You start as an entertainer and finish as an entrepreneur. That’s a common path for musicians. Think Beyoncé, Diddy, and Rihanna. Talent is just the first step. After that, you build your brand, infrastructure, and revenue streams. That means mastering marketing, management, and finance.
Just ask JaJa Tong. She describes herself as a “full-time financial statement enthusiast [and] part-time music producer.” A senior at USC’s Marshall School, Tong majored in accounting, while minoring in music and screenwriting. Over the last four years, Tong has honed her commercial and artistic sides. She has co-founded a record company and completed six internships, ultimately landing a post at Deloitte. Tong also served as the president of the USC Leventhal Income Tax Assistance, managing 74 volunteers who helped 642 low-income households receive $672,000 in tax refunds in 2022. At the same time, she worked as a residential assistant, student ambassador, and peer mentor – not to mention being the accounting manager and DJ on USC’s student radio station.
Still, Tong’s legacy will stem from the Songwriters’ Forum she founded at a freshman. Here, students can tap into their artistic sides by making music with their classmates. Thus far, these collaborations have resulted in six albums on Spotify and two live concerts per semester. Forum workshops have also trained members on business issues ranging from developing marketing plans to negotiating royalties. Looking back, Tong believes confidence will be her classmates’ biggest takeaway from the Forum.
MEET THE TWIN SISTER
“This club allowed me to make dreams come true and build a platform for students to celebrate their shared passion for music,” she tells P&Q. “I watched as engineering and business students found belonging within a community of artists. I beamed as freshmen recorded their first songs, performed them in concert, and listened to them with wide eyes on release day. As I prepare to graduate, I am grateful to know that something I built will continue to shape the college journeys of so many more, as it has mine.”
You might say it’d be hard to find another JaJa Tong in the Class of 2023. Guess again. At New York University’s Stern School, you’ll find Jo Tong – JaJa’s twin sister. Like her sibling, Jo is a versatile and imaginative spirit who has also gravitated towards business. An Evercore hire, Jo served as president of both Stern’s entrepreneurship club and pro bono consulting firm. Like her sister, Jo worked as a DJ for the student radio station. While JaJa played clarinet in USC’s student orchestra, Jo did the same at NYU with the saxophone. Not surprisingly, the duo has even formed a band together, Goldlove, which has released nearly a dozen songs.
More than “partners in crime”, the sisters serve as inspirations for each other. For Jo, her sister is someone who pushes her to “strive for perfection” and step beyond her self-imposed limits. This competitor-cheerleader dynamic has equally brought out the best in JaJa too.
“Jo always keeps me at the forefront of her mind, never hesitating to jump on a call at 3 am EST to help me with a finance question,” JaJa adds. “Although we now live on opposite coasts (NY and LA), our desire to reach higher limits has not wavered. It is this paradox of love and war that pushes me to be the best person I can be.”
TOP STUDENTS FROM THE TOP SCHOOLS
JaJa and Jo Tong are two members of this year’s 100 Best & Brightest Business Majors from Poets&Quants. Now in its seventh year, the Best & Brightest honors seniors who set the bar for their business school classmates. To compile this year’s list, P&Q invited each of the Top 50 undergraduate business programs to nominate two seniors. Like previous years, business schools choose representatives using their own selection process and criteria – though P&Q encouraged schools to factor qualities like academic prowess and extracurricular leadership. Overall, women outnumber men by a 63-to-37 margin on this list, with 15 students hailing from outside the United States.
Like previous years, the Best & Brightest collected scholarships and excellence awards at their schools. They led winning case teams and ran orientations. Often, they served as treasurers, campaign managers, scrum masters and RAs – as in resident advisors and research assistants. Many times, they were juggling these roles simultaneously. At Georgetown University’s McDonough School, Justin Smith describes Elizabeth Collingsworth as a “Swiss army knife” due to her versatility. For Smith, the school’s associate dean for strategic initiatives, this quality is amplified by her ability to adapt to any situation.
“Georgetown is an incredibly difficult place to stand out, but Elizabeth does so in a way that is not competitive, not combative, but complementary to whatever the situation needs. If she is working on a group project, she is perfectly happy to be the group’s facilitator, the organizer, the notetaker, or even the simple and often overlooked, hard-working contributor. She can fulfill every role and excels at all of them.”
EVERYONE’S FAVORITE TUTOR
Indeed, the Best & Brightest business majors personify the best qualities: poised, prepared, and professional, savvy beyond their years and always ready to go the extra mile. Every day, they brought an infectious energy and a can-do attitude. They seemed to be everywhere at once – and they made it look so effortless. The Best & Brightest were the people who their classmates sought out. Not only did they dispense advice, but they took people under their wing. They were the first to volunteer and the last to take credit. And they weren’t just members, they were leaders.
When Joe Hoyle needed a personal tutor for his introductory accounting class, he knew that Christina St. John was the only choice. However, it wasn’t just St. John’s financial wizardry that made an impact on her classmates at the University of Richmond.
“Students love her and flock to her review sessions,” Hoyle points out. “They tell me I should share my salary with her because of all that she does for them. For three semesters now, she has gone out of her way to provide group assistance and individual sessions. She meets with students whenever they are struggling and is willing to answer their emails at 1 a.m. Scores of students will graduate from this university knowing more financial accounting and understanding it better for having her assistance.”
CASE COMPETITION CHAMP
The path wasn’t easy for the Class of 2023. When a once-in-a-lifetime pandemic hit during their freshman year, many spent the next year huddled behind their laptops, away from their classmates, unable to enjoy the traditions and treks that define college life. In this void, the Best & Brightest stepped up. Eyes opened, they dug deep and embracing teamwork and risk-taking as means to make a difference. Recognizing that their network was their net worth, they reached out to classmates, alumni, faculty, and employers to build a board of advisors to guide them. Ultimately, the Best & Brightest didn’t spend time fretting about their GPA or TikTok views. Instead, they sought ways to bring people together. In the process – whether they knew it or not – they became the role models for their peers.
