Jake Melara (Bus’22)
Financial Analyst Intern, DaVita
University of Colorado Student Government has been a major fixture in Jake Melara’s time as a business student, including roles as the senator for Leeds and chair of the finance committee.
So his answer to a question about the achievement he’s most proud of might surprise you.
“I don’t have one, yet,” he said.
It’s not a question of what student government has accomplished at CU, but rather, what got Melara interested in the first place—the chance to amplify his peers’ voices in shaping the future.
“When I talk to other students, I get so much energy from their ideas and enthusiasm,” he said. “Listening to ideas about how we can make the school a better place gives me such energy.”
It’s the same perspective that helped him gravitate toward DaVita Kidney Care. He attended the company’s Redwoods Leadership Development Program as a sophomore and just completed an internship as a financial analyst this summer.
“I’ve always seen business as a way to enhance society and push us forward,” he said.“What really spoke to me about DaVita was the emphasis on saving lives, doing work that matters and having a net positive impact.”
It didn’t hurt that he had a great relationship with his manager, who challenged him from an analytical standpoint while encouraging Melara to be a better team player and communicator.
“I knew I might not have the strongest analytical skill set, but I can always bring an attitude that people want to work with,” he said. “We take part in many team projects at Leeds, and I really saw how important teamwork is once you’re out in the real world.”
Student government isn’t Melara’s only passion on campus. He’s treasurer of the Alpha Phi Omega service fraternity and has volunteered with Camp Kesem, which supports children whose parents have been diagnosed with cancer. He’s also an avid outdoorsman who’s into skiing and hiking, and hopes to one day climb Mount Kilimanjaro.
His professional interests, meanwhile, are closer to healthcare, which is something of a family trait—his mom is a nurse, while his sister is going into social work.
“While I like doing analysis and I love finding trends, I love working with people,” he said. “I think in the future, I might like to work on more of a clinic level, doing field finance or even being able to run a few clinics.”
Caitlin Thompson (Bus'21)
Financial Advisor, Primerica
When she decided she wanted a change of pace from the hectic hustle of the East Coast, Caitlin Thompson’s three older half-sisters steered her from California to Colorado.
“They all live in the Denver area, and they were after my dad to have me come out and look at CU Boulder,” Thompson said.
To say it was a good adjustment is an understatement: Thompson fell in love with the campus, accepted a job as a financial advisor with Primerica after graduating and plans to enroll in the finance master’s program next fall.
“I just moved to San Diego, but I’m already looking forward to being back at Leeds, learning from great professors and expanding on what I’ve learned already,” she said. “In finance, to move forward in the field, you really do need a master’s, so I’m excited to gain those skills and be more qualified for future occupations.”
Thompson’s strong people skills and quantitative insights are a good fit for finance, but it wasn’t always her passion. She credits her father with guiding her in that direction, along with Leeds for challenging her to explore business in greater depth.
“Classes at Leeds offer a lot of real-life experience, so you get to apply different aspects of business and really explore what areas you thrive in,” she said.
It’s that, alongside opportunities to be close to skiing and camping again, that has Thompson excited to return, though she’s enjoying getting some real-world experience with nationwide financial services company Primerica, where she’s able to apply the quantitative insights she learned at Leeds while honing her relationship development skills. Her goal is to work in investor relations after she completes her master’s.
“I think it’s the perfect fit for me,” she said. “You get to work in the investment side, which I like, but you also have to have strong people skills and be able to connect with clients.”
Associate dean and professor
On the one hand, Laura Kornish is the daughter of a nuclear physicist and a lifelong university administrator, so it isn’t a surprise that she chaired the marketing department at Leeds before becoming associate dean of undergraduate affairs this summer.
On the other hand, she felt burned out on academia after working so hard to complete her undergraduate degree in applied math from Harvard University. “I was never going to set foot on a university campus ever again,” she recalled.
Fortunately for Leeds, academia won out—and it might just be because as an undergrad, she wasn’t exposed to the business contexts of what she was learning.
“Students want an education that's applied, and the things that a business education applies to are growing all the time,” Kornish said. “And so, the Kool-Aid that I was served—you can be anything you want to be with a liberal arts degree—is actually true for a business degree.”
Kornish’s path to academia wound through a stint in industry, at a boutique tech shop in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and grad school at Stanford before teaching at Duke and, eventually, Leeds. In her new role, she said, her mission is to encourage students to become explorers who have the energy, momentum and confidence to try new ideas, courses, clubs and so on to find out what drives them—as opposed to sticking with safe things they already know.
“Our students are high achievers who are used to being successful, and they hear us talk about learning from failure—but I don’t think many students genuinely accept that,” she said. “I think we could do a better job of providing them opportunities to try things that might not work out.”
Family is important to Kornish—she’s quick to mention her parents in talking about her career arc—but it’s her sons who are influencing her role at Leeds. Her youngest, Nathan, is a recent college graduate who interviewed for multiple positions as a student.
“A question he got asked a lot was where he saw himself in five years,” Kornish said. “And his answer was, ‘The job I’m going to have in five years doesn’t exist yet.’ That’s the mindset I want for our students—to seriously explore how what’s out there matches their talents, and to understand that the employment landscape will always be changing. If they have that mindset, that will position them to adapt to whatever the future brings.”
