AN INTERVIEW WITH SOOJIN KWON
To top the year off, the school issued waivers on GMAT and GRE scores for the incoming class to widen the net for often overlooked talent. “For some candidates, a strong test score can strengthen their overall application,” adds Soojin Kwon in a November interview with P&Q. “However, standardized tests are not the only way in which a candidate can demonstrate capability and readiness for tackling the challenges of, and thriving in, the Ross Full-Time MBA program.”
That’s just the beginning. This fall, P&Q reached out to Kwon, the managing director of full-time MBA admissions and program at Michigan Ross. In her responses, Kwon touches on new developments in the program, along with taking a detailed look at the program’s action-based projects, interdisciplinary programming, and prominence of women within the program.
P&Q: What are the most exciting new developments at your program?
Kwon: +Impact Studio Work
“One really exciting development is the evolution of our +Impact Studio, which is part of the Business+Impact initiative at Ross and encompasses an interdisciplinary action-based learning course and more. This fall, MBA students and graduate students from across the University of Michigan will be working in the +Impact Studio course to develop solutions that leverage insights from Ross and other U-M faculty to address challenges brought on by the COVID-19 crisis and the emergent, residual, and continued economic and social impacts of the pandemic. They’ll be focusing on women and minority-owned businesses and nonprofits since they have been under-resourced during COVID/financial recession.
In addition, the +Impact Studio has already produced two extremely important products: an Equity Pledge that is a call to action for students to say “yes” to allyship (e.g., through LinkedIn certifications and/or badge) by advocating for equity and inclusion in the workplace, and +Impact Studio for Local Business that was created by students this summer as resource for local businesses to help guide them through COVID.
DEI and Community Support
Another really exciting development is the steps Michigan Ross is taking to make our community more inclusive and supportive this year. Dean Scott DeRue recently announced a comprehensive Ross Commitment to Action with the goal of doing our part to end racism and advancing racial justice in business and beyond. This commitment will build upon the work the school was already doing to increase diversity, equity, and inclusion within our culture, curriculum, and staffing.
A few highlights of the Commitment to Action include: a new Dean’s Council for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion that will be composed of students, faculty, staff, and alumni; a DEI Curriculum Taskforce that will be responsible for identifying ways to enhance diversity in our courses and co-curricular offerings; and increasing scholarship support for students from underrepresented backgrounds, such as the new Blau Initiative for Diversity in Real Estate and Infrastructure and Related Scholars Fund for those interested in real estate and investing.
This summer in the Full-Time MBA program we launched Allyship 101, a series of workshops that provide a framework for students to thoughtfully engage, learn, practice, and plan what it means to actively pursue social justice on a daily basis. More than 200 MBA students participated in the first session and now the program is expanding schoolwide. Our students championed the launch of this program, and I’ve been proud of the leadership role they are taking to build a more diverse, inclusive, and equitable environment at Ross and beyond. The impact of this work will benefit current and students as well as the business world at large once they leave Ross.
Also new this year in the MBA program is peer support Network Pods, which were created to bridge relationships across sections and classes. Second year students are being trained on how to foster a safe, inclusive, and fun space for incoming students to get to know each other. For example, those MBA2 Pod leaders will be trained on mental health, how to identify signs of distress, and the resources available to support students at Ross, along with how to support DEI within the group.”
P&Q: What are the two most unique or differentiating features of your full-time program?
1) Unparalleled Opportunities For Action-Based Learning
“At Michigan Ross, you’ll find more hands-on opportunities to learn business by doing business than at any other MBA program. Through our Ross Experiences in Action-Based Learning (REAL) portfolio, students have the chance to start, advise, invest in, and lead real businesses and projects with real companies while in business school.
Ross and the Zell Lurie Institute for Entrepreneurial Studies offer students a multitude of resources to help students develop, launch, and scale new business ideas. Each year, ZLI hosts the Michigan Business Challenge where students from across U-M are able to pitch their original business plan with real-world commercial potential to guest judges for the chance to win a share of $90,000 in prize money. Even after the competition, Ross and ZLI assist winning businesses with the development of their new businesses. One great example of this is the success of a recent MBA’s SlumberFlow, a startup that designs and manufactures a pediatric health device. After performing very well in MBC, they have already gone on to win at other business competitions thanks in part to the support of ZLI.
