If there was a word that encapsulates the Best & Brightest, it would be fearless. They raise their hands, take hard classes, run for elections, trek overseas, and start companies. They aren’t afraid to change their plans, let alone their beliefs. More than that, they don’t shy away for failure – knowing the greater risk is growing stale by settling for just enough. That “never enough” mindset is central to Rene Vorilas. When she heard how classmates wanted to enter the fashion space, she founded the Binghamton Business Fashion Society, which has grown to 100 members. True to form, she grew the Binghamton’s Hellenic Cultural Society from 52 to 200 members – and even took the VP role for the National Hellenic Student Association. On top of that, she is the youngest member of Women of West Islip, a group that provides support and fund-raising to needy families in her hometown. Vorilas has even launched her own startup as a business major – and maintained a perfect GPA to boot.
“My dad raised me to be a strong Spartan woman, one who never gave up and understood what success meant,” Vorilas shares. “Coming from an immigrant family, my dad worked his way up from nothing to a successful businessman. This led to him raising his children with a similar mentality, always making us aware that we needed to work, and that life was not about handouts. Regardless of my family’s economic status, I have been working on the books since I was 15 years old… A pizzeria, a diner, a pre-school, a hair salon…always understanding the true value of hard work.”
STUDENT STARTUP GENERATES OVER A MILLION IN FUNDING
That value is shared by Alexandra Hornick. At Georgetown, she founded the McDonough Writing and Communications Center, which provides tutoring tailored to business students. It was an effort, she says, that required her to surmount the two most difficult obstacles in business: funding and buy-in. Lehigh University’s Jenny Lin faced similar obstacles when she started a Laptop Lending Library as a sophomore
“I was able to secure external sponsors to launch this service to provide free long-term loans of laptops to financially distressed students. To date, there are now over two dozen laptops in circulation. Being able to witness all the students who have benefitted and knowing that many more will benefit from this service has been heartwarming to say the least.”
By the same token, Northeastern University’s Karan Kishorepuria was selected to be among the BostonInno 25 Under 25. One reason: he tripled the membership of NUImpact, the school’s impact investing arm as its president…in just one summer. And he launched a sustainable investment summit that drew 26 speakers and 130 guests from a dozen universities. Sven Wollschlaeger has made an even deeper impression on the national stage. As a University of Michigan freshman, he co-founded what he calls “a 3D and virtual reality tech company specializing in higher-ed campus tour creation.” It is a venture, Wollschlaeger writes, that has grown far beyond what he could’ve ever imagined.
“I am proud that we built and scaled VenueTourist from my dorm room to being deployed at universities all across the U.S. – from campuses like GWU to the University of Miami. We raised <$1M from the co-founder of JetBlue, and pitched to Google Streetview, Bessemer Venture Partners, and A16Z. We were invited to operate out of Dan Gilbert’s Detroit Venture Partners office (2019), and I just recently participated in Y Combinator’s Virtual Startup School. I learned the value of good products, great execution, exceptional teams, and starting!
“ALL IN, ALL THE TIME”
Forced home and online by the pandemic last spring, the Class of 2021 rose to the occasion and became a steadying force for their classmates. They shouldered the toughest burdens of leadership. They radiated a positive attitude when they were tired and frustrated. They forced their classmates out of their shells, encouraging them to live in the moment – even while they too were wary of the future. Most of all, they continuously reached out, to make everyone feel like they belonged. They were the strivers and drivers who embraced and engaged. They changed the tenor whenever they walked into a room. In the end, they elevated their peers – and everyone who encountered them was better for it.
That includes faculty members. Just ask Jessica Watkins, an assistant professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College. For her, Tyler Ancona was a daily reminder of the larger purpose behind her teaching. “Tyler’s presence caused me to end each class feeling more energized than when I started. He had a strong influence on me as a new professor which has followed me into the classroom since. Tyler helped highlight that accounting is not only useful and important for business but it can also be fun!”
Indeed, faculty were often the Best & Brightest’s biggest fans. At the University of Miami, Professor Mark Shapiro calls Olivia Dubi a “powerhouse” – “that rare combination of understated, open and positive and highly analytical, driven, and the ultimate go-to, get-it-done person.” Drew Bullock was lauded for being “all in, all the time” by Andrea Hershatter, the Goizueta Business School’s senior associate dean. At the same time, Chloe Jenkins received the ultimate compliment from Meara Habashi, who heads up Purdue University’s Brock-Wilson Center for Women in Management.
“There is no problem too big for her to solve. There is no hurdle that she cannot overcome. And I know that she will outperform any expectations you set for her, because she truly is a superstar.”
CONDUCTING AN INTERNATIONAL STUDY TRIP…DURING A COUP
Yes, this class is packed with starpower. Sydney Dixon’s teams notched four first place finishes in case competitions during her time at Indiana University’s Kelley School. Lizzie Reedy holds the all-time scoring average at the University of Richmond’s women’s golf program, not to mention First-Team All-Conference and All-Academic honors. How is this for leadership? Gino Esposito became a captain on the University of North Carolina wrestling team when he was still an underclassman. Over the past two years, he has raised over $10,000 for the UNC Children’s Hospital too!
And then there is Cristina Pogorevici. She co-chaired the Wharton Council, which managed and funded over 40 school clubs. Better still, this Schwarzman Scholar has visited countries ranging from China to Uganda to the Balkans during her four years as an undergrad. In 2019, Pogorevici even flew to a frozen conflict zone called Transnistria, which sits between Moldova and Ukraine. to study entrepreneurship. And she came back with quite a story to tell.
“During my visit to the capital of Moldova, a coup overthrew the government. I kept visiting and writing my paper and in the end, my paper was published and distributed to officials and entrepreneurs in the region. This experience opened my eyes to a whole new path. I learned that I want to continue studying the role of entrepreneurial development in enabling economic prosperity.”