Yashi Uppalapati (Bus’23)
Growing up, Yashi Uppalapati’s fashion choices were all handed down by her mother.
“When we’re looking at childhood pictures, you can tell when I picked out my own outfit, because I’m actually smiling in those,” she recalled, laughing.
From beginnings like that, it’s hard to imagine Uppalapati becoming a fashion model. But she’s the reigning Miss Colorado Teen USA, has walked at Denver Fashion Week and is now looking at a career in the industry—a turn she credits to her parents, who encouraged her to try new things and not be afraid to explore.
The question now is what her career might look like—and having two parents who are entrepreneurs, along with what she’s learning about marketing and business analytics at Leeds, have already given her perspective.
“I love being a model, but I am intrigued by the behind-the-scenes perspectives of the fashion industry,” she said. “After taking some marketing classes, now when I see an ad on a TV, I wonder about what went into putting that out there—what message they wanted and how it might be interpreted.”
Her Leeds courses have given her some food for thought as she stakes out a career in an industry with a troubling record on human rights. One of those courses was her World of Business class, where she now works as a teaching assistant; part of the course involves watching videos that show how garment workers are treated abroad.
“It was hard to watch those videos the first time,” she said. “I wasn’t sure what I took away from that. But seeing them again, as a TA, I realized that as a result of the course, I was looking for more sustainable choices in fashion.”
She’s working as a sales associate at Prana, she said, “because of what they stand for and how they pay workers fairly. My goal right now is to work in fashion, but sustainability is important to me, and that started at Leeds.”
And for those who think modeling is nothing but having great smile and looking good in designer clothes, Uppalapati will tell you she’s learned more about time management as a model, a TA, a tutor for the EXCEL Scholars Program and a full-time student, in addition to working at Prana and the Leeds welcome desk.
“I’ve learned a lot about pushing my limits, and I owe a lot of that to what I’ve learned modeling,” she said. “But it feels good to have a better focus on what I want now, because I don’t want to put myself through that every day.”
Nicholas Cervasio (Bus’22)
Nicholas Cervasio felt he was at a crossroads after completing his freshman year at New York University.
“I wasn’t in a good position to have a good student mindset,” the Long Island, N.Y., native said. “I’ve always had high expectations for myself, so if I wasn’t in school, then I wanted to do something that made a difference to me.”
That led Cervasio to the U.S. Marine Corps, where he eventually rose to sergeant as a reconnaissance marine—those first boots on the ground, who learn the environment and provide the details battlefield commanders need to make combat decisions.
“Doing our job well provides more safety and knowledge to the troops coming in later,” he said.
That call to share his knowledge in helping others is at the core of his career goals, and it’s a major reason he chose Leeds.
“Leeds has a great reputation for teaching the full picture of business, and how through it, you can accomplish great things and make it a force for good,” Cervasio said.
Cervasio is exploring a career in fintech and entrepreneurship, especially something that would help him make finance more accessible to the masses.
“Now that I’m studying business, I can see there’s so much I didn’t know,” he said. “If I can find some way to make finance and investing more accessible to people who don’t have a business background, that will be a huge accomplishment for me.”
Like most Marines, Cervasio is incredibly dedicated to the task at hand—he’s on pace to graduate early, in December 2022—and he’s supported not only by the Student Veterans Association, but by a professional mentor who’s offered valuable insights on fintech from his own career.
“The faculty who head up the mentorship program do an incredible job of matching you with someone relevant to your future goals,” he said.
Another reason Cervasio chose Leeds is the location—specifically, a location he chose, without the Marines dictating where he’d live. After recon training in California and moving to Camp Lejeune, in Jacksonville, NC, then deployment to U.S. Central Command, “I was looking for a place with skiing and snowboarding, along with a highly ranked business school. Leeds was my dream school for figuring out the next chapter of my life. I love being here; I’ve never had a class or professor I didn’t enjoy at Leeds.”
Arianna Greenspan (Bus’23)
Arianna Greenspan is going to have a hard time settling on a career when she graduates from Leeds, because she has a very varied set of interests—education, fundraising, foreign language and culture, service, and the outdoors.
“For the time being, I’m enjoying the chance to explore new opportunities, to see what I like best,” Greenspan said.
She was able to put most of her interests to work during the pandemic as the lead on Operation: Step it Up, a class project that challenged fifth-graders at nearby University Hill Elementary School to virtually walk across Colorado.
“The whole idea was to get kids excited about going outside when recesses and sports were canceled,” she said. It evolved to a math and nutrition effort, as students converted steps into miles and learned about healthier eating choices.
Greenspan and her teammates—Lindsay Beil, Jack Bilello, Patrick Dolan and John Douthit—are all part of the Leeds Scholars Program for exceptional students. That program is what drew Greenspan to Leeds in the first place: She attended charter schools growing up in Colorado, so was a little intimidated by CU’s size.
But in her interview with the Leeds Scholars Program, “I felt right at home,” she said. “I love the smaller class sizes, but also the different opportunities you get at a big school.”
