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Real Humans of Duke Fuqua’s MBA Class of 2020

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As the MBA Class of 2020 prepares for its first semester on campus at Duke’s Fuqua School of Business, we at Clear Admit are excited to feature profiles from incoming students as part of the second in our ongoing series called the Real Humans of the MBA Class of 2020. Read on to learn more about Fuqua, why these students decided it was the right experience for them, and what they hope to get out of their two years there.

As an elite MBA program, Fuqua offers students the ability to tailor the curriculum to suit their individual professional needs. Students are only required to take 13 core courses, all but one of which are completed in the first year.

This allows students to get into their specialized work more quickly. When they get to this point, students at Fuqua can choose from 14 different concentrations and more than 100 electives. This is in addition to the various opportunities that students are provided to study abroad, gaining extra knowledge that can make them more marketable after graduation.

The Fuqua MBA program trains elite candidates who stand out in the job market. The school’s graduates regularly receive offers from top firms such as Deloitte, McKinsey, and Amazon. The top three industries pursued by graduates of the Class of 2017, the most recent class for which employment data has been published, were consulting (33 percent), finance (25 percent), and general management (20 percent).

To produce the best job candidates, Fuqua has to find the best possible students. With the Class of 2020, it did just that.

Notably, the entering Class of 2020 is more diverse than previous classes. Of the 440 incoming students, 42 percent are women, an 8 percent increase over the Class of 2019. The percentage of underrepresented minority students also increased by 5 percent, to 16 percent of the class. International students, though, make up a slightly smaller portion of the class, 38 percent, down a percentage point from the Class of 2019.

In terms of prior professional experience, incoming students come from 19 different fields. Unlike the Class of 2019, consulting makes up the largest sector of incoming students, accounting for 24 percent of the Class of 2020, up 6 percentage points year over year. Students with financial services work experience make up 22 percent of the class, a 2 percentage point decrease over last year, when they outnumbered all others.

Other popular pre-MBA fields include hospital/health care/health services (7 percent), information technology (5 percent), nonprofit/education/special organization (5 percent), and energy/chemical/gas (5 percent).

Although these numbers can tell quite a story on their own, they do not give a full picture of the students themselves. But have no fear. Our Real Humans of the Duke Fuqua MBA Class of 2020 features profiles of five MBA students entering the program. As you’ll see, the students come from a variety of professional and academic backgrounds and have assorted professional aims. They will talk about their backgrounds and their goals as well as why Fuqua was the best choice for them. 

Colleen Maher, Fuqua MBA Class of 2020

Age: 26

Hometown: Andover, MA

Undergraduate Institution and Major: Davidson College, economics

Pre-MBA Work Experience: 4 years, healthcare consulting and marketing

Why business school? Why now? I want to be a healthcare leader and recognize that I need to further develop core competencies that will allow me to lead diverse, cross-functional teams and make tangible impacts in the healthcare space.

Why Fuqua? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? The core culture element of “Team Fuqua” strongly aligned with my vision for a supportive learning and growth environment. It is clear that the concept is not just the way that classes operate, but rather a philosophy that energizes the entire community. Further, I became increasingly confident that Fuqua’s Health Sector Management program would provide me with an unparalleled experience to accelerate my healthcare career and develop a deeper understanding of the healthcare industry’s complex interdependencies.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? I love being an idea integrator—I believe my strength lies in my ability to synthesize diverse ideas into focused action.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I am currently in a competition with my family to see who can reach all 50 states first. I am trailing the rest of the family (37 and counting), but it’s not over until it’s over.

Post-MBA career interests? I am obsessed with the intersection of technology and healthcare. I aim to develop programs to improve patient outcomes while effectively managing costs through digital solutions.

Advice to current prospective applicants:

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? Talk to as many students and alumni as you can! I found it incredibly valuable to gain first-hand exposure to the varying cultures at different schools and to be able to ask current students directly why they love their school and what differentiated their experience.

Also, I would recommend trying to work with a cohort of coworkers/friends who are applying to schools at the same time as you. Having a network that can read each other’s essays, workshop ideas, and support each other through challenges was incredibly helpful.

–One thing you would change or do differently? I wish I were able to visit more schools while they were in session. I know scheduling is tricky but by the time you are writing Round 1 applications, most students are away at internships for the summer.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? The GMAT was obviously a challenge but having a supportive network going through it at the same time made it better!