Pogorevici wasn’t the only Best & Brightest to face adversity in business school. Leah Wren Hardgrove is legally blind. That means, she says, that “Microsoft Excel is in tiny font, the board is always too far away in lectures, and slides are too small to glance when I give presentations.” Such barriers never stopped Hardgrove, however. At Washington University, she is a track athlete who competes in discus, shop put, and hammer throw. Come graduation, she will be returning to Google in product marketing management. Despite this, she considers her proudest moment to be when she was selected as a Lime Connect Fellow, which supports college students with disabilities.
“I got to join a community of people just like me who deal with the same issues I do,” Hardgrove explains. “I learned their tips for navigating college and got to share mine. Joining Lime Connect reminded me that I’m not disabled because of my eyesight but because of how systemically the world is built. The fellowship inspired me to fix that problem through business. I’m proud to be part of something that is truly improving the world.”
While the Class of 2021 is improving the world, they’re also enjoying it too. Two years ago, Abigale Purvis, a Northeastern International Business major, summited the legendary Mount Kilimanjaro – 19,300 feet high. Looking for a great conversation starter? Hult’s Jessica Lozano Schmitt once “fell in a whale shark’s mouth” (Don’t worry, they’re friendly). Speaking of adventure, Bucknell’s Amy Yowell has already visited 60 countries.
“I have tried truffle ice cream in Croatia, dipped my toes in a natural fish foot spa in Turkey, and visited Paris two weekends in a row,” she writes.
FROM TOM BRADY TO THE UN
The class has also enjoyed brushes with celebrity. Ross Meldrum, who captains the University of San Diego’s men’s soccer team, has played against stars like Marcus Rashford and Trent Alexander-Arnold. In high school, Worcester Polytechnic’s Matthew Iaconis visited Gillette Stadium and ended up playing catch with Tom Brady. That said, a few Best & Brightest are celebrities themselves (well, sort of). Before majoring in Operations and Information Management, Matthew Kassler got slimed on a Nickelodeon game show. Along the same lines, Providence College’s Anna Russo appeared in two episodes of a Bravo TV show. How about Emory University’s Lori Steffel? She can say she enjoyed center stage in the biggest venue of them all.
“I’ve given a speech from the floor of the United Nations General Assembly twice.”
Looking for a groundbreaker? Alannah Scardino donned the pads and cleats to become the first girl to play varsity football in her hometown before joining the University of Massachusetts-Amherst. Think that’s scary? Cornell University’s Sarah Brice performed in the circus…on stilts. And you wouldn’t be the first to think Syracuse University’s Ruth Yehyun Bang stepped out of a Marvel Comics movie.
“I’m scuba diver certified, a black belt, a figure skater, and a charcuterie board enthusiast.”
THANKS MOM AND DAD
Many Best & Brightest started early in business. Binghamton University’s Rene Vorilas, for example, was selling hand-made flower pens when she was eight – and raised $2,500 for St. Jude’s Children’s Research Hospital. In many cases, this love for business was jumpstarted early by teachers, coaches, bosses, and (especially) family. That was the case for Brigham Young University’s Ashtynne Wade, who credits her father for setting the highest standards for her.
“Since I was little my dad has mentored me in setting my sights high and achieving my ambitions. He always taught me that anything worth doing is worth doing “a WOW job,” meaning that it’s not just a “good job,” but something that would make someone say, “Wow! That’s amazing!” As I have worked toward my personal and professional goals, my dad has been my biggest supporter and mentor, always cheering me on and inspiring me to reach my potential.”
At Michigan State, Lydia Whipple served as the president of the MSU Supply Chain Management Association – when she wasn’t busy making the Dean’s List or racking up awards in her Air Force ROTC. Of course, she was only following in the footsteps of her mother – Dr. Judith Whipple – a Professor of Logistics and Supply Chain Management at Michigan State. Sure enough, Whipple credits her mother for her success as a student.
“An advisor, mentor, and favorite professor I will never take a class from (for better or worse), she has always been my best critic and cheerleader simultaneously. Her love and passion for supply chain management and teaching it to new, young minds are characteristics that can truly inspire all. My mom, for decades, has been charting a course for the future of the field of supply chain management, and I could not be more honored to have such an amazing role model in my field of work.”
In the coming months, the Class of 2021 will be streaming out of campus to become the next generation of associates and analysts. What advice would they give to future business students? For Elon’s Alexandra Pirsos, success starts with the people who surround you. “A mentor of mine used to remind me that you are a combination of the five people you spend the most time,” she writes. “I think this is very true in the business world as well. Make sure that you choose team members, join organizations, and select internships based on the people who are going to give you the greatest opportunities for growth.”
That growth comes from the curiosity to learn more and the courage to push boundaries. The latter sometimes results in making mistakes and falling short. And that’s normal, says Northeastern University’s Karan Kishorepuria – even healthy. “People often treat failure as a bad thing and that’s not necessarily always true. Whenever you fail, think of it as a point where you are actually pushing above your capability. Fail fast and fail often, but every time you do seek feedback and try to become 1% better. Compounding is an extraordinary thing.”
To do that, says Maddie Krueger, business students should say “Yes” whenever they are presented with an opportunity. “I have had so many unique experiences throughout my time in Farmer, and I attribute most of those experiences to saying yes,” explains the Miami University Finance major. “I have had lunch with CEOs. I have met Sanjay Gupta from CNN. I have built relationships with our deans. I even took a selfie with Steve Wozniak, the co-founder of Apple, all because I decided to make the most out of the short time I had in Farmer. I would tell future students to just say yes.”
Go to Pages 3-4 for 100 in-depth profiles of the 2021 Best & Brightest Business Majors