Greenspan’s on-campus activities reflect her broad interests: She’s a peer mentor, a member of Women in Business and Kappa Alpha Theta, and is interning with Leeds’ Office of Advancement.
Another keen interest for Greenspan is travel. She’s pursuing a Spanish minor alongside a double major in information management and marketing, and hopes to study abroad before graduation. She’s already done one international class consulting project, where her comfort connecting with the client virtually made for a smooth experience.
“It was valuable not only to be able to use the tools Leeds has provided us, but also to see how our professors used them in class,” she said, mentioning Prof. Kevin Schaub’s statistics and organizational behavior classes, which drew on his great energy and willingness to incorporate things like PlayPosit into class discussions.
Wherever her career takes her, Greenspan said she’s grateful she chose to study at Leeds: “In addition to all I’ve learned, I love hiking, so Boulder as a place—not just as a school—has given me great opportunities.”
From left are Derek Cain Bus’22, Delaney Cain Bus’24, Jennifer Cain Comm’95, Michael Cain Bus’93 and Matthew Cain.
Michael Cain (Bus’93)
President, Cain Travel
As the president of a business travel agency, Michael Cain considers himself lucky to have ridden out the worst of the global COVID-19 lockdowns.
But he also believes you create your own luck, and when a longtime client decided to start a nursing placement company—to deploy nurses to states hit hard by the pandemic—Cain’s agency was able to help manage transportation and quickly get healthcare workers where they were needed.
“Our ability to pivot was great, but really, the small role we played in helping to work toward a solution for COVID is a huge source of pride for me and our whole staff,” Cain said.
The president of Boulder-based Cain Travel said surrounding himself with University of Colorado Boulder alumni played a key role, also: His CFO, “who squirreled away enough cash to help us manage through the worst,” is a Leeds graduate, as is one of his top salesmen, who he first hired as an intern. He’s served as a mentor to several Leeds students, and two of this three children are currently studying business at CU.
“Leeds is a stepping stone to a fantastic career,” Cain said. "As a mentor, I enjoy being able to tell students that I have so many friends and contacts who have gone on to incredible success as a result of a well-rounded Leeds education.”
For Cain, who in 2004 became president of the company his parents started, the well-rounded education he received at Leeds helped him turn what he expected would be a short stay with the family business into a career. A collaborative class project that challenged him to use data gave him a head start on tech-driven changes that would soon transform the travel industry. The growth of the business gave him reasons to stay on, in marketing, sales and technology roles.
While many Leeds grads go on to careers in consulting, finance and entrepreneurship, Cain enjoys demonstrating how his company faces the same kinds of challenges as the Fortune 100, to help them think about the sorts of issues they will confront at work. That also goes for the two business Buffs he’s raised alongside his wife, Jennifer, herself an alumna from the Class of 1995.
“We’ve entrusted our children to Leeds, and they’re going to come out not just with a fantastic education, but as great people who will be well prepared for tomorrow’s workplace,” Cain said.
Carl Koelbel (MBA’10)
Chief Operating Officer, Koelbel & Co.
Carl Koelbel knew he wanted to get a graduate degree in real estate. And his family’s name adorns the building that the Leeds School of Business calls home.
But it wasn’t certain he’d get his MBA from Leeds until his grandmother put her foot down.
“I also got into the Wisconsin School of Business, which has a pretty well-known real estate program, but Mimi made it very clear that I needed to go to CU,” Koelbel said. “That was the end of the discussion right there.”
The University of Colorado is a family affair for the Koelbels—Carl’s father and grandparents attended—but so is Koelbel & Co., the Denver-based real estate developer of which Carl is chief operating officer.
The part of his job Koelbel most enjoys is taking an idea and turning it into a physical property. The company builds commercial and residential properties, including affordable housing, and Koelbel is proud that the company is committed to its idea of being part of a community, instead of just a collection of buildings. In fact, he keeps photos of his completed properties on a wall in his office.
“The fun part, for me, is designing a new deal and the front end of putting it together, and then the most fulfilling part is when it's opening up, we get to have the ribbon cutting and you see this exciting new place for people to live or work,” he said.
Speaking of his office, Koelbel & Co. recently welcomed its fourth Leeds MBA to the team; having served on the curriculum committee for the program, Carl Koelbel is confident that graduates have what it takes to make an impact right away.
“Serving on the committee gave me a chance to say, this is the skillset I would like you to help instill in your students, so when they graduate, I have to spend less time training them,” he said. “We’ve gone back to the well frequently with Leeds grads and have not been disappointed.”
A golfer and skier, in addition to be a husband and a father to three girls, Koelbel also counts pottery among his hobbies, though conceded he hasn’t had much time for it of late—instead of creating at the potter’s wheel, he’s creating in the community where he grew up.
“The ability to positively impact the community that I grew up in through responsible development is unique, exciting and fulfilling,” he said.
Madison Halstead Bus’23
When she reached out to Vestaboard as part of a class project, Madison Halstead was only interested in seeing if she could get a discount on a bulk order.
But in addition to a quote, she got an internship.