What is your initial impression of Fuqua’s students/culture/community? “Team Fuqua” is real. The school culture emphasizes that the potential achievements when working as a collective force far outweigh what any singular person can do. I love that Fuqua’s core principles focus on cultivating a community that supports each other toward a united vision of success.

One thing you have learned about Fuqua that has surprised you? Even from my first few days at Fuqua, my classmates’ unique experiences and deep understanding of diverse topic areas has blown me away. However, the part that has stood out the most was the desire of these classmates to teach others and help the larger team gain a better understanding of new concepts. 

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? Being able to take advantage of all the opportunities at Fuqua and finding the right balance between academic learning, leadership opportunities, and building a strong social network.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? Learning from my classmates and discovering new opportunities that ignite my passions.

Ashlie Tyler, Fuqua MBA Class of 2020

Age: 30

Hometown: Boston, but I spent the last 5 years in Chicago, a city that has become near and dear to my heart.

Undergraduate Institution and Major: Duke University, psychology #DoubleDukie

Pre-MBA Work Experience: 8 years in human capital management and business development in the financial services and education industries.

Why business school? Why now? I have dedicated the last seven years of my professional life and personal community
service to the goal of giving children from under-resourced communities access to a high-quality education.

Over time I realized that while I am passionate about student achievement, I am most committed to finding scalable, sustainable ways to tackle the biggest problems that our youth face.

I learned more about how impact investors are applying traditional investment disciplines to socially minded organizations and decided that impact investing was my path forward. As such, business school was the logical next step for me. I aim to pair my life experience and industry expertise with the technical skills necessary to become an investment-savvy, transformational leader, and I am excited to do so at Fuqua.

Why Fuqua? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? In the long run I want to launch an impact investing fund. The CASE i3 Initiative on Impact Investing is one of the oldest impact investing initiatives on business school campuses. Fuqua is extremely lucky to have on staff Cathy Clark, who is widely regarded in the impact investing space and who is faculty director of CASE and CASE i3. Having the opportunity to learn from Cathy and participate in the myriad of impact investing initiatives at Fuqua was a huge draw.

In addition, I value collaborative impact and success. The focus Fuqua places on teamwork resonated with me. I wanted to be in an environment where I knew those around me were working toward a common purpose and that they would be just as invested in my development as I am in theirs.

Fuqua was a financial and geographic draw as well. The cost of living in Durham is more affordable than that of the cities in which many other business schools are located. I love Durham because it isn’t too remote but also isn’t a major metropolitan area, which allows me to focus on being a citizen of Fuqua and Durham, while having access to all that Durham and the greater RTP-area, provides. Durham is also like a paradise for those looking to find time and space to truly focus on development with minimal distractions.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? I am passionate about coaching and supporting others to become a better version of themselves. I am always down to make or find desserts for classmates who are in need of something sweet to brighten their day. With a background in human capital management, I am keenly aware that it is hard for people to consistently perform at their best when they are not feeling their best. As food is something that brings us all together, I often use desserts as a way to say to people, “I care. I am here to listen. Let’s talk.”

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I am afraid of wind farms and matches. Odd, I know.

Post-MBA career interests? Impact investing

Advice to current prospective applicants:

— One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? If I could rewind this journey a year, maybe two, I would pay careful attention to managing my time and—outside of the necessities such as family, work, and self-care—would be diligent about investing only in the people and resources that were helping me achieve my business school goal.

It’s important for MBA candidates to position themselves such that they have ample time to focus exclusively on testing, then on application writing. Testing and writing at the same time is not ideal. Get your GMAT/GRE final score, take break for a few weeks, and then dive into the applications.

One thing you would change or do differently? I certainly would have saved more money. Seriously, future MBA students—SAVE YOUR MONEY! Between exam prep and fees, application fees, moving expenses, recruitment trips, budgeting for pre-MBA time off, and everything else that goes into this experience, the expenses add up. If you pare down your current lifestyle and are religious about sticking to a budget, you will be doing yourself a huge favor. At the same time, those considering MBAs shouldn’t be afraid to take the risk by considering “creative” ways to finance their education. It’s definitely possible.

Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? The GMAT is killer! While I think business schools are ambivalent as to whether a prospective applicant takes the GMAT or GRE, I know the financial services industry strongly prefers the GMAT. I would have skipped it if it weren’t for my career aspirations. I found most success when I figured out which method of study worked for me—self study with a tutor to answer specific questions.

