Alex Birkner (Psych’23)
Alex Birkner is on a mission to revolutionize the beverage industry.
In addition to being a full-time student, Birkner is an NCAA varsity alpine skier for CU and founder of a yerba mate company with a unique twist on sponsorship.
“When I started the company, I wasn’t in the business school yet, but my teammates would tell me about what they were learning, and I thought it would be useful to learn enough accounting and finance to be able to help and support those areas of a company,” he said.
That led him to the business minor at Leeds that, alongside his psychology major, has helped him develop an empathetic leadership style.
“Learning how to keep everyone around you involved and happy is probably what’s helped me most,” he said, mentioning the venture launch class as a favorite “that really shows how valuable the business minor is.”
His company, Birk, sells a traditional yerba mate that Birkner originally experienced while
visiting family in Argentina. He replaced his morning coffee with yerba mate as a remedy for the upset stomach and dehydration he got en route to the ski slopes. After learning that commercially available yerba mates had lots of added sugars and preservatives, Birkner developed his own recipe. He works with a manufacturer in Ecuador that provides locally sourced organic materials for Birk.
What’s unique about the business is its sponsorship program, Birk Dreamers. Rather than paying influencers to drink and promote its products, Birk helps athletes, artists, students and others to pursue their dreams—whether it’s through connecting them to resources or providing financial support.
“We’re trying to support those individuals that quite haven't quite made it, but are very dedicated to their path,” he said.
For Birkner and his partner, fellow CU Boulder student Bobby Ryan, it’s about giving a new generation of dreamers the kind of support they enjoyed from parents and others who helped pave the way for them as skiers and scholars.
While Birkner said there has been investor interest in the company, he’s more interested in the long term—how much he can grow the Boulder market, and how he can expand the Dreamers program—than a short sale.
“It means a lot more to me to see people be able to pursue a passion and a dream than it does to have some some cash,” he said.
Amber Hughes (MBA’22)
Real Estate Investment Associate, RCLCO Fund Advisors
Everyone loves a winner. But for Amber Hughes, winning isn’t everything.
Before enrolling in the Leeds MBA, Hughes spent six years working in marketing for the Chicago Blackhawks, including the tail end of a dynasty that saw them win the Stanley Cup three times in six years.
In a parity-driven league like the NHL, though, the fall from grace is often steep; Hughes said the experience of being with the organization through the lows that followed its championships offered valuable perspective.
“It was humbling to be a part of the downslide, after such an exciting time period,” she said. “You learn a lot about the organization and your role when things are not great.”
Now, instead of building dynasties, she’s into building real estate. Hughes said she’s always been interested in the industry, and moved to Colorado to be close to opportunity, along with the chance to explore some new national parks and hiking trails. She choose the Leeds MBA for the network and the immersive academic and professional development environment it provides.
"I think committing to something like a graduate program ensures you will follow through with your goals,” she said. “It’s so easy to say, ‘I’m going to do this online course, or watch this video,’ but it’s easier to follow through if you’re part of a robust program like the MBA.”
Hughes also plays leadership roles within the graduate Leeds community—she is treasurer and a vice president of the MBA Association and president of the Graduate Real Estate Association, and also was part of a team that represented CU in winning the national Colvin Case Study Challenge.
“The smart people you get to work with and learn from at Leeds have given me a great network,” she said. “Everyone has a diverse set of backgrounds and goals beyond the MBA, which makes the program valuable.”
Hughes also completed an internship with Palisade Partners that was development focused, and while she enjoyed the experience and company, it helped her realize her real passion was on the financial side. That’s what she’ll be doing as a real estate investment associate with RCLCO after a post-graduation vacation in Europe.
“My internship was a great learning opportunity, but I really want to dig more into the financials of commercial real estate,” she said. “It’s a vital part of the industry and I think that’s my next step.”
Atul Raguveer (Fin’22)
Investment Banking Analyst, Morgan Stanley
Atul Raguveer is not the first person to question the value of high-school student government. But he might be the first to do so after serving four years with Leeds Student Government, including a term as president.
“It’s shown me a lot about leadership,” he said. “It’s interesting to see who I was as a freshman, to who I am now, and knowing LSG was this constant that shaped how I work with people, relate to others and be a part of the community.”
You might think he’s off to a future in politics, but Raguveer has long had his eye on finance, specifically investment banking. He’s well known as LSG president, but is just as passionate about Global Platinum Securities, a low-profile student fund with members across eight prestigious schools, including Harvard, the London School of Economics and the University of Pennsylvania.