Vestaboard makes eye-catching messaging display systems for home and business use, and Halstead thought her client, Illegal Pete’s, could use them to improve communication and decision-making across the restaurant’s 12 locations. When connected with a manager over Zoom, her knowledge of the business and her enthusiasm for the product led to an internship offer on the spot.
“It’s amazing what doors open when you just reach out to people,” Halstead said.
A California native, Halstead transferred to the University of Colorado Boulder during the pandemic. “I heard Leeds was very challenging, and coming to college, I wanted to be challenged, I wanted to learn, I wanted to leave and feel prepared for the world,” she said. “Leeds has been perfect for that.”
The project for Illegal Pete’s was a case competition for her business communications class. More than 100 teams participated; thanks for her outreach to Vestaboard, Halstead was able to include a video from the company in her team’s presentation, helping secure the win and a cash prize.
What she enjoyed most about the class was the ability to apply her lessons to a real project, something she values about her classes in business, information management and data analytics.
“I use the methods I’ve learned in my classes every day,” Halstead said. “Things I learned in my communications class have helped me on interviews, and I use lessons from my data analytics class on my internship.”
The pandemic has kept her away from the campus so far, but Halstead is eager to start taking classes and making face-to-face connections in the fall; a beekeeping hobbyist, she also plans to join the CU Bee Club, a group for aspiring apiarists. She expects her experience with Vestaboard to play a role in whatever comes next.
“I’m not sure what I want to do in the long term, but I feel confident in my future, and that has a lot to do with Leeds and what I’ve learned here,” Halstead said. “There’s so much you get here, from classes and the connections you make, that it’s hard not to be successful.”
Capt. Zach Baumann MBA’21
Co-founder, Air Force Gaming
Zach Baumann has been a gamer since he was a kid bouncing around the country with his four siblings during his father’s military career.
Baumann is now an Air Force captain—a personnel officer and expert in human resources and business administration—so it’s hard to get under his skin. But one way to do it is to suggest that gamers are a collection of introverts who shun the outside.
“I wouldn’t trade all the time I’ve spent gaming for anything,” Baumann said. “The friends I made, the things we did together, it’s all been so valuable to me.”
That value isn’t just unlocking achievements in Call of Duty—Baumann is a co-founder of Air Force Gaming, a digital platform that connects airmen with fellow players in the service.
A lot of the insights he’s brought to the table come from the Leeds MBA he completed while on active duty. Many of his responsibilities focused on marketing strategy, “and the tools I was using were so fresh, they still had tags on them,” he said. “I was able to get insights on all the challenges we faced—from creating a social media presence, to building pitch decks, to refining our strategy—from my MBA classes.”
In fact, the platform has become so successful that last fall, the military effectively acquired it, bringing in a startup called Rally Cry to help take the program global.
“The Leeds MBA gave me the confidence and strategic mindset to push forward,” Baumann said.
In the short term, alongside running Air Force Gaming with co-founders Oliver Parsons and Mike Sullivan, Baumann is headed to the Air Force Personnel Center at Randolph Air Force Base, in Texas. He’ll be a talent management analyst, using analytics to assess the personnel programs the Air Force uses in the selection and development of all career fields. “I’m really excited to join the team, and I feel well equipped to do so thanks to my Leeds education,” he said.
Longer term, Baumann isn’t sure whether he’ll stay with the Air Force or transition to a civilian career. Either way, he expects the combination of military experience and his MBA to open new doors.
“It would be cool to hit one more rank, to major—the same as my dad when he retired,” Baumann said. “He also had an MBA. When I talked to him at graduation, I said, ‘Hey pops—I’m coming for you.’”
Melissa (Bus’77) and Gary (MBA’74 Ph.D. Bus’77) Porter
For something that seems so meant to be, fate sure took its time with Melissa Komisar and Gary Porter.
They were both studying business at the University of Colorado Boulder in the mid-1970s—Gary was working on an MBA, then a Ph.D.; Melissa her bachelor’s degree—but it wasn’t until the year before they graduated that they first met in the Koelbel Building.
They’ve been together ever since.
Today, the Porters have retired to Wisconsin, but distance hasn’t dimmed their pride in being Buffs. On a Zoom call to discuss the endowed scholarship they created, both wore CU gear and were as happy to talk about football games they attended as the life lessons from the classroom.
“CU was a springboard for Melissa—it’s how she got into sales at IBM, where she spent her entire career,” Gary Porter said. “And were it not for my master’s and Ph.D. at Colorado, and the encouragement from my mentors, my own career would have taken a very different turn.”
In fact, his retirement career has been an interesting turn—as a professor at Loyola Chicago and elsewhere, Gary Porter wrote influential accounting textbooks; today he writes compelling fiction, including “Duffy: The Tale of a Terrier” about the rescue dog the Porters adopted and a “memoir” of Griff, Drake University’s bulldog mascot. Melissa Porter, meanwhile, puts her 32-year career in marketing for IBM to work in supporting these stories through social media and other channels.
“It’s funny, my background was more in sales and marketing, but I worked at a high-tech company, so wound up doing technology business development, managing global alliances with software vendors, that kind of thing,” Melissa Porter said. “I had so many chances to use my skills and shift—we were pivoting before it was fashionable!”
