The Sanger Leadership Center awarded nearly $100,000 in scholarships to full-time MBA programs this year as part of a school-wide effort to direct funding toward scholarships during a year of need. The students selected represent those who have dedicated a great deal of their time participating in Sanger programs such as the Student and Alumni Board, the Ross Leaders Academy, and more.

We caught up with the award recipients and asked each a few questions about Michigan Ross, Sanger, and their leadership habits and aspirations. Read on below and prepare to be inspired!

Amirah Aziz

MBA 2021 | Miami, FL

In a few sentences, describe why you’ve dedicated your time here at U-M to becoming a better leader.

In Arabic, my name “Amirah” means leader and I have always felt it was in my namesake to lead and inspire. Throughout my professional years, I have sought after and naturally taken on leadership roles. Being a Muslim-American and woman, I also felt it was my duty to lead and inspire others to do the same, especially those in under-represented communities. Coming to Ross and writing my pre-MBA goals, leadership was one I knew early on I wanted to work on, as I remember clearly writing as a goal “Don’t leave her the same person as you entered.” For me, I am someone who is constantly striving to grow, and I was curious to figure out how I could become a leader in the business world – I wanted to better understand my strengths and how to apply that to different leadership styles. I was also very attracted to the Sanger Center after the Amazon Business+Impact Challenge, and the ability to work with Brian, Jeff, Evan Marie, Michelle, and the entire Sanger team was an opportunity I didn’t want to miss.

Lucy Coyle

MBA 2021 | Rochester, NY / Washington D.C.

You were chosen as a Sanger Scholarship recipient because you’ve participated in many of our programs. Which one has been most influential to you and why?

I ran Gartner’s entire leadership research stream before coming to business school and even wrote a mass-market book about how to be a great people manager. So it’s equal parts embarrassing and hilarious to admit that when I actually became a people manager in my last role before b-school I was hit with the rude awakening that management practice eats management theory for breakfast. Coming to Ross I saw a chance to take a step back and explore why team management had been tough and figure out who I wanted to be the next time I had the opportunity to lead. I saw Sanger as the place where I could do that work. It’s so tough to pick just one Sanger program—I played a lot of Sanger bingo my MBA 1 year! I think my favorite program was probably Legacy Lab because it offered a quick but deep dive into determining your values and aspirations. I had done similar values-defining workshops in the past, but doing Legacy Lab early in MBA definitely 1. centered me on some key values to maintain throughout the ups and downs of MBA and 2. showed me that my values CHANGE! And that’s a huge lesson I’m taking away from Ross.

Marcos Coppa

MBA 2021 | Rio de Janeiro, Brazil

What piece of advice do you have for incoming students?

Take the time to reflect on what you want and need to improve. Self-reflection and self-awareness were crucial so that I could make the most of my experience! It can be painful sometimes but only through a genuine understanding of self, one can become a better person. Ahh, and have fun along the way!

Sean Drimmel

MBA 2021 | San Diego, CA

What is an experiment you ran since coming to Ross that has helped you develop a new leadership skill or ability?

I experience a profound and physiological sense of anxiety when speaking up in large settings. Cold-calling in the classroom is my worst nightmare. Even just introducing myself in front of a large group of people gets my heart racing and oxygen levels depleting. My self-consciousness and self-judgment are often my own worst enemies. After a 1-1 leadership coaching session with a Ross Leaders Academy (RLA) facilitator, I was able to mentally (and physically) reframe a few things that helped tremendously. That’s not to say my anxiety completely disappeared, but I was able to leverage different tools that made it far more manageable.

Aseem Mahajan

MBA 2022 | Pathankot, India

What brought you to Michigan Ross? What was your unique journey like?

Having started off as a medical doctor, and I loved the profession, my path to an MBA at Ross has not been a traditional one. I wanted to explore a different career path post-medical school and therefore I did a business degree in India from IIM-Calcutta. Thereafter, I explored multiple functions across organizations that varied widely in their scope and industry. From Corporate Finance at Mondelez to Category Management at a travel start-up, and then transitioning to leading digital transformation initiatives at an insurance firm, the journey has been an interesting one. The decision to go in for an MBA at Ross was motivated by my aspiration to combine my passion for technology and healthcare, and to get exposure to a diverse range of perspectives from a student body and faculty that is incredibly diverse, inclusive, and supportive. Institutes like the Sanger Leadership Center, with platforms like LDRx and Story Lab, were very enticing for me. As I have progressed in my career, the motivation to hone my leadership skills has been increasing. Through these amazing centers and a vibrant student body, I have found that my faith in the institution was well-founded and it has been a journey of amazing personal and professional growth. Identifying which areas to work upon, having a psychologically safe space to discuss and experiment, and getting feedback through various modes has been a very constructive experience for me.

Devlin McConnell

MBA 2022 | Philadelphia, PA

What brought you to Michigan Ross? What was your unique journey like?