“It’s a lot of fun learning how to invest alongside some of the smartest people in the country,” he said.
That eagerness to develop a network has been a recurring theme for Raguveer since his freshman year, when he went on an industry trek to New York and got to meet leaders at the major finance companies. He credits his willingness to put himself out there with landing a coveted internship as a summer analyst with Morgan Stanley; it was his third as a Leeds student.
“The alumni network for investment banking is small, but very strong,” Raguveer said. “There’s no chance I would have gotten into Morgan Stanley without the Leeds network.”
While at Morgan Stanley, he took it upon himself to work closely with the bank’s mergers and acquisitions team in the tech division, where he’ll return after graduating this spring.
“On top of the other work I had to do, I built a fully operational merger model between two public companies,” he said. “That was something I’m really proud of. I’m really looking forward to going back.”
When he makes it back to New York, he expects to continue exploring a city he loves, along with finding time to play basketball—and hopefully resume his other hobby, saltwater fish tanks.
“I actually had a company in high school selling high-end saltwater fish to high-net-worth clients,” he said. “I sold it last year, but now I’m dreaming of getting a big tank in the near future.”
Ryan Adzima (MBA’22)
Vice President of Acquisitions and Finance, Meriwether
If you ask Ryan Adzima for one word—other than skiing—describing why he left northern New Jersey for Denver, the answer would probably be innovation.
“In real estate, change comes slowly in Manhattan, because if you’re getting those rents, you’re happy with the money you’re making,” Adzima said. “If you want to do something different, you come to a place like Colorado, where you have room to develop new products and assets, and try something different.”
He found both the geography and industry shift he sought in the Leeds MBA.
“Whether I spoke to someone like Mike Kercheval (executive director of the CU Real Estate Center) or Helen Zucchini (graduate admissions director), they would always tell me, ‘Here’s another person you should talk to,’” he said. “It helped me feel very comfortable and familiar with the real estate program.”
Ironically, when it came to internships, Adzima found himself back in New York, working with prestigious SL Green Realty. He had a great experience with the underwriting team, but most enjoyed the chance to opportunity to work on a marketing effort.
The landlord’s iconic Summit One Vanderbilt had just opened, and Adzima hit on a low-cost way to compete with the other skyline experiences available in New York—hire a bunch of social media influencers to do the heavy lifting. Presenting that strategy to the marketing team was a highlight, though he’s more excited by redevelopment projects in Colorado than the bright lights of Manhattan.
“The ballpark district in lower downtown sold me on what I want to do in real estate—the way they redeveloped all those old warehouses into something that’s still functional and adds to the sense of community,” Adzima said. “That’s something I took away from my experience at SL Green—the idea that you’re there to build a better community.”
His education is helping him in his search as well as his part-time work with Pure Development. Through CUREC, he was able to complete the Adventures in Commercial Real Estate, or A.CRE, financial modeling accelerator—an ambitious extracurricular experience that he feels will be required to work in the field 10 years from now.
“The Real Estate Center connected me with the most incredible opportunities,” Adzima said. “I go to every event they post, because it’s always a great opportunity to meet people or learn something new.”
Jennifer Howard (MBA’22)
When Jennifer Howard was diagnosed with cancer in 2019, it was of course a scary moment—but also a reaffirmation that she belonged in the life sciences field.
“I’m more proud of that diagnosis than anything—I beat it and it has honestly made me who I am today,” she said.
It’s actually how she became involved with a couple of Leeds PhDs who wanted to use 3D printing to improve the cancer drug-discovery process. Camila Uzcategui and Johnny Hergert had the engineering know-how, but they needed an MBA’s insights as they looked to formally launch Vitro3D.
Howard’s insights were particularly valuable because of her career in pharmaceuticals. Though she studied to be a counselor at Old Dominion University, it wasn’t until she took an analytics course that she found her calling.
“I realized my two passions are people and problem solving, regardless of what industry I was working in,” she said.
She became manager of commercial business analytics at Silvergate Pharmaceuticals, a startup that grew tremendously during her nearly five years with the company, quintupling its headcount and going from a portfolio of four products to 13 following its acquisition.
“I fell in love with high-growth ventures—it’s intoxicating,” she said.
When the company was sold, Howard followed her new passion for startups to the Leeds MBA program, where she is part of the High-Growth Venture Fellowship program. Leeds’ reputation in entrepreneurship was attracted her to the MBA, along with network development and experiential learning opportunities.