The endowed scholarship is part of their estate planning—they are supporting something similar at Drake, where Gary Porter did his undergrad and still teaches in the MBA and continuing education programs—and the Porters also contributed to the Rustandy Building connecting the engineering and business hubs on the Boulder campus.
“We realized we actually have three degrees from Colorado, versus the one from Drake, so we decided to become more involved,” Melissa Porter said. “We think CU does an incredible job preparing students for the future, especially with the focus on entrepreneurship.”
An important consideration for their scholarship was it be awarded to out-of-state applicants, as both Porters came to Colorado from elsewhere. And supporting the Rustandy Building, which opens this fall, was about helping future generations to pivot professionally as technology becomes a greater force in the business world.
“Even though everybody now has to be into technology, we feel the same about business—no matter what your career choices, you have to have a basic business background,” Melissa Porter said.
Doug Elenowitz (MBA’02)
Co-founder, Trailbreak Partners
While coming up with a name for his latest real estate venture, Doug Elenowitz drew inspiration from his love of the Colorado outdoors.
Elenowitz and Jordan Scharg, his co-founder and principal, share a love of camping, skiing, mountain bike riding and hiking, which led them to the name Trailbreak Partners.
“If you’re breaking trail, you're leading the pack,” Elenowitz said. “You need to be willing to take a little bit of risk, but in a disciplined way. Those were the characteristics that resonated with what we wanted to do as investors. We want be thoughtful and prepared and intentional as we manage risk.”
Denver-based Trailbreak Partners is a niche private equity investment firm focused on the development and acquisition of infill real estate, as well as opportunistic investments in middle market operating companies. It draws upon expertise in urban real estate to develop and invest in desirable commercial properties.
Beyond investor relations and corporate culture, which are both important to him, Elenowitz said he’s interested in the organization’s legacy and impact. “As somebody who’s been here now 22 years, I want the projects we take on to have meaningful impacts in the communities in which we’re doing work,” he said.
When he relocated to Colorado from Atlanta, one of the first things Elenowitz did was to enroll in the Leeds MBA—partly because he was trying to break into real estate investment and development with a science background, and partly to build a network in his new home. In fact, he still hits the trails with professionals he met in his cohort.
“My MBA was the foundation for my feeling grounded and connected to Colorado, both professionally and personally,” he said. “To this day, I still have really strong relationships with people in organizations that I met through CU.”
Trailbreak Partners isn’t Elenowitz’s first foray into business ownership—he jumped in shortly after completing his MBA. Leeds, he said, encouraged him to explore entrepreneurship, a passion he discovered as a boy.
“When I was at CU, there were two areas where I spent my time—entrepreneurship, where I was active in the venture capital investment competition, and real estate,” he said. “It’s interesting that 20 years later, my career has gone full circle, and now I get the luxury of making real estate investment development decisions and investing in operating companies while co-owning a business.”
Emily Abed (Mktg’21)
Account Development Representative, Arrow Electronics
Ask most recent college graduates what their long-term goals are, and you’ll hear about career advancement, professional development, maybe finding ways to give back through their education.
You’ll get the same from Emily Abed, but first, she’ll tell you about her lifelong aspiration to be on “CNN Heroes.”
“I’ve always had a passion for sustainability and giving back,” said Abed, who recently started at Centennial-based Arrow Electronics. “It’s what made me so excited about CESR—learning that business can actually be sustainable, because there are people who want to do good through business.”
CESR—the Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility at Leeds—is where Abed found a home after transferring from the University of Colorado’s Colorado Springs campus. A soccer player who captained the club team, she originally thought about a career in sports management, but coming to Leeds awakened her passions for marketing and entrepreneurship, which were further developed at internships with startups Sacred Cycle and The Jackfruit Company.
“At Sacred Cycle, I was really inspired to create my own nonprofit, and Leeds helped me work out a business plan,” Abed said of Community, a platform for connecting nonprofits with helpers that she expects could one day compete with VolunteerMatch.
Right now, she’s busy becoming part of the team at Arrow, but she hopes to push forward with Community—she’s received some seed funding and is getting mentorship from Prof. Brad Werner to flesh out the idea. For the moment, she’s appreciating the opportunity to learn at a bigger company.
“Arrow is giving me the chance to learn new things every single day,” she said. “I went from sports to consumer goods to technology: Four years ago, I didn’t think about a career in the technology industry. But the more I explored and learned during my internships, the more I realized it’s where I want to be.”
She’s doing so while continuing to stay active in nonprofits—including a seat on the board of Sock It To ‘Em, which collects and donates socks to the homeless—and chasing her ultimate goal of being a CNN Hero.
“I think I have the potential and I know I have the motivation,” Abed said, laughing. “It’s just a matter of continuing what I’m doing and staying true to my passion for giving back.”
Lane Levine (MechEngr’21)
Lane Levine sees the world differently than a typical engineer.
He’s good at identifying problems and possible solutions, but he also has a strong sense of what makes an idea practical—a combination he attributes to the business minor he earned at Leeds.
“The people in business who I collaborate with have wild ideas, which is great—but many of those ideas don't make sense, engineering-wise,” he said. “On the other hand, engineers often get to the point where they have a full product, but never stopped to consider whether there’s market demand. That's what’s great about the business minor—that I can combine those two things and actually make something feasible.”
