Benger is hardly alone among the 2018 Class in turning anguish into impact. USC’s Yash Gupta has worn glasses since he was five years old. In his experience, glasses are key to education and a tool to break free from poverty. That’s why, seven years ago, he took a page out of the Warby Parker handbook and started Sight Learning. A nonprofit, Sight Learning ships used eyeglasses to needy students in nations from Haiti to India. Run by young adults, Gupta’s organization has donated nearly $2 million dollars worth of glasses to 40,000 students worldwide – a testament to the potency of a strong model meeting a good cause.
CASE WESTERN RESERVE STANDOUT FINDS WAY TO BRING TREVOR NOAH TO CAMPUS
Such social enterprises have fueled the imaginations of Best & Brightest business majors. At Cornell University, Daniel Abaraoha applied the TOMS model to his Vita Shoes startup, which has raised over $1,700 for homeless and youth shelters through sneaker sales. At the same time, Elon’s Resetar turned waste – unused meal plan swipes – into a vehicle to serve the larger community. “One swipe equated to one sandwich donated to a local food pantry, and we donated 3,490 meals,” she exclaims.
Social ventures weren’t the only achievements notched by the Class of 2018. During her junior year, Case Western Reserve University’s Margaret Shull faced her own moment of truth. She took responsibility for bringing a celebrity to campus for the school’s Spring Comedian, the second-largest university-sponsored entertainment event. The dream entertainer – Comedy Central’s Trevor Noah—was longshot…but that didn’t stop Shull. Through pluck and perseverance, Shull eventually booked Noah. Not only did the school sell out the venue, but Noah’s performance sent everyone home happy. “Trevor’s contract stated he would perform for 30-45 minutes – he ended up staying on stage for 75,” she beams. “This event’s success is my pride and joy.”
Several others were also able to crack the code for bringing their schools together. Look no further than Emory University’s Georgia Kossoff. She co-founded TRAIN, which she describes as “an incubator that supports multidisciplinary, student-directed research projects.” In under a year, the initiative has already produced stunning results. “Several successful projects have been started through TRAIN, including a system to harvest electricity from compost and an initiative to build customizable, 3D printed drones,” Kossoff observes. “It’s beyond exciting to see brilliant students from all disciplines come together to work on these projects, and truly amazing to see what they have already accomplished.”
Sometimes, bringing students together can take on a light-hearted tone. Exhibit A: Squirrels Without Morality, a meme-based card game created by Wharton’s Gao. Like its inspiration – Cards Against Humanity – the game satirizes Penn’s day-to-day absurdities to spur laughter and help students decompress. However, the game brings an ulterior purpose to the forefront as well. “It opens up group discussions on sensitive topics like mental health, hyper-competition, and racial diversity,” Gao notes.
MICHIGAN GRAD’S HIGH SCHOOL BUSINESS GENERATES $3 MILLION A YEAR
Impact may be the goal and giving back the reward, but entrepreneurship is often the vehicle used by the Best & Brightest to fulfill their visions. Most set down this path very early in their lives. In high school, Washington University’s Cole West, a future Deloitte consultant, served as his high school’s banker, doling out small bills to help his classmates pay the vending machines. Carnegie Mellon’s Alexandra Furlo started her first business even earlier – when she was seven! Back then, her “multi-dollar enterprises” including marketing her comic books or doing her classmates’ nails. Soon enough, she got a taste of real life business hurdles. “My enterprise hit regulatory hurdles when my teacher saw me giving a classmate change for a $20 bill in the hallway.”
That’s not to say these youthful ventures lack staying power. The University of Michigan’s Danny Sheridan is a case in point. In high school, he started selling goods on eBay. Today, his business generates $3 million in business and boasts 11 team members. His firm – Woodside Distributors – taught him two key lessons that are better absorbed through experience than reading. I learned the value of a team that collaborates and has incentive structures that are well developed.
Early exposure to the entrepreneurial life wasn’t the only experience that led to the Best & Brightest majoring in business. USC’s Aisha Counts points to the 2008 Financial Crisis as a tipping point that changed her life. “My family lost their home, retirement savings, college fund and jobs,” she reminisces. “It sparked an interest in the intersection of law and business, particularly in understanding the global economic system.”