“As a graduate student, you can collaborate not just with other MBAs, but with Cami and Johnny, in engineering, or with law students,” she said.
Though Vitro3D has pivoted toward dental aligners, Howard is still excited to be part of the team, and hopes to continue on after she completes her MBA. She’s keeping her options open for the future, doing some consulting for early-stage companies as she figures out where to go next.
“My soul thrives when I’m working in entrepreneurship,” she said. “I keep going back and forth as to what I want to do next, but I know it will be something in the high-growth space.”
Emma Pearson (Fin, EBio’22)
Associate, Boston Consulting Group and Founder, Sea the Change
How does a girl growing up in landlocked Colorado become a passionate ocean conservationist and enthusiastic scuba diver?
Emma Pearson said it’s a case of too many National Geographic specials.
“It’s just one of those passion projects that has slowly evolved as I’ve gotten older, and one I feel lucky to be able to continue to pursue,” she said.
Pearson, who was honored with the Student Leader of the Year Award this spring, is keen on marine conservation—but also business, and she hopes her full-time role with Boston Consulting Group, where she interned last summer, allows her to connect those passions in a way that creates positive change.
Pearson didn’t originally plan to study business at CU Boulder—she called checking the box for Leeds when she was applying “the best last-minute decision of my life.”
“Having a business background is so essential to figuring out solutions to major environmental issues,” she said. “That’s something that I’m excited to work on early in my career.”
That’s not just at Boston Consulting. Pearson also completed internships at the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration, where she was able to conduct research on whales alongside colleagues around the country; she also defended her honors thesis on the topic as part of her CU studies.
Part of what interested her in Boston Consulting is its work in the sustainability space, especially with the World Wildlife Fund. As an intern, she cold-contacted the CEO to see if she could learn more about the company’s commitment to sustainability, and was rewarded with a one-on-one conversation.
“I think I gained a little bold confidence from my experience at Leeds, and from all the mentorship I’ve received,” Pearson said.
Some of that confidence also came from a First-Year Global Experience trip. In her freshman year, she did consulting work with a company in South Africa, then visited to present her suggestions and findings to the business. That was her first taste of consulting, and led to her joining the Leeds Consulting Group.
She also credited her scholarships—including the Leeds Honors and Scholars programs—with helping her find her path.
“The scholarship programs at Leeds haven’t just helped me develop as a leader and as an individual—they’ve helped me define where I want my career to go, which is incredibly powerful,” she said.
Marie Axalan (Fin’21, MSBA’22)
Intern, Roboyo and Half a Million Kids
Businesses see data as the next big thing in making better decisions, connecting to customers and improving sales.
Marie Axalan sees data as a way to help companies better meet their missions.
“Helping people with diverse perspectives to have a voice is really important to me,” said Axalan, who immigrated to the United States from the Philippines. “I’m very interested in the power of data, and how it can help people see the world more clearly.”
Specifically, she’s interested in how the business world can use data to better address societal challenges. That’s how she wound up pursuing a master’s in business analytics after completing her undergraduate degree at Leeds.
“I knew the master’s degree would give me a level up on other people trying to enter the job market,” she said.
An excellent student, Axalan won a coveted scholarship from software giant Alteryx that helped her focus on a full-time graduate degree and gave additional opportunities, like access to boot camps and machine-learning tools. And staying in school gave the aspiring data scientist additional practical experience, from a strong network of peers and faculty to a fourth Leeds internship; all of them have been in automation, analytics and data management.
Her role with the nonprofit Half a Million Kids has been the most meaningful for her, and is a blueprint for the kind of career she’d like to have.
“I’m interested in the intersection between data and social issues,” she said. “My internship is showing me how to leverage my data analytics and data science skills to help solve social issues.” The company uses Alteryx, giving her opportunities to use her education in building processes for the business. “It’s an amazing learning experience, getting to build something with my blood, sweat and tears that’s really doing good for community.”
Her experiences at Leeds have guided her in that direction, as well, including the chance to take graduate classes alongside professionals who have worked in nonprofits and her involvement with the Multicultural Student Association and the dean’s cabinet.
After completing an internship with Roboyo, Axalan accepted an offer to return full time as an automation engineer—a logical next step as she pursues a future in data science. An avid traveler who went on a trip with the First-Year Global Experience and studied abroad in Spain, she hopes to continue exploring after graduation.
“I’ve always had an interest in seeing the world,” she said.