When I was 24 years old, I landed the dream job: professional scout for the Atlanta Braves. I was responsible for predicting the future. By evaluating Major and Minor League Baseball players, I recommended ideal resource allocation and organizational strategy for the club, contributing towards a 45% increase in winning percentage during my tenure and 3 straight division championships. By the time I turned 28, I helped facilitate several major trades, made recommendations on multi-million-dollar free agent signings, and crafted in-game strategies for postseason games. It was at that point, I wanted to take the next step in my career to pursue more leadership opportunities within the game. While outlining my next steps, I learned that high-quality leadership is a skill one must constantly flex and hone. I felt pursuing an MBA with that specific skill in mind could fill a large niche within Major League Baseball and differentiate myself from my peers. That’s where Michigan Ross came in. I felt Michigan Ross was a great fit for my interests and needs in a variety of ways, but primarily due to Michigan Ross’s reputation as one of the premier institutions in the entire world for leadership development and management science. Not only are the faculty and curriculum first class, but the exposure to real-world experience allows you to continuously improve and experiment with leadership styles. I was lucky enough to be selected as a LDRx facilitator, which was a yearlong leadership development course that I helped lead. I was also able to complete an intercultural leadership certificate program in the fall and am currently enrolled in the Leading Inclusive Teams workshop this spring. But beyond all the opportunities that the University provides its students, I strongly believe that there was one aspect that I have found the most impactful on my journey thus far. My classmates and peers have been indescribable resources. Getting exposure to such a diverse group of talented, accomplished, and collaborative people has offered more opportunities for growth than I could have predicted. I believe the MBA experience at Michigan Ross has exceeded what I felt I needed to take that next career step and I feel honored to be a recipient of the Sanger Scholarship.

Lauren Montgomery

MBA 2021 | Dallas, TX

You were chosen as a Sanger Scholarship recipient because you’ve participated in many of our programs. Which one has been most influential to you and why?

The Leadership Crisis Challenge was an incredible action-based learning experience that placed us in the shoes of executives in a high-pressure, immersive crisis situation. It provided the opportunity to further develop my skills in crisis leadership, stakeholder management, public speaking, managing ambiguity, and cross-functional teamwork. It was a 24 hour whirlwind of unexpected surprises, high stakes decisions, and intensity that mirrored the types of situations we’ll likely encounter in the future as business leaders. Having the opportunity to present our strategic plan in the Big House was an unforgettable experience as well!

Vaishnavi Sitarama

MBA 2022 | San Ramon, CA

What brought you to Michigan Ross? What was your unique journey like?

Michigan Ross is my latest step in a winding journey that started in biomedical research and is now heading toward healthcare consulting. I started as a researcher studying potential drugs against breast cancer and found that although I loved what I was doing, I wanted to manage teams of researchers rather than be one myself. From there I moved into a position designing artificial DNA where I was able to simultaneously utilize my scientific knowledge as well as gain a better understanding of the business side of companies. At Ross now, I’m focusing on learning how businesses function and how to be an effective leader, particularly within the life sciences and healthcare worlds where I hope to return after graduation. My unique journey continues, bolstered by the skills and connections I’ve formed at Ross.

Jackie Whittaker

MBA 2022 | Acton, MA

What sort of leader would your team say that you are?

My team would say I am a democratic leader. I believe that there is always a way to build consensus on a team – building a safe space where team members trust each other and can engage in productive conflict is a great way to celebrate the diversity of ideas on a team and help facilitate a consensus-driven decision-making process. While I’ve lead teams that have needed to make tough decisions in the past, I always found that keeping a democratic process and prioritizing consensus does not mean that everyone walks away happy, but everyone walks away with trusting that the group has made the right decision and understanding why that decision was made. (My team would also say I am a goofy leader who loves a good pun, but that’s another story…)

Justin Woods

MBA 2021 | Colorado Springs, CO

What sort of leader would your team say that you are?

If you were to poll people I’ve led, I think some of the attributes that would rise to the top in describing me would be passionate, compassionate, and bold. I lead teams with a passion for creating safe and inclusive spaces where people feel they can bring their whole, authentic selves. I seek to be humble and compassionate in understanding the unique lived experiences and interests of my teammates. Lastly, I’m bold in exercising my core values of justice and human connection as I often have been driven by challenging social injustice and advancing the causes of the marginalized and under-resourced.

Barbara Zappala

MBA 2021 | Miami, FL

In a few sentences, describe why you’ve dedicated your time here at U-M to becoming a better leader.

Learning in the classroom, especially from my classmates, has been immensely valuable during my MBA program because of the diverse experiences and backgrounds we come from. But my true focus during the past two years has been to take advantage of the leadership programs while also connecting on a deeper level with my classmates. The leadership programs are a unique opportunity I don’t think I will have again in the near future or at least they won’t be as accessible as they are now. During the past two years, I’ve become more self-aware of my leadership style, strengths, and areas of growth. The programs I’ve participated in have been very intentional in improving one of these areas such as public speaking, crisis management, and leading with empathy. And on top of that, they have allowed me to strengthen my network with Ross students and expand it to students across the university.

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