For others, family played a role in pursuing a business majors. Looking back, Rutgers’ Sung attributes her interest in business to weekly family dinners with her uncle, who’d quiz her on stock prices. “My 9-year-old self found it so interesting that a company as established as Google could have its stock price change so much from day-to-day. From that point, I started to look at both company news and economic trends, and I find them more dynamic and interesting every day.”
“WITHOUT DATA, YOU’RE JUST A 21-YEAR-OLD WITH AN OPINION”
This dynamism may be prove fascinating, but it also reinforces a key lesson in business and beyond, says Syracuse University’s Catherine Cummings: Stay open to the possibilities – and never take anything for granted. “The biggest lesson I learned from studying business is to never get too comfortable. Always challenge yourself, and persevere through the conflicts, because you never know where they will lead you. I can utmost say that my successes have come from taking risks, falling, and getting back up again.”
That wasn’t the only big takeaway that the Class of 2018 internalized. Elon’s Nicole Resetar, a finance major ticketed to Ernst & Young after graduation, quickly grasped the importance of credibility in business – and how closely it is tied to character. “Following through on your word makes all the difference,” she observes. “Business comes down to relationships and what grounds a fruitful relationship is trust. Proving that words translate directly into actions is something I’ve learned goes a long way.”
That said, credibility is fleeting without a foundation in the fundamentals and the willingness to go the extra mile to back up beliefs. Perhaps the University of Texas’ Karan Mahendroo says it best: “Without data, you’re just a 21-year-old with an opinion.”
THE BEST & BRIGHTEST EARN THE HIGHEST COMPLIMENTS FROM FACULTY
Brace yourself – come summer, the Best & Brightest will be streaming into the work world. Chances are, these graduates will be hell-bent on making the same impact as consultants, entrepreneurs, managers, and analysts. Many will quickly earn the respect and trust of their peers much Boston University’s Ana Sofia Brown. She left an indelible impression on David Randall, a master lecturer at the school whom he already considers to be an equal. “Often I have sought Sofia’s perspective and advice on curriculum development, classroom management, assignments, student attitudes, classroom culture, and other aspects of teaching… +d, I consider Sofia to be more colleague than student—consideration she has earned just be being who she is.”
That was just one of the high compliments paid to the Class of 2018. What kind of impression did Brittany Maupin leave on Georgetown University’s McDonough School of Business? Daniel Minot, the program’s senior associate director, calls her the embodiment of the ideal student at the school. At the University of Pittsburgh, Rachael White, a Deloitte recruit, is described as “that unique student that comes along once in twenty years” by the school’s head of admissions.
If you want a compliment that truly sets a senior apart, you’ll want to read retired Lieutenant General John A. Van Alstyne’s “assessment” of Texas A&M’s Kate Wellman, who’ll also earn her teaching degree at graduation. “[Kate] is in the top 1% of the young men and women I have known over 50-plus years of professional life,” he states. “Kate’s vast intellectual capacity is superbly augmented by a large measure of common sense. This remarkable combination allows her to cut quickly to the essence of complex situations and then develop sound, well-reasoned solutions.”
Make no mistake: It is a stellar class, one packed with an impressive array of leaders, sages, and go-getters. What advice do they have for future business majors who may someday earn the “Best & Brightest” moniker? TCU’s Hartjen, for one, urges the next wave of students to treat their education holistically. “Pay attention in the classes that do not necessarily directly relate to your major within business, because the more cross-functional you are, the more valuable of an asset you will be to an organization someday, no matter what kind of career you pursue.”
For the University of Georgia’s Tape, the secret to success is continuous learning outside the classroom. “My advice is to read. Read as much as you can. It should be more than just the Wall Street Journal or the New York Times articles. Reading helps build your knowledge base while expanding your communication skills, which is key to being an effective businessperson.”
While Villanova’s Acton embraces risk as a serial entrepreneur, he also reminds potential students that they won’t find a safer educational investment than a business major. “If you decide to change paths down the road, the technical skills gained in business school may not translate, but the soft skills will be very developed upon completion of study. In the modern workforce, technical skills are commonly held; however, very few can articulate, debate, think critically, present, and write like business school graduates.”
To read in-depth profiles of 100 of the Best & Brightest business majors, go to pages 3-4.
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