND FINANCIERS

Cahill isn’t the only physician represented in the Class of 2024 Best & Brightest. Like Cahill, Dr. Daniel Novak served as an Emergency Room Physician – before earning his MBA from the University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Isenberg School helped him land the role of Assistant Medical Director at the Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. While studying at Hofstra University’s Zarb School, Dr. Jason D. Hanks headed up Anesthesia at the Melville Surgery Center. Across the Atlantic, Amit Chawla worked as an Orthopaedic Surgery Resident while studying at Warwick Business School. Engineers also took advantage of the online format. By day, Jason Chan managed valve engineering at the Naval Nuclear Laboratory before turning his attention to his online MBA with Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School. By the same token, Rita Elizabeth Saikali operated as a Government Project Director in the rugged Canadian Yukon, where she led the largest bridge replacement project in the province’s history. It was a job that often involved 70-hour work weeks…among her other activities.

“During that same time, I applied for and obtained my Professional Engineering (P.Eng.) licenses from two different provinces,” adds the Isenberg grad. “I also authored research papers with my previous professors from York University, where one of them was published in the American Concrete Institute (ACI) Structural and Materials Journals. I completed these milestones concurrently while studying for my MBA degree.”

Ana-Maria Visoiu-Knapp, Indiana University (Kelley)

Other online graduates boast a distinctive set of experiences. John Behrens, a graduate of the University of Illinois’ Gies College, studied for the ministry before moving into advertising, marketing, and brand strategy. A first-generation college grad, Daniel Rodriguez brought financial leadership experience from companies like Amazon, NBC Universal, USPA Global Licensing to classmates at the University of Florida’s Warrington College. In her spare time, Ana-Maria Visoiu-Knapp is the managing director for Golden Seeds, an investment firm that supports female-run ventures in spaces like tech and healthcare. Beyond that, she has built a career that would be the envy of anyone in any MBA class.

“I am proud to have lived and worked on three continents, most notably leading a pioneering team in Zambia to execute Johnson & Johnson’s groundbreaking HIV-1 Vaccine Efficacy Clinical Trial. I’ve also navigated the intricate worlds of state and national governments, collaborating with entities like the Department of Defense and the U.S. President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief (PEPFAR), while working in Mozambique; partnering with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) while living and working in Hawai’i; and championing impactful policies for disease prevention on Capitol Hill while living in D.C. Today, I am proud to be at Regeneron, a leading biotechnology company bringing life-saving medicines to patients.”

DEVELOPING APPLE’S FIRST CARBON NEUTRAL PRODUCT

Outside of Warrington College, Maja Lacevic is the Associate General Counsel for Unified Women’s Healthcare, which is affiliated with 2,700 American healthcare providers for women. As a student at the University of Michigan’s Ross School, Rachel Feinberg was promoted to Director of Global Financial Processes and Integrations at Omnicom, a media and communications giant, where she works across over 1,500 agencies. Currently, Lehigh University’s Forest Harger serves as Chief of Staff for Burton Snowboards in Vermont. Before that, she held the same position with a division of Boeing and worked as a Deputy Assistant Chief in the U.S. Department of State. However, her favorite role came when she worked for former U.S. Senator Kay Hagan for four years.

“I helped to get my boss elected and had worked on the campaign because I knew her and wanted to see her win. But once I got into public service, I felt I had found my calling. We had an energetic, hard-working, and dedicated staff and I LOVED working for the people of my home state of North Carolina alongside others who cared as much as I did.”

Class members also held roles that would stand out on any resume. Warwick Business School’s Sasha Kirkham spent nine years in the United Kingdom’s armed forces, completing deployments to 13 countries before joining Bank of America. North Carolina State grad Joseph Pinkney oversees the launch of new automated grocery distribution centers at Walmart. At PepsiCo Frito Lay, the University of Texas at Dallas’ Richard Lindeman is a key decision-maker in global supply chain strategy. As an Apple product manager, Marcus Brown made an impact in The Apple Watch, which he describes as the company’s “first carbon neutral product.”

“There were several challenges that required cross functional collaboration across several teams,” explains the graduate of USC’s Marshall School. “I was able to work with multiple stakeholders to help maximize the recycled material used for Apple Watch. The Apple Watch really taught me what it meant to have purpose and product align with each other. It’s amazing how hard you can work when you believe in the mission.”

Parag Murlidhar Shirnamé, Boston University (Questrom)

A PERFECT START TO 2024

Brown wasn’t the only Marshall MBA making a difference. Before business school, Heather Forst had joined a startup that jumped from 6 employees to 250 – and fetched a half billion dollars when it was sold. When Marco Gam was 20, the IE Business School MBA started a company that has grown to 40 people (with plans to triple that number). Speaking of growth, check out Parag Murlidhar Shirnamé. In just three years, the Boston University MBA facilitated trade between Queensland and South Asia that has more than doubled to $10 billion dollars. According to Imperial College’s Jakob Lindner, his biggest achievement involved building the German Armed Forces Cyber Innovation Hub.

“As the right-hand man to the CEO, I navigated the complex government environment to establish this first-of-its-kind innovation unit in Germany and grow it from an initial team of four to thirty members. This initiative not only demonstrated my leadership skills and strategic thinking in a challenging bureaucratic landscape, but also significantly advanced the digital transformation within the military.”

Looking for notoriety? The University of Nebraska’s Scott Holweger designed the Motorola PEBL 2005 – which was featured in a Super Bowl commercial! Madeline Robles, a University of Utah Eccles School grad, earned an invite to the White House for the effectiveness of her nonprofit’s work. Alas, some achievements are as subtle as they are profound. Case in point: Samantha Choy. As a student at the Indiana University’s Kelley School, she achieved the triple crown. She notched a promotion, gave birth, and earned her MBA – the latter coming a term early, no less.

“Being put up for a promotion came with a set of challenges, including securing the correct platform, networking with key stakeholders, and ensuring my performance was unquestionable,” writes Choy, who is now a VP of Pricing Strategy for JP Morgan Chase’s Corporate & Investment Bank Securities Services division. “While the days were long, I am proud to say my hard work paid off with my first child being born in early January, my promotion being announced at the end of January, and my completion of my MBA in early February (talk about starting off 2024 with a bang).”

Go to page 3 to access in-depth profiles for over 50 Best & Brightest Online MBAs.

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