Something feasible, in this case, is ReachRak, an accessible roof rack designed to improve storage in compact vehicles. Levine, who earned his business minor to go along with a bachelor’s in mechanical engineering, earned top honors in a capstone pitch competition judged by community leaders and entrepreneurs.
An avid skier who also played ice hockey at CU, Levine said ReachRak was born from personal frustration.
“I would get to the mountain, get on my boots and everything, and then forget to pull down my skis from the top of the car,” he said. “And then it’s hard to get your skis down without slipping.”
The solution—a telescoping rack that folds down to the side of the car, allowing chest-height access to rooftop storage. He’s now doing some provisional patenting on the idea with the hope of moving forward with the idea as a side hustle as he pursues his dream of working in the automobile industry.
Levine pursued the business minor for its emphasis on entrepreneurship, a key point of distinction for the university and Boulder. Choosing the University of Colorado, he said, came down to “the chance to be in a positive environment, to do things that can benefit the world—that’s what brought me to CU as well as Leeds.”
It’s a perspective he’s eager to bring to the real world.
“No matter your major, having a business minor is perfect, because it prepares you for any job,” said Levine, whose own career search has begun in earnest now that the capstone competition has concluded. “Having this broad knowledge of how the business world works will be very beneficial to me, both as an engineer and, hopefully, an entrepreneur.”
Victor Bjorlow (Fin, Mktg’20, MFin’21 )
Though he’s completed two degrees at Leeds already, Victor Bjorlow isn’t done with his education.
But he’s not returning to a University of Colorado classroom. Instead, he’s off to Q School.
Aspiring pro golfers must complete the grueling European Tour Qualifying School in order to join the continental equivalent of the PGA Tour. It’s an unusual career route for someone with two finance degrees, but Bjorlow—a five-year star on the golf team—said he expects his education will be an asset whether or not he qualifies for a major tour.
“Golf is important to me, but I have this passion for finance, as well,” said Bjorlow, who focused on investment in his graduate studies. “After three or four years, I want to reflect on how the golf is going and, if it’s time for a change, be able to move into finance.”
Bjorlow was able to explore his passion for finance in further depth because of the pandemic. As a result of the golf season shutting down last spring, the NCAA awarded an extra year of eligibility to athletes; the native of Hellerup, Denmark, eventually decided to take advantage of the extra year to get his master’s, but nearly wound up returning to his home in Spain instead.
“It was just the shock of one day you’re playing, and the next, the season’s canceled,” Bjorlow said. “And I felt like I had more to learn, especially in terms of how to apply everything I’d been taught. Being able to take the master’s was everything I’d hoped for.”
It’s perhaps a surprising turnaround for Bjorlow, whose father is in finance but who arrived in Boulder five years ago without a defined academic direction. He enrolled in the Pre-Business Program, working diligently to gain admission into Leeds and becoming a strong student who was named to the Pac-12 Academic Honor Roll as a senior—all while continuing to improve on the golf course.
It’s a great start, but Bjorlow knows there’s more to do to achieve his PGA Tour dream.
“There was so much uncertainty last year—I’m just grateful that I made the right decision to stay at CU, to be able to focus on golf and school,” he said. “Whatever happens next, my lessons from the golf course and classroom will both be important going forward.”
Shannon Cox Baker (MBA’07)
Founder and Managing Partner, Rivet Development Partners
Most MBAs can vividly recall where they were when they got their acceptance offer.
Shannon Cox Baker is no different. After doing her phone interview from an internet café in Chile, Cox Baker headed into the mountains with her husband. Upon returning to civilization a week or so later, she got the news that she was in.
That story may be a little different from a typical Leeds MBA, but her motivation for enrolling was not.
“I wanted to make a difference in the world, and it occurred to me that I could make the biggest difference by working in a mission-driven organization through the private sector,” she said.
Leeds, she said, immediately felt like home, and while she enrolled in the MBA sight unseen, she’s been in Boulder ever since.
“It was a very forward-looking program,” Cox Baker said. “My MBA was the first time I realized I was not the only one who was interested sustainability—I was surrounded by a cohort that wanted to make an impact in the environment, in social equity or a related area.”
Today, Cox Baker is the founder and managing partner of Rivet Development Partners, a boutique developer with a focus on social equity. Her goals are to expand beyond affordable housing to include mixed-use development opportunities for small-scale commercial and retail tenants.
Her success in merging real estate innovation and entrepreneurship was helped by her studies at Leeds, which included a lot of time with the CU Real Estate Center and the Deming Center for Entrepreneurship. But her current work also was shaped by what she considers the most fulfilling part of her career—building housing for the homeless while at Boulder Housing Partners, the housing authority for the city’s government, just after completing her MBA.
“I got to work on one of the most contentious development projects in Boulder’s history, because it was the first development for the homeless in Boulder,” she said. “It was intimidating and stressful, but exciting, and it left me wanting to do more of this. My goal for Rivet is to become the go-to company that creates physical spaces for those who are underrepresented.”