What is your initial impression of Fuqua’s students/culture/community? I had the privilege of spending significant time at Fuqua before applying (MBA candidates: visit schools, ask lots of questions). I returned often because I was captivated by the spirit of the Team.

Fuqua. It is not a marketing gimmick, but rather, a belief and commitment to others that permeates through every aspect of the community. Being able to feel the essence of Team Fuqua as a prospective applicant was meaningful to me. I could see myself at Fuqua… I wanted to be here.

One thing you have learned about Fuqua that has surprised you? Understanding what Team Fuqua is now makes this less of a surprise, but the AdCom really wants to know who you are and how you fit into this community. The application is so straightforward that I almost began to second-guess myself.

I was pleasantly surprised by how thoughtful members of the AdCom were with each interaction; applying to business school is stressful and they made it less so. As a people person, I valued their approach immensely.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? Finding balance. There are an overwhelming number of phenomenal opportunities to take advantage of in business school, and I want to do as much as possible. Excelling academically, landing a summer internship, having meaningful experiences with my classmates, and staying connected with my family and friends are all priorities that I must balance. I’ve given myself a head start by learning to say “no” and sticking to a schedule. FOMO is real!

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? Being a student again. I am a first-generation college student, who, like many first-gens, had trouble navigating the college system. While college was net-positive, I would not say that being an undergraduate student was an enjoyable experience. Fast-forward eight years, I now have a great sense of myself and how to utilize Fuqua, the broader MBA community, and my personal village to achieve my goals.

I am extremely excited to be in a place in life where my sole purpose is to learn and explore. Business school will be a tough but deeply fulfilling experience. It’s not lost upon me that life brought me back to Duke to complete my academic career.

Ezinne Nwankwo, Fuqua MBA Class of 2020

Age: 26

Hometown: Atlanta, GA

Undergraduate Institution and Major: State University of New York at Buffalo, BA in biological science

Pre-MBA Work Experience: 3 years as a biostatistician for Agility Clinical

Why business school? Why now? 
I am pursuing my MBA because I want to evolve as a leader and take on a more transparent role within the healthcare industry. I thought it was imperative that I enhance my general business knowledge, refine certain aspects of my leadership skill set to solve global problems, and cultivate a network of influence and expertise that would propel me into the next chapter of my career and life journey. I also wanted to be at the forefront of the healthcare revolution and push people toward more preventative healthcare measures as well as AI, data science, and predictive analytics application to manage their health information.

Why Fuqua? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? I decided to attend Fuqua because I wanted to branch out of my comfort zone in every way possible. The Team Fuqua mantra is unique in that it fosters collaboration/teamwork versus competition. Not many applicants would find this attractive. However, I saw it as an opportunity to engage with a diverse group of individuals and learn from a variety of perspectives about what exactly it means to be a global business leader. All in all, it is important to me that I am surrounded by individuals who are passionate about their goals, open to diverse thought, and oriented toward action.

As it pertains to academic and professional opportunities, I believe Fuqua offers a variety of teaching formats as well as a flexible curriculum that ensures students obtain the most out of their two years in business school. The Health Sector Management (HSM) program, in particular, played a huge role in my decision to attend Fuqua. Fuqua’s strong presence within healthcare and its ties to the Research Triangle Park only serve to further set to the school apart from other MBA programs.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? I think my most valuable contribution to the Class of 2020 is my hard science/statistics/programming background. As a woman and person of color, I can speak to the various experiences of having to work in a technical role where companies may not be as diverse. I want to use these perspectives to inspire minority groups such as women, persons of color, LGBTQ, that attaining success within these fields is possible.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I once scaled and nearly fell off a treacherous cliff on an outing with my younger sister in La Jolla, CA. This near-death experience inspired me to revisit the cliff and partake in hiking for leisure.

Post-MBA career interests? Entrepreneurship and venture capital

Advice to current prospective applicants:

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? I would definitely re-do visiting as many schools as possible. I believe this is the most crucial aspect when deciding on a school. You can really tell whether or not a school is right for you simply by stepping foot on campus and obtaining a firsthand experience of the student culture, academics, and career opportunities offered.

–One thing you would change or do differently? I would stress less about the application process. Admissions committees really do take a holistic approach when reviewing your application. While it is important to highlight your strengths, it is, however, just as important to recognize your weaknesses and effectively communicate how they have molded your life experiences.

–Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? I would skip being elusive about my MBA experience. I think it is important to let others know what you are going through.

