A generation ago, if you asked business majors what they wanted, they would’ve answered with the usual clichés: money, status, and freedom. Back then, business was a path to a life of comfort and certainty. Fast forward to the Class of 2018 and such incentives have increasingly lost their luster. Instead, this generation is looking to business as a means to test their imaginations and foster social change.
For this year’s graduating class, business comes down to one word: Impact. As the big day nears, these future business leaders are leaving their mark – often in big ways that defy traditional business roles and methods.
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Take Georgia Tech’s Evie Owens. For the past two summers, she has served as a merchandising intern at Home Depot. During that time, she has taken a deep dive into the company’s operations in several units. The result? Owens has already saved the company $6.4 million dollars. Just imagine what she’ll do when she joins the company full-time. Her bosses can – and they’re are already giddy over the prospects.
“She did absolutely incredible work,” writes Heath Wolfe, a senior manager at Home Depot. “We are still using the research that she put together over the summer to redesign operational processes with in the business today.” Kelly Barrett, a senior vice president in home services, takes her praise a step further. “I have high performing associates at the senior manager level that would be hard pressed to compete with the quality of the work that she produced,” she gushes. “I believe she will be an officer of this company one day.”
Then there’s Villanova’s Brady Scott Acton, the very personification of a Renaissance Man. As a sophomore, he launched a tech startup that employed seven people thanks to $127K in angel and VC investment. A year later, he designed an AI platform that’s used at the Wharton School. In between, he opened a non-profit and created a popular app that was featured in the Philadelphia Inquirer. On top of that, he was a scholarship baseball player who was named a Forbes “Under 30” Scholar. If you thought time management was Acton’s toughest hurdle – think again! “I was surprised out how humbling it would be to major in business,” he admits. “The major is very rigorous because one has to be skilled at both the qualitative and quantitative sides of business.”
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Impact doesn’t just happen with long hours and good intentions. It also requires a sense of purpose and the courage to take action. Wharton’s Laura Gao lives by an axiom: “If what you want doesn’t exist, create it yourself.” She followed her own advice to make her own impact. As a freshman, Gao weighed transferring, feeling out of step as a creative in a world devoted to financial models and job hunts. Rather than taking the easy way out, she became the solution who filled a gap. Notably, she took on the role of a professor, teaching 75 students during a six week “Design Prototyping” seminar– the first of its kind at Wharton.
These are just a handful of graduating seniors from Poets&Quants’ 3rd annual “Best & Brightest Business Majors.” In December, P&Q reached out to 55 undergraduate business schools – including the Top 50 programs in its annual ranking – to ask them to nominate two seniors for inclusion. Each school chose their representatives using their own criteria, though P&Q encouraged them to factor in “academic excellence, extracurricular leadership, personal character, innate potential, a striking personal narrative, and overall impact on the program.” Overall, 101 students were included from 50 programs, including representatives from each of P&Q’s 40 highest-ranked business schools.
Business is known as a catch-all major, so it’s no surprise that this year’s Best & Brightest are as diverse, well-rounded, and passionate as they come. Faculty and employers alike describe them using terms like role model, natural leader, ambassador, and standout – the dreamers who personify “the top 1% of the top 1%.” They are students defined by their curiosity and conviction, a take-charge and tenacious bunch with a vision that no task is too big or no role is too small. Globally conscious and fearless, they spent their four years exploring Asia and opening up new ventures. In the process, their infectious courage and enthusiasm inspired their peers to step out of their comfort zones too.
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The Best & Brightest defy easy labels. BYU’s Braeden Santiago is truly an All-American, a typhoon survivor who claims “Hawaiian, Filipino, Chinese, Korean, and German” among his ancestries. Others possess a gift for producing stirring imagery. The University of Virginia’s Evelyn Wang, for one, calls herself a “5-foot, 1-inch girl with an 11-foot personality,” while Bowling Green’s Collin Newton gives a disturbing new twist to being a mutt: “I am a mix between Chandler Bing, Jason Bourne, and Dug from the movie UP.” If Kayvon Asemani’s careers as a Facebook product manager and hip hop recording artist go south, the Wharton grad can always fall back on writing epigrams. How does he view himself? “The best at making mistakes, the worst at being perfect, and average at being average.”