Every MBA student is able to consult on business projects related to many of the greatest challenges and opportunities facing real organizations around the world through our signature MAP (Multidisciplinary Action Projects) program. During MAP, MBAs are embedded into corporations, startups, and nonprofits for seven weeks to work on consulting projects spanning a range of industries and focus areas. Many projects are in popular Ross graduation fields, including technology, social impact, sustainability, and entertainment.
Michigan Ross has seven student-run investment funds, which span a variety of areas from social impact to real estate and venture investing, providing ample opportunities for MBAs to gain real experience managing all aspects of fund operations. Ross has remained a leader amongst our peers in our offerings after we were the first to launch a student-led impact investing fund (the Social Venture Fund) in 2009. Our newest fund is the International Investment Fund (IIF), which has moved from concept to operation since it was created last year. The fund, a first-of-its-kind partnership of the William Davidson Institute and Michigan Ross, is working with partner organizations in India to source and invest in promising small- and medium-sized companies. So far, the IIF has sent four student teams to India to conduct due diligence, managed several initial screenings of companies for potential investment, and has developed four capacity building projects.
Through the Living Business Leadership Experience (LBLE) course, Ross MBA students can develop their leadership skills by acting as team leads on high-impact business projects for sponsoring organizations. During the last academic year, students led LBLE projects for nine different organizations that ranged from developing and implementing a marketing analysis strategy for a biometrics company to launching a micro-influencer campaign for an all-natural skincare line. In each one, the students worked directly with executives from the sponsoring company, while learning under the supervision of faculty advisors.
2. Interdisciplinary nature of the Ross MBA
No other university has the breadth and depth of thought leadership across disciplines like the University of Michigan, home to 97 graduate programs that are ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News & World Report. The Ross MBA program takes advantage of this by designing our curricular and co-curricular offerings to be interdisciplinary. Whether it be in many of the academic courses that welcome students from other schools across campus, student clubs or competitions, or through pursuing dual degrees, MBAs are constantly exposed to peers and faculty from diverse backgrounds and with different areas of expertise.
This is important for many reasons. The nature of work is becoming increasingly cross-functional and recruiters are looking for more versatile talent who can work with multiple teams effectively. We’ve seen through experience that interdisciplinary teams perform better by being able to tap into the individual skills of each member. For example, the winner of the Michigan Business Challenge business plan competition or our Datathon competition each year is usually an interdisciplinary team. Our students have also recognized the value of engaging their cross-campus peers. In 2019, Ross students started Catalyst, a club of Ross entrepreneurs interfacing with other graduate students across U-M to create an ecosystem of entrepreneurial-focused students at the university and increase access to VC in the Midwest.”
P&Q: How has COVID-19 impacted your business school?
Kwon: “Like all schools and universities, Michigan Ross has had to innovate and adapt our offerings to tackle the challenges and opportunities presented by the COVID-19 pandemic. Adhering to the university’s strict health and safety protocols, we are offering a hybrid education this fall and gave students the option of whether they wanted to attend in-person or virtually. This allows us to meet the needs of our diverse community, including our international students.
We are fortunate that Ross is well-positioned to meet these challenges due to our purposeful investments in digital education technology and experience in creating impactful virtual learning opportunities. Ross was the first top-tier business school to launch an online MBA program, so we’ve been able to leverage the technology brought in for that program, such as our Digital Education Studio, as well as the internal capacities, strategic partnerships, and best practices that we have gained as a result.
In addition, Ross has been able to take advantage of our vast experience in action-based learning, along with the strength of our alumni network, to still be able to hold our signature ABL opportunities. The pandemic took widespread hold right as MAP was kicking off in March and we had to quickly pivot to switch those projects to remote formats. Despite the virtual setting, we heard very positive feedback from our students. Many students were able to work on their specific projects, while also navigating unprecedented challenges and uncertainties of the pandemic environment right alongside the company. We even heard from many teams that they actually had more access to company executives as a result, too.
When some students had their summer internships cancelled, Ross stepped up for our students by launching a new Business Consultant Corps program, made possible through our great network of organizational partners. The Michigan Ross Business Consultant Corps program allowed students to work directly with executives from sponsoring organizations on projects related to business strategy, digital transformation, marketing, and operations, among others. In addition to the typical summer internship work experience, the new program included weekly workshops led by Ross faculty, with additional mentoring and professional development support from faculty and alumni. Around 120 Ross students and dozens of companies participated in the program this summer.”
Pages 4: Interview with Soojin Kwon, Managing Director of Full-Time MBA Admissions and Program (Continued)
Page 5: In-depth profiles of 12 members of the Class of 2022