Will Xu (Acct, Fin, InfoMgt’22)
Asset Management Operations Analyst, Goldman Sachs
All Hummel Scholarship winners at CU Boulder get the same message from the family that supports the award: Pay it forward.
Will Xu has taken that to heart.
The first-generation college student benefited from his high school’s FBLA club, so he established a Phi Beta Lambda chapter—the college equivalent of the business club—at Leeds. He took part in KeyBank’s summer Business Leadership Program as a pre-college student, then became a counselor in the program as an upperclassman. He got a great job at Goldman Sachs, so he started working as an employer relations ambassador for the school.
“The reason I got involved as an ambassador was to help other students through the process of going to career fairs and meet-and-greet events,” he said “Anything I can do to help companies engage students is my way of paying it forward.”
This summer, Xu will leave Boulder for Salt Lake City, where he’ll begin his career with Goldman Sachs in an asset management and operations role. He’s excited to begin, and said it will be a good step toward his long-term goal of creating more transparency in the finance industry.
“One day, I’d love to be a lead investor in underprivileged communities, helping direct capital toward startups and small businesses in communities that could use support,” he said.
He’s got a head start in that arena, too, having done a little strategic consulting for a CU student startup, Shivoo, a tool for group meetups and events. While he’s not as involved lately, “it was really cool to help it get off the ground,” he said.
Xu said he’s been able to pursue opportunities like Shivoo and Phi Beta Lambda, as well as the business fraternity Delta Sigma Pi, thanks to his scholarships, “which allowed me to be more involved on campus instead of working full time to pay for school.”
Leading Phi Beta Lambda is one of the experiences he’ll most treasure from his years at Leeds.
“I wanted to give back to the community that really sparked my interest in business in high school,” he said. “I wanted to create a driven community of students who will represent CU at statewide and national case competitions. Last summer, we had one of our members go to nationals and place in the top 10, which was extremely gratifying.”
Olivia McKeen (Mktg’23)
Intern, Sol Vae
Olivia McKeen is good at turning tragedy into alacrity.
When her family lost their Louisville home to the Marshall Fire, McKeen—like many others—was in shock, but she quickly pivoted to how she could help others affected by the disaster.
“I was able to get out safely, my parents got out, our pets got out,” she said. “We even got some of our stuff out. And that was certainly not the case for everyone.”
Enter the Marshall Fire Resource Guide, a comprehensive website for those who lost their homes as well as people seeking to support displaced families. It’s the result of a group project McKeen led in her digital marketing course to develop and market a website.
The idea came from a Slack channel for fire victims, which had a lot of information, but was poorly organized. “And a lot of older people who lost their homes don’t know how to use Slack or Facebook, but they’re comfortable with a website,” McKeen said.
Those audience considerations helped drive the site’s design aesthetic, which is equal parts professional and accessible. Even its logo and the shade of blue she used were chosen “because it’s a calming color,” she said.
McKeen is no stranger to digital marketing—she started doing internships in the industry in high school, as a way to explore her interest in the discipline—and is currently interning with startup Sol Vae, founded by Bridget Thorpe (OpsMgmt, E’ship’09). That opportunity came about after Thorpe spoke at a networking event at Leeds.
“Right now, it’s just the two of us, which is exciting,” she said. “It’s like getting to be the head of marketing, with a lot of freedom to try new things and see what works.”
She’s also very involved on campus, including membership in Delta Sigma Pi, Women in Business, the Dean’s Student Cabinet and Kappa Alpha Theta.
Developing the website was equal parts group and passion project—and she continues to update it with news and resources—but McKeen is now in talks with Boulder County about a takeover of the site, to further broaden its reach.
The project has helped McKeen think about a career doing digital marketing for a nonprofit.
“I wanted to come out of Leeds with a meaningful degree and a meaningful job,” she said. “I would love to use my degree do something that helps people.”
Jordyn Gerstle-Goodman (Info Mgmt, Fin ’21; MSBA’22)
Organization Development Data Analyst Intern, Disney
When she applied for an internship with Disney, Jordyn Gerstle-Goodman knew what kind of odds she was up against.
“I told myself if I just got to the first round of interviews, that’s an accomplishment,” she said.
Four rounds of interviews later, Gerstle-Goodman had the kind of experience any student dreams of—in exactly the field she’s passionate about (people analytics), with a supportive team that challenged her to grow. It’s gone so well that the fall position was extended through the spring.
“Disney is very encouraging of career exploration—there are senior vice presidents who will take time out of their days just to talk to interns and try to get them hired,” she said.