What is your initial impression of Fuqua’s students/culture/community? One thing you have learned about Fuqua that has surprised you?
 I was surprised to learn that Fuqua is comprised of students from  more than 210 diverse entities that are represented by the flags hanging in our main corridor of our building. I think this is a great testament of the cultural awareness and inclusivity that Fuqua fosters within its community. I believe these attributes are especially valuable in a business environment where global perspective can dictate the flow of an organization. Fuqua understands the values of these unique attributes and attempts to expound on them.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? I am probably the most anxious about over-committing. Second-year students have expressed that the first year can be quite hectic as well as time-consuming with the amount of student clubs, companies brought on campus to recruit, and academic rigor of courses. Not to mention, you want to ensure that you make time to interact with your classmates as much as possible being that they will be your main network of influence for years to come. I definitely plan to utilize good time management skills, but I am also a big fan of dedicating time toward personal TLC and making sure I de-stress through meditation, running, etc.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? 
I am most excited about the Fuqua Program for Entrepreneurs and New Ventures Fellows Program which are ran through the Duke Innovation and Entrepreneurship Initiative and Duke Office of Licensing and Ventures, respectively. The opportunity to start a business completely from scratch or take a business later in the development phase through to commercialization is both intriguing and complex.

Mike Taylor, Fuqua MBA Class of 2020

Age: 29

Hometown: Findlay, OH

Undergraduate Institution and Major: University of Notre Dame, chemical engineering

Pre-MBA Work Experience: 7 years in healthcare IT for Epic

Why business school? Why now? I was ready to move from analytics software implementation at Epic to broader strategic healthcare consulting and felt an MBA would give me the industry background, business skills, and network necessary to transition.

Why Fuqua? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? Fuqua’s Health Sector Management certificate program was a key selling point for me—the program begins with HSM Bootcamp, an intense but rewarding weeklong course that gave a helpful overview of all subsectors of healthcare.

I was drawn to Fuqua’s tight-knit, supportive, and humble culture, and as I learned more about the program through talks with current students and faculty, I sensed that the program was truly a good fit. Since I had lived in the Midwest nearly my entire life, I was also excited to immerse myself in a new part of the country (especially a state with mild winters).

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? I’m organized and very detail-orientated, whether it’s packing for a camping trip, learning about photography, or managing a project. So I try to put those talents to use, even if it’s as simple as hanging artwork for a classmate in their apartment. I figure everyone has their own unique gifts, and sharing mine is one way to contribute to the inclusive, helpful community that attracted me to Fuqua in the first place.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? I know all the words (52 lines) of the Blackalocious song Alphabet Aerobics.

Post-MBA career interests? Strategic consulting role helping health systems control costs and improve healthcare outcomes.

Advice to current prospective applicants:

–One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? Talk to current and former students! Fuqua has a very supportive culture, and during the application season I set up 30-minute phone calls with several current students who all gave me a useful perspective of what life as a Fuqua student would be like. And definitely attend Blue Devil Weekend if you’re accepted—it’s a great way to learn even more about the program and start forming friendships for the fall.

–One thing you would change or do differently? I would have sought out help in the application process earlier. Applying to MBA programs can be an isolating process, especially when you don’t feel comfortable disclosing to your employer that you’re applying. Once you start to build a network of people who are going through the same journey, though, the whole process doesn’t feel as heavy.

 –Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? Studying for the GMAT, although it’s challenging for pretty much everyone. To prepare for the test I made a weekly study schedule, sacrificed social time, and reminded myself that this demanding routine was both necessary for my desired career path and only temporary.

What is your initial impression of Fuqua’s students/culture/community? It’s been incredibly positive. My new classmates are easygoing, incredibly talented, and academically supportive. The class has students from all across the United States as well as the world so it’s been interesting meeting people from different cultural and geographic backgrounds. I like that about Fuqua.