At Elon University, that person is Ava Rosen, a finance major who’ll be joining Goldman Sachs in the summer. “Ava Rosen is one of those unique individuals whose drive and intellectual curiosity inspire everyone around her to simply “be better”,” says Kate Upton, an associate professor at the school. “Her standards for her work and performance in the classroom motivate her classmates to work harder and engage more fully with the material in the class. The questions she asks faculty inspire us to think more deeply about what we are teaching and why.”
At the University of Arizona’s Eller College, Alexia Esquivel set the pace. She racked up the Woman of the Year, Scholar of the Year, and Multicultural Student of the Year awards – and she made the university’s homecoming court too. Equally impressive, Bucknell University’s Erica Weiss raised $10K for scholarships and generated over 700 hours of service through the Delta Gamma Women’s Fraternity’s foundation. On top of that, she created a program on emergency care for diabetics that’s being used at both the university and the regional police department. When it comes to case competitions, the University of Washington’s Emma Rose Dahleen is already a legend. Over three years, she claimed 1st place in 11 team and individual competitions (and 2nd or 3rd place in six more). Her biggest feat? Winning the National Women’s Case Competition in 2021 – a team victory replete with “many early mornings and late nights crafting our go-to-market strategy and slide deck.”
“I will never forget the moment we won,” she adds. “I couldn’t find coverage for a shift at one of the jobs I was working at the time and was unable to attend the announcement ceremony. All three of my teammates sent a picture of our team’s name, The Golden Girls, flashing on the Zoom screen with the first-place sign to me at the same time. I cried.”
ENTREPRENEURS, RESEARCHERS, CONSULTANTS, AND FINANCIERS
The Class of 2023 has also garnered plenty of notoriety. In 2021, Hult’s Alejandro Suarez Cordova was featured in a Forbes article on networking. Two years earlier, he was a co-driver alongside Sebastian Vettel in the Formula 1 Race of Champions. Last year, Miami of Ohio’s Abby Bartlett, another Goldman Sachs hire, was named a Cincy Inno Five Under 25 – an award given to leading innovators and entrepreneurs in the Cincinnati area. When it comes to startups, you’d be hard-pressed to top the success of Raleigh Dewan. A member of the Dallas Business Journal 25 under 25 and a Future Texas Business Legend from the Texas Business Hall of Fame, Dewan even managed to claim 1st place – twice – in the SMU Creative Writing Awards for poetry.
“I’ve been fortunate and lucky to have had an incredible journey so far—from winning international pitch competitions to having been featured on Fox News, NBC, the front page of The Dallas Morning News, and over 20 different journals/publications in four different languages,” he writes. “For me, the most meaningful achievements have come from being able to donate money to incredible organizations fighting human trafficking through my Sister Shaq Tea Company and from being able to see people regain the agency, autonomy, and dignity stolen by their neurological diseases with the SteadiSpoon, an assistive eating device I designed for people suffering from Parkinson’s Disease tremors.”
At USC Marshall, Jennah Motani found her calling in consulting. For the past two years, Motani has advised clients like Microsoft, Chipolte, and Lyft for the Trojan Consulting Group, where she completed a year-long stint as the firm’s president. At the same time, the Bain hire has performed pro bono consulting for 180 Degrees Consulting, with a client list that includes the Special Olympics of Southern California and the Community Health Council of LA. Andrew Campbell has been equally busy in the finance space for the University of Tennessee’s Haslam College. He managed the Haslam Torch Fund, a $1.8 million dollar portfolio – topping the benchmark by 300 basis points in the process. As President of the school’s Financial Management Association, he organized a trip to New York City that included visits to Bank of America, Bloomberg, and the New York Stock Exchange. For Jack Cordero, research has been his means of distinguishing himself at Northeastern University’s D’Amore-McKim School of Business. In April, he will deliver a presentation at the National Conference on Undergraduate Research. Last year, he presented his research on sustainability and supply chains at the Frontiers International Business Conference.
“At this event, I was the only person without a PhD or currently enrolled in a PhD program to present,” writes Cordero, who’ll be joining the Boston Consulting Group after graduation. “It was such an incredible experience to share information and learn from distinguished academics who have devoted their careers to researching business topics.”
WHARTON GRAD ELECTED CLASS PRESIDENT FOUR TIMES
Many Best & Brightest found their calling in leadership. As the First Wing Executive Officer for Texas A&M’s Corps of Cadets, Rachel Anderson is responsible for 200 cadets – not to mention a seven-member support staff. Outside the University of Virginia’s McIntire School, Margot Seidel manages a similar number of volunteers at CASH, which helps low income tax-payers in Charlottesville with filing services. Then again, Wharton’s Derek Nhieu is responsible for nearly 2,500 peers. That’s because he has been selected to be President of Penn’s student government for four consecutive years. The secret behind Nhieu’s popularity? Teran Tadal, Wharton’s undergrad equity and inclusion director, boils it down to Nhieu’s formula for success: “Doing the right thing, being your true self, and holding fast to your values.” For Nhieu, his blessings symbolize the possibilities inherent to the American dream.
“As a first-generation, low-income immigrant and student, I was surprised to have been admitted into a school like Penn and Wharton, much less be elected by my peers to serve the entirety of our class,” he admits. “The fact that my peers, who had only known me for a short while, were so willing to entrust me to serve them, and continued to do so over the next several years, was a testament to my unrelenting passion and commitment to service, and just how far I had truly come.”
Go to Pages 3-4 for 100 in-depth profiles of the 2023 Best & Brightest Business Majors
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