Her Disney internship is Gerstle-Goodman’s fourth; most of them have revolved around an interest in data science she developed at Leeds.
“I originally wanted to be a corporate attorney, but in the middle of my undergrad, I learned about this career, data scientist, that I’d never heard of before,” she said. “I thought it was the coolest thing ever, to play with statistics and math and algorithms in business.”
Most data scientists have graduate degrees that prepare them for the advanced statistical and modeling techniques they use at work, so Gerstle-Goodman pursued the one-year master’s in Business Analytics immediately after completing her Leeds bachelor’s degree.
“My graduate classes have gone far beyond what I learned in my undergrad,” she said. “I’m sure my career will start as an analyst, but with what I’ve learned, I think I’ll be able to get to that level much more quickly than I otherwise might have.”
An enthusiastic traveler who’s visited nearly 40 states, Gerstle-Goodman received scholarship support to help finance her degree, including one from Alteryx that’s closely aligned to her career goals.
“The money obviously helps, but there are also these great learning opportunities,” she said. “I get to attend coding boot camps and have access to Alteryx tools, in addition to job opportunities.”
She’s also a member of the Diverse Scholars Program, which aligns with her goal of using people analytics to improve equality in business.
“My goal is to do work that helps everyone feel that they’re represented and belong,” she said. “I really see that as being an area that will really benefit companies, both in an HR capacity and in improving their customers’ experience.”
Amanda Freeberg Donovan (Mktg’03)
Executive Director, Don and Lorraine Freeberg Foundation
Amanda Freeberg Donovan still remembers the announcement of the naming gift that gave the Leeds School of Business both a name and a purpose in shaping the future to be more sustainable.
“I remember discussing it in one of my classes—we talked about what it meant and what the future of the school might look like as a result,” Donovan said. “And it’s fun to go back and see the new buildings and the opportunities today’s students have, and sort of connect that with my experience.”
With that perspective, it’s no surprise Donovan is such a CU Boulder booster. She sits on the Leeds Advisory Board, is active in CU’s alumni association, and has served as a mentor and leader on other Leeds boards. And she regularly shares updates about the school with her networks as a LeedsLink digital ambassador.
“I like to stay updated on awards, research, students and rankings—and I want people to know how awesome Leeds and CU Boulder are—so I appreciate that there’s an easy way to share the latest news,” she said.
While Donovan studied marketing, her career path has not been limited to one industry. She credits her overall Leeds experience, including classes in entrepreneurship, as a reason. Companies hired her “because they could tell I had those important communication, writing and personal skills,” Donovan said. “Those were things that I built while I was at Leeds.”
Her experience in marketing and banking set her up to become executive director of the Don and Lorraine Freeberg Foundation, where she oversees grant making to organizations working with children, education, healthcare and veterans.
“The banks I worked at supported community initiatives, so I got to work with a lot of nonprofits in Boulder County, and I really enjoyed that part of the job,” she said. “My work at the foundation makes me feel like I’m making a difference on a much larger scale.”
In fact, the foundation provided important support to the Rustandy Building, connecting Leeds to the College of Engineering & Applied Science; for Donovan, it hearkens back to that day when she thought about how the Leeds gift would change CU’s future.
“It’s a beautiful space—I wish it had been there when I was a student,” she said. “I’m excited to help the business and engineering students collaborate, and to see what’s created as a result.”
Lily Combs (Mktg’24)
Intern, Early HR Solutions
Lily Combs is a Binghamton, N.Y., native, but it was through a connection in Denver that she got to work at this year’s New York Fashion Week.
She was introduced to Colorado while taking vacations there to visit family during the summer—and once she started attending CU Boulder, one of those relatives connected her to a friend in the fashion industry.
“I reached out and asked about an internship, and he said, ‘I have no idea what the summer is going to hold, but I do need help at Fashion Week,’” Combs said. “That’s been the dream for me. I told him if he was joking, it was a cruel joke.”
It was no joke, and Combs, who has been interested in a fashion career all her life, said working as an assistant to the casting director validated an idea she’s been chasing since she drew sketches of different looks and took sewing classes as a girl.
“I got to see all the different components that go into a show, and it was so rewarding to be a part of that and know this is what I’d like as a career,” she said.
She’s also counting on her Leeds education to help her get there. Combs transferred to the business school “because I really liked the reputation, the networking opportunities and the community at Leeds,” she said. “I’m seeing a lot of ties between what I’m learning in class and the work I’m doing on my internship.”