Megan Griffith (Acct, Fin’23)
Founder, Luxury Redesigned
You might not expect an aspiring accountant to have a flair for fashion, but Megan Griffith can count stitches as well as beans.
Griffith got her accounting sense from her parents, who both studied the discipline, but her fashion sense comes from her grandmother, who had a beautiful collection of handbags. Scrolling through her social media feed on her phone one day last summer, she saw a denim jacket that had bits of designer bags sewn into it.
The price was out of her reach. The concept was not.
“The more I looked into it and researched the idea, the more I saw an opportunity not only to repurpose designer bags, but to take unusable ones and give them a second life as part of a unique design,” Griffith said. “So the bags I buy have broken zippers or handles, but they become part of a jacket or keychain that becomes a designer item at a lower price point.”
Griffith, a California native, wanted to study in Colorado to be close to family — she’s the eldest of four siblings — while exploring the area her father grew up in. She credits the unique Leeds ecosystem with helping her advance Luxury Redesigned, even as she serves as a peer mentor, holds a leadership role in Pi Beta Phi and is part of the selective Leeds Scholars Program.
“Leeds gives you all the resources you need to have the confidence to take the first step into something you want to do, and not be afraid to fail,” she said.
And while she expects her future to focus on accounting, Griffith is happy she’s at least found a fun side hustle.
“Finding such a love for entrepreneurship has been a big surprise,” she said. “The more I learn, the more it seems like a great opportunity for me to grow. Whether that’s with Luxury Redesigned or something else, it’s definitely a possible route for my future.”
Dean Sharon Matusik
She’s now in her fifth year as dean of Leeds, so Prof. Sharon Matusik has seen plenty of talented classes graduate into a world that craves the entrepreneurial spirit and innovative insights business students bring to the table.
And she has the same high expectations for this year’s graduates.
The Class of 2021 faces unique challenges as it goes out into the world, but Dean Matusik is confident that Leeds graduates have the skills—and determination—to succeed. She said students should remember that uncertainty is nothing new, and that the path forward after graduation is unclear even in the best of times.
“Remember to look for and create opportunities around you,” she said. “You are well-equipped to think entrepreneurially and to discover, create and act when an opportunity presents itself. Saying ‘yes’ these opportunities may also take you to places you may not have otherwise imagined.”
In fact, imagination and creativity—both hallmarks of entrepreneurial thinking, a major differentiator of the Leeds experience—are two qualities Dean Matusik has seen a lot of from the Class of 2021.
“I have been privileged to see countless examples where you have shown creative problem-solving, humility, empathy, community mindedness and grit during the pandemic,” she said. “It makes me incredibly optimistic for our future and for your personal success.”
When they look back on their last year at Leeds, graduates will probably remember the many unique challenges they faced, but, “while I certainly hope you draw strength from all that you have overcome, I hope you also remember all of your engagement with our community—from your peers to the many mentors, faculty, staff and business leaders who care deeply about you and your future,” she said.
As they go out into the world in such unusual times, Dean Matusik said she wants graduates to reflect on who they want to be and how their unique strengths can help them get there—professionally, but also personally.
“Know, too, when you are not able to be strong and need to ask for help,” she said. “Let that inform your empathy for others when they face difficulties in their lives.”
Ananya Tyagi (Fin’21)
When Ananya Tyagi accepted her admission offer to Leeds, she didn’t know exactly what she wanted out of her career, but hoped to find new perspectives to guide her search.
In doing so, she helped other students get new perspectives, also.
Tyagi said her service as vice chair on the school’s Distinguished Speakers Board, which brings public figures to campus to share thoughts with the Leeds community, was one of her most valuable experiences as a student.
“It was a chance to think about the current social climate, what's happening in the world and how students at CU feel about it,” she said. “It was a pretty diverse board, so we all had a voice for different pockets of the school.”
Among the speakers the group invited during her tenure were astronaut Scott Kelly, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, and actress and producer Viola Davis, who “was just as inspirational and motivational behind the scenes as she was in her talk,” Tyagi said.
Tyagi was president of her high school’s FBLA chapter, so knew she wanted to study business in college. “I saw Leeds as a place I could get a business education and do anything with it, whether that’s work for a nonprofit, go to grad school or get into tech,” she said.
Four years later, each of those options remains on the table. She’ll be returning to professional services firm RSM as a technology consulting associate, following a virtual internship last summer; she’s earned a minor in computer science to go with her business degree. But she expects she’ll pursue graduate school in the future, and her Leeds experience has her thinking about working in the nonprofit or entrepreneurship spaces in the long term.
“In the computer science part of my education, I learned to code,” she said. “The business part of my degree is where I learned the creativity to think about how that code can solve larger problems. That’s what I’m hoping to do in my career.”
Eyob Abai (Fin, Mgmt’21)
Eyob Abai puts authenticity among the most important attributes a professional can have.
So, when asked for his proudest accomplishment from his internship with McKinsey & Co., Abai offered an authentic answer.
“On my first day, I looked at the scope of the project and thought, there’s no way I’m going to fully understand this,” Abai said. “But on my last day, I was so surprised at what I had accomplished. I’m genuinely proud that I took ownership during my internship to get the most out of the experience.”