Just don’t expect Michigan State’s Colleena Peng to fall short. She has a huge incentive to make it big. “I work hard now so my future dog can have the backyard he deserves,” she jokes.
Looking for talent? The Class of 2018 has you covered. They certainly aren’t afraid of the big stage – literally. Lehigh University’s Brianna Riggs has performed with her clarinet in front of Carnegie Hall. Not to be outdone, the University of North Carolina’s Caroline Ririe has played the violin and fiddle for Josh Kelley and Frankie Gavin – not to mention opening for acts like Better Than Ezra, The Gin Blossoms and Edwin McCain. Perhaps she could form a band with U.C.-Berkeley’s Joshua Ahazie, who plays 10 instruments, or even Oscar Gomez, a Lehigh senior who taught himself to play the drums, piano, guitar, and bass before becoming his church’s musical director when he was a high school freshman.
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It isn’t just stage where the Best & Brightest have made an impact outside the business world. Meet the University of Minnesota’s Emerald Egwim. Four years ago, she walked onto the University of Minnesota’s track team. Fast forward to now, and she has shattered school indoor and outdoor records and become a Big Ten champion. Oh, and she represented her native Nigeria in the 2017 Track & Field World Championship too. One of Gao’s biggest achievement couldn’t even be confined to the planet. “I 3D-printed a biomedical device on the International Space Station for astronaut health diagnosis,” she notes. How exclusive is the company that Penn State’s Colin Patrick Wood rolls in? He had to decline an invitation to the Dalai Lama’s birthday party!
The class is also defined by its thirst for adventure. You can start with Elon University’s Nicole Resetar. She lived out of a van for 16 days on the wild South Island of New Zealand. Think that’s scary? Imagine being the University of Georgia’s Earwin Tape, who found himself trapped in African quick sand, or Northeastern University’s Kate Murdock, who helped a lemur give birth. Of course, sometimes going overseas can be outright exhilarating. Just ask Emory’s Grace Cleland, who has taken a slide down the Great Wall of China.
In fact, global travel is a staple of undergraduate business education. Texas Christian University’s Olivia Hartjen, for example, has visited 16 countries in the past year alone. This exposure to travel has manifested itself in what the Best & Brightest include in their long-term bucket lists. Cornell’s Madeleine Roglich dreams of climbing to Mount Everest’s base camp. In contrast, Santa Clara University’s Katherine Uhl plans to keep her feet on the ground, attending a Vatican mass and experiencing the Northern Lights. Rutgers’ Monica Sung’s dream comes down to a family affair: “Going on (and winning!) The Amazing Race with my sister.”
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Indeed, you’ll find a ‘We’re all in this together’ spirit across this year’s Best & Brightest class. For them, business is a force for a good, a tool to give back and make a difference. Carnegie Mellon’s Sam Benger is one example of this servant leader ethos brought to life. On campus, Benger is best known as the football team captain, a record-breaking running back and All American who was a finalist for the William Campbell Trophy, given to football’s top scholar-athlete. Behind the scenes, he is far more. Using his football notoriety as a “platform,” he has organized student cleanup crews around Pittsburgh; mentored young people suffering from chronic illnesses; and led the campus Special Olympics for two years running. Last year, he put his business pedigree to work, starting a ‘Shark Tank’ style social entrepreneurship competition to address issues like “poverty, homelessness, and food shortage” in the Steel City.
“This event started as an idea I had when I was riding the bus home after class one day,” he notes. “Six weeks later I had put together a diverse panel of expert judges, secured funding and guarantees from firms in the incubator space to help the winning team form a real product or service. The goal was to create tangible impact by adjusting the standard business case competition structure and applying it to community issues in Pittsburgh. It was a wonderful learning experience for me and validated that acting on a vision with initiative can be not only gratifying, but impactful on a larger scale.”
To read in-depth profiles of 100 of the Best & Brightest business majors, go to pages 3-4.