100 Best & Brightest Business Majors Of 2021

To some, business is a winner-takes-all competition. They think you should get a dog if you want a friend. But you won’t find this zero sum attitude among business majors. For the Class of 2021, business is a tool to give back and do good. It is a means to open up the playing field and support those who share their values.

That’s the case for Mary Laci Motley, a senior at the University of North Carolina’s Kenan-Flagler School. As a freshman, she discovered her calling as an entrepreneur during a Foundations of Business and Leadership class. To complete an assignment, she co-founded a food delivery startup, funding the venture by exchanging advertising for food from local pizzerias and burger joints. The result: Motely produced over $10,000 in profits— which dhr donated to Chapel Hill charities. From there, she launched EATS2SEATS, which provides two solutions. Her firm connects stadium concession businesses with staff from local non-profits who operate stands during games and events. Sales revenue is then channeled back to non-profits to support their initiatives.

Mary Laci Motley, University of North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)


Mary Laci Motley is among the 100 seniors honored in Poets&Quants’ Best & Brightest Business Majors of 2021. Entering its 6th year, the Best & Brightest features seniors who personify the best in business education. To compile this year’s list, P&Q invited each of the Top 50 undergraduate business schools to supply two representatives from their programs. The schools were given the flexibility to choose their students using their own selection criteria and process. However, P&Q encouraged the schools to consider students based on factors like “academic excellence, extracurricular leadership, personal character, innate potential, a striking personal narrative, and overall impact on the program.” Some 15 students hail from countries outside the United States, including Turkey, Ethiopia, Romania, Thailand, Haiti, and Ecuador. Overall, the list includes 46 men and 54 women, including Motley.

Make no mistake: Her EATS2SEATS is no fly-by-night dorm room operation. Motley provides site managers to handle issues like training, cash management, and inventory. She has also partnered with an app that enables fans to order food and alcohol that’s delivered to their seats. At the same time, she has expanded her “Profits for Purpose” operation to seven venues – enabling her to raise over $25,000 for non-profits so far. “I wanted to expand access to fundraising options for smaller organizations,” she tells P&Q. “To hear how EATS2SEATS has enabled organizations to launch new projects, fund nonprofit missions, and help facilitate community improvement initiatives has been the most rewarding experience.”

Like any entrepreneur, Motley experienced plenty of painful lessons. Last March, the COVID-19 pandemic shut down both the live sports and restaurant industries, rendering her model “instantly non-operational.” As fans return to stadiums, Motley plans devote her full energies to ramping up EATS2SEATS after graduation. To her, the pandemic has reinforced why her model will thrive over the long-term. “What this crisis and moment has taught me as a new founder is how important supporting your local community is,” she explains in a 2020 podcast. “It is really the responsibility of every person, especially the entrepreneurs who understand how hard it is to start a business, get it running, and keep it running to support each other.”

Salman Al-Luqman, University of Houston (Bauer)

While Motley is doing her own thing with a startup, many Best & Brightest are already ticketed to the world’s top employers, despite a sluggish economy.  Ten members have already accepted offers from Deloitte, with Bain & Company, Ernst & Young, KPMG, and PwC scooping up 3 students a piece. In addition, you’ll find future consultants, bankers, and client developers at firms like McKinsey, Goldman Sachs, Amazon, Microsoft, and SpaceX among the Best & Brightest. In addition, nine graduates are returning to campus to earn Master’s and law degrees. In fact, Megan Whelan was so impressive at the Mendoza College that Notre Dame won’t let her leave. She starts work in the school’s investment office after graduation!

Two reasons for their success: networking and internships. Take Salman Al-Luqman, a University of Houston senior who landed a job with American Express. He completed five internships during college, including stints at JPMorgan, the U.S. Department of State, and Amazon Web Services. Notably, Al- Luqman earned a fellowship that enabled him to spend a semester in DC, where he analyzed foreign investments in Western Africa and debt restricting initiatives for historically indebted countries – roles that had him working alongside representatives from the World Bank and the International Monetary Fund. It was an experience, he says, that laid the foundation for even bigger responsibilities.

“My experience in DC led to a subsequent summer internship at Amazon Web Services based in DC as a Business Operations & Strategy intern on the National Security Team. I had the opportunity to contribute to the development of a strategic roadmap for cloud adoption in the U.S. Intelligence space.”


Indeed, the Class of 2021 was making plenty of impact outside school. Frances Smyth, a Boston University senior who concentrated in Marketing and Information Systems, developed a website called The College Career Coach, a community that prepares students for internships. The Microsoft-bound, Smyth was also named a Forbes 30 Under 30 Scholar in 2019. At Washington University, Leah Wren Hardgrove created face masks whose clear plastic covering prevented COVID and enabled people to read each other’s facial cues. As a sports management major at the University of Massachusetts-Amherst, Alannah Scardino built a sports program that supported girls in the juvenile justice system. During her internship with the Rochester Red Wings, she produced the team’s first-ever Women in Sports Night.