McKinsey clearly liked what they saw, too. Abai accepted an offer from the management consulting powerhouse to return as a business analyst after graduation.
“I’m most excited to join McKinsey for the opportunity to explore,” he said. “I think I’ll be able to use a lot of the soft skills I’ve gained at Leeds—how to navigate dynamic situations, how to maintain a positive work ethic, how to have conversations with different groups of people.”
That’s not just his work in the classroom, either. Abai’s on-campus involvement is staggering: Leeds Student Government president and senior analyst with Leeds Consulting Group, plus involvement with the Multicultural Business Students Association, Alpha Kappa Psi, the Leeds Honors Program and Diverse Scholars Program.
A common theme of his involvement, as a first-generation college student, is how to bring diversity, inclusion and equity to the forefront of the conversation.
“The business world serves a wide variety of people, and so only having one subset of individuals represent those interests is not going to cut it,” Abai said. “And you can bring in different kinds of people, but you’re not going to be effective unless they actually feel included.”
Some initiatives he’s proud of from his time at Leeds include testifying before the Colorado Legislature on a bill to remove standardized test requirements in schools and organizing Leeds Student Government around five guiding principles, like career readiness and mental health, to improve the student experience.
“I didn’t know just how good Leeds was until I got here,” Abai said. “As soon as I came to CU, I appreciated being able to engage in conversations—with peers and in classes—that pushed my train of thought and diversity of thought.”
Shannon Flahive (MBA'21)
Shannon Flahive’s career was off to the races from the moment she graduated from Harvard University.
Even as her classmates struggled to find work in the aftermath of the 2008 recession, she immediately started what became a 10-year consulting career working with the Fortune 100 in Boston and New York.
At a certain point, though, the corporate treadmill felt like a conveyor belt, as she shuttled between opportunities without a strategic sense of her future.
Moving back to her home of Colorado—and enrolling in the full-time Leeds MBA program—was the inspiration she needed.
“The Leeds MBA was really a chance to provide myself with a space to think creatively about what I might want to do next, because I had a really tough time doing that while also working,” she said.
Over the course of her two-year program, Flahive took courses in new venture creation and launch, with Profs. Brad Werner and Jeff York, and completed two internships with local venture capital firms. Those experiences gave her a taste for the excitement of startup culture.
“As much as I enjoyed the projects I did with big companies, the future of the global economy is going to depend on how well we can get capital to folks with really creative and innovative ideas that can drive change on a huge scale,” she said.
Flahive’s extensive corporate experience made her a natural fit to be president of the MBA Association. Not only that, she was director of finance for the Deming Center Venture Fund, where she worked with a cross-disciplinary team of students, faculty and experts. The fund supports promising early-stage companies in the Boulder area.
“I joined the Deming Center in my first couple of months, and it solidified for me that this was the path I wanted to take,” said Flahive, who got an internship at Blackhorn Ventures through a Deming Center relationship. A second, with Service Provider Capital, started with an introduction from a professor.
Working in the local business community affirmed her belief that returning to Colorado was the right professional move.
“I love the energy of Boulder and Leeds — the program and the city attract a certain kind of professional, and I was able to develop this great network from my cohort, my professors and the community,” she said. “I’m very passionate about doing work that benefits the local ecosystem.”
Emma Spaulding (Mktg’21)
Emma Spaulding accepted her dream offer, but she doesn't know her boss’s name. Or where she'll be working. Or what she'll be doing.
It's all part of the journey when you accept a fellowship from Venture for America. Modeled on Teach for America, Venture for America offers two-year fellowships that challenge recent college grads to help drive economic mobility in underserved U.S. cities by working at startups; Spaulding is now determining where, exactly, she’ll work.
Like many of her classmates, Spaulding applied to a variety of organizations as she sought employment in a job market still bearing the scars of the pandemic. Securing the Venture for America fellowship has the feel of a distinctly Leeds story: She’ll graduate with a certificate in Social Responsibility & Ethics, “which gave me new perspectives on business and influenced where I want to end up in my career — and the type of company I want to work for,” she said. “I would not be going the Venture for America route if not for SRE and Leeds.”
In an internship with PFD Group, a consulting firm, Spaulding was part of an entrepreneurial team that worked with executives to shape their long-term company vision, showing her what it takes to run a business. “I was able to discover what I’m passionate about, and meet incredible mentors who will help me get to where I want to be,” she said.
Spaulding’s passion for service is authentic. She volunteers with Service for Sight as a sister in Delta Gamma, and when she learned about pandemic-related teaching shortages in her Telluride, CO, hometown, she became a substitute teacher.
“A lot of teachers were understandably afraid to be in the classroom, but I already had antibodies to COVID-19, so I saw substituting as a way to make a difference during winter break,” Spaulding said. “It was unlike anything I’ve done before.”
That comfort jumping into new experiences will be key as she prepares for the next stage of her life, which may one day involve a startup of her own.
“I’m really excited to see where I end up fitting into the mission for Venture for America,” Spaulding said. “I want to apply the skills I’ve learned at Leeds in a way that impacts not just the bottom line, but the community the business operates in and the people they serve.”