One thing you have learned about Fuqua that has surprised you? Fuqua holds an event almost every Friday called “Fuqua Friday” that includes the entire Fuqua community and is a chance to have great food, relax, and meet new people. And most events, whether officially sponsored via Fuqua or unofficially through classmates, are partner-friendly, which again speaks to Fuqua’s spirit of inclusivity.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? Navigating the internship recruiting process, since even after starting an MBA program, I’m still figuring out exactly what I want to do with my life. The best advice I’ve been given here: Talk with lots of people who are pursuing a path similar to the one you want to follow, and learn about their stories.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? Getting to know this amazing group of new classmates! Fuqua has several social events—river floats, weekend trips to Myrtle Beach, cookouts—and I’m excited to cultivate new friendships as I enter the next chapter of my professional journey

Nicolas Bascuñan D., Fuqua MBA Class of 2020

Age: 32

Hometown: Santiago, Chile

Undergraduate Institution and Major: Bachelor in Science in business administration from Pontificia Universidad Católica de Chile

Pre-MBA Work Experience: I spent 7 years in investment banking covering Chile and Latin America and another 2 years on social venture capital involved in pre-school educational projects focused in vulnerable children in Chile.

Why business school? Why now? I’ve reached a certain level of maturity in my career, and I feel I am close to my ceiling in terms of continue to grow. I am convinced I need to acquire additional skills to reach a higher level. Therefore I am seeking to improve in three different aspects.

First, I need a better global vision if I pretend to move forward with my long-term goals. The MBA will expose me to the experience of all my classmates and their backgrounds as well as to top-notch faculty.

Second, I need to strengthen my strategic thinking, as I have spent almost all my career in investment banking. I need to diversify my knowledge and become more ‘well-rounded.’

Finally, I want to improve my communication abilities. In order to become a better leader and make a larger impact in business and society, I need an MBA.

Why Fuqua? What factors figured most prominently into your decision of where to attend? When comparing among the top 10 business schools in the United States it is hard to distinguish which one will really bring the very best out in you. I made my decision to come to Duke because I felt I fit here the most and that it was the best place where I could grow both professionally and personally.

On the professional side, if you want to become a great leader, you need to learn how to work in a team. Fuqua is that place, where the concept of “Team” is part of the school’s DNA. Also, I was not only focused on looking for a place for its academics and achievements, but also on how united the community is.

One of the most relevant aspects that influenced my and my wife’s decision to come to Durham was how tight the alumni community is back in Chile. That is exactly what we were looking for.

What do you think is your most valuable or differentiating contribution to the Class of 2020? One of the things I treasure the most from my last nine years of work experience is my mentors. I’ve learned from them to first see the broad picture when facing a problem, to analyze it, and then design the best solution to solve it. I think my approach to problem-solving can be one of my contributions to the Class of 2020.

Fun fact that didn’t get included on your application? This would definitely be a trip my friends and I did to Las Vegas two or three years after we graduated from college. Going there was quite easy, we had a great time. Returning was more difficult for some of us, who missed our return flight.

Post-MBA career interests
I am most interested in? Private equity

Advice to Current Prospective Applicants:

— One thing you would absolutely do again as part of your application process? A big part of the process was spending many hours talking to people, listening and learning from their experience and their failures. I would do that again for sure.

— One thing you would change or do differently? Pay more attention to those who may bring something different to the table. Nine years in finance may sharpen your mind in a good analytical way, but you may lack other things needed to succeed.

— Part you would have skipped if you could—and what helped you get through it? I don’t know if skipping is the word, but when you take the decision to apply to business school you must realize that you will have to put on hold important things of your daily life. You will be preparing for the GMAT while your friends and family meet or go for a drink. You will have to work on your essays while your colleagues meet for a meal. But in the end, it’s all worth it.

What is your initial impression of Fuqua’s students/culture/community? There is always someone there to help you.

One thing you have learned about Fuqua that has surprised you? Up to now, I can realize it will be a highly intense semester. We have not yet even started, and there are plenty of things to do. I like the welcoming pace.

Thing you are most anxious about in your first year? There are so many things I plan to do while doing the MBA. I am still member of the board of a company back in Chile, I want to study and evaluate new business opportunities to launch after the MBA, I plan to enjoy the two-year experience with my family and, of course, do well academically.

Thing you are most excited about in your first year? The one thing I want to experience this first year is getting to know my section. There will be people from all around the world, each one of them with a unique history and background. I find that very interesting.

If you enjoyed this feature, don’t miss others in this year’s series:

Real Humans of the Yale SOM MBA Class of 2020

Jonathan Pfeffer
Jonathan Pfeffer joined the Clear Admit and MetroMBA teams in 2015 after spending several years as an arts/culture writer, editor, and radio producer. In addition to his role as Contributing Writer at MetroMBA and Contributing Editor at Clear Admit, he was also a co-founder of the Clear Admit MBA Admissions Podcast. He holds a BA in Film/Video, Ethnomusicology, and Media Studies from Oberlin College.