Blake Nolan Bradley, Indiana University (Kelley)

“I saw an opportunity to create something I had never before seen in my hometown,” Scardino explains. “I developed a youth-focused theme night that empowered girls and addressed the reasons they drop out of sport at a higher rate than boys. I took the initiative to propose the theme night…and continued to work on the theme night after the conclusion of my internship. Seeing the theme night come to life a year after my internship was surreal, as many girls and parents came up to me thanking me for an inclusive space that celebrates the awesomeness of girls in sport.”

How do you know a Best & Brightest? Chances are, you’ll find them leading committees and clubs. They organize events and speakers – and yet still find time to make the Dean’s List. In other words, they take advantage of everything available to them. Blake Nolan Bradley, for one, was the student body president at Indiana University’s Kelley School of Business – home to over 7,900 undergraduate business majors. At the University of Pittsburgh, Rohil Chada managed to graduate in three years, completing a double major in Finance and Business Information Systems (and a certificate in Data Analytics) along the way. When it comes to awards, Giselle Enriquez Durazo and Brennen Feder dominated the field at the University of Arizona’s Eller College. Durazo was named the school’s Outstanding Scholar and Top Collegiate Woman, while Feder took home the Leadership and Top President awards. In contrast, Michigan State’s Noah Henry Skrok earned the 2020 Spartan Volunteer Service Award from the school president.

“This award means a lot to me because it is a continuous reminder of how much of an impact one person can have if they embody the right passion and perspective to put others before themselves,” he tells P&Q.


That description could apply to the rest of the Best & Brightest, a group that is busy…but never too busy. This willingness to lend a hand, be it a mentor, tutor, laborer, or confidante, fosters a sense of goodwill around them – something they can leverage to support larger causes. As president of Elon University’s Alpha Kappa Psi, Alexandra Pirsos hosted an event for the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention that raised $7,300. Ankita Kodali re-launched RUBY, the Rutgers University Business for Youth program. She signed up 20 college volunteers to provide on-site and virtual mentoring to 65 sophomores from 7 area high schools. The program has since grown to 80 sophomores – not counting the 65 juniors who returned for their second year in the program.  Outside class, Carnegie Mellon’s Shiwani Pathak mentors elementary students as the chapter director for Strong Women Strong Girls (SWSG). As part of her role, she organized a field trip to Carnegie Mellon for 50 area girls to expose them to STEM activities. The result?

Shiwani Pathak, Carnegie Mellon University (Tepper)

“During the field trip, I heard girls say they really wanted to go to college,” Pathak reminisces. “College is a path many of them had not considered before, and the field trip made it a new goal for them. The fact that my efforts could, potentially, positively impact the lives of 50 girls continues to motivate me to work to serve the community.”

Yes, the Class of 2021 is always on the lookout to drive impact and make a difference. This year’s Best & Brightest were the students who could excel in any situation they were placed. They were the personalities who’d make their peers and professors step back in awe. In the end, they’ll became the classmates whom everyone wanted to work with. That description certainly applies to Jake Shenkenberg. At the Wisconsin School of Business, he revitalized Badger Consulting – an un-registered organization with a “confused purpose” according to Professor Jake Dean. Over four years, Shenkenberg has partnered with the UW Small Business Development Center (SBDC). This produced a win-win where Badger Consulting enjoyed a work stream to sustain itself and SBC clients received wow-worthy counsel that produced results.

Upasana Barot, College of William & Mary (Mason)

“During my tenure with BC, our team consulted and helped launch over 30 small businesses here in Dane County, developed an Analyst Training Program to help mitigate against the consulting learning curve, became one of the most selective organizations in the Wisconsin School of Business, reached a 100% job placement rate, and helped launch the Collegiate Consulting Association,” Shenkenberg notes.


Speaking of results, Aditya Darshan Gandhi led Carnegie Mellon’s student investment fund, which beat S&P 500 returns by a 23.5%-to-15.2% margin during first semester. At Purdue University, Ariana Loor chartered the business school’s first student organization for Latinx students, the Association of Latino Professionals in America (ALPFA). The chapter has since grown to 100 students – and held a symposium in 2020 that drew the likes of Procter & Gamble, JPMorgan, and Oracle. Upasana Barot was equally adept at creating something from nothing at the College of William & Mary. She developed a formal peer mentorship program to better support freshmen and sophomores.

“My peers and I created a 6-module curriculum that covered career preparatory basics,” Barot explains. “Our program matched upperclassmen with internship experience to students seeking to follow in similar career footsteps. After testing and revising the curriculum over the span of two semesters, this program has now become the official mentorship program of W&M’s business school. Moreover, it always makes my day when mentees reach out about their positive experience with the program.”

Go to Pages 3-4 for 100 in-depth profiles of the 2021 Best & Brightest Business Majors

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