Her internship, a virtual position with a startup HR solutions company, involves supporting its marketing and social media efforts. “I’ve learned a lot—especially on LinkedIn, in terms of how businesses communicate there,” she said.
Combs also works part-time at the Dushanbe Teahouse, a Boulder institution, and gives tours of the business school as a Leeds student ambassador. When she’s not working, you’re likely to find her skiing or catching a show in Denver; “having a city nearby was a big selling point in coming to CU,” she said.
Given her interests and skills, it’s not hard to picture Combs in a fashion marketing role someday; she’s also studying entrepreneurship and global business at Leeds.
“I don’t think about tours as ‘selling Leeds,’” she said. “I remember the stress of figuring out where to go to school, and I want people to be happy if they decide to come here.”
Hayley Porter (Acct’19)
Audit associate, KPMG
Hayley Porter describes herself as a proud Buff who, despite graduating just a few years ago, is a highly active mentor to Leeds students.
And yet, so many of her family members attended CU Boulder that, as a high school student, Porter was determined to go elsewhere—“but I did a tour of CU and I really saw myself there,” she said.
While she was involved in plenty of activities as a student—from the Alpha Kappa Psi business fraternity and mentorship programs to working with Teach for America as a campus campaign coordinator—Porter most fondly remembers the scholarship programs that gave her both financial support and a sense of community.
“The Leeds Scholars Program was an incredible opportunity to be part of a cohort that would challenge me, in terms of being surrounded by other driven students,” Porter said. “I was shy coming into college, and the opportunities that scholarship programs gave me helped me grow and challenge myself.”
In fact, she called the Diverse Scholars program “my home base at Leeds,” where she had opportunities to lead thanks to the support of upperclassmen in the program and staff at the Office of Diversity Affairs. She also was a Norlin Scholar, which helped her become more open-minded to new experiences and different perspectives.
That’s a spirit she shares with students today as a mentor. “I may not have as much experience as an alumnus from 10 years ago, but I remember what it’s like to be a student,” she said. “I can point out the courses and professors I really enjoyed, and answer questions about being a young professional.”
Porter’s role at KPMG came about after an internship with the company. She was interested in teaching when she first came to CU, but pivoted after taking an accounting course. Like many companies, KPMG is short-staffed coming out of the Great Resignation, “so, like many others in the firm, I have taken on a senior role to support our teams,” she said. “I am proud of how I’ve stepped up to the plate.”
An avid concertgoer who can be found on a paddleboard during summer, Porter enjoys her accounting role. In the long term, she has an eye on how to create impact in the education space: “A lot of good could be done by someone who has a business background, and also a passion for education.”
Tommy Marlier (Acct’14; MS’15)
Campus Recruiting Manager, BDO
Many Leeds graduates who earn certificates in Business of Sports go on to careers in marketing, sponsorships, events management or sales.
Tommy Marlier instead dances at halftime during Denver Nuggets home games.
He got an invitation to join the Average Joes squad through a fellow alumnus he met while doing in-game promotions for Kroenke Sports & Entertainment as a student. But his network isn’t the only reason he’s willing to bust a move at half court.
“Going to CU helped get me out of my comfort zone,” Marlier said. “It gave me a better chance to open up my circle and talk with other people.”
It also gave him the confidence to leave accounting, after dedicating his entire academic career to the discipline, and make the jump to recruiting.
“I studied accounting for five years, then another year and a half for the CPA exam—and suddenly, I was giving up on it,” he said. “But CU not only gave me the education, it taught me to follow my passions, and gave me a great business education that I could take anywhere.”
Today, Marlier works with BDO’s talent management team to recruit interns and entry-level professions from universities in the Rocky Mountains and Southwest, in addition to HR-related roles.
“You don’t work a day in your life if you love it,” he said. “What’s so invaluable and fun to me is how much I learn from the students.”
That learning is a two-way street: Marlier also is a mentor to Leeds students—his favorite way of giving back to the university.
“I wish I had been involved in formal mentorship as a student,” he said. “But it’s so rewarding, to be on this side and to provide insights and support—whether it’s a résumé review that leads to someone getting a job, or even becoming a lifelong friend.”
Not being a peer mentor may be Marlier’s only regret from his days in Boulder.
“I never even took a campus tour of my own, because my sister went to Leeds and I knew so much about the place from her,” he said. “I had originally wanted to study out of state, but my sister’s experience made it an easy choice. I always tell people, choosing CU was the best decision I ever made.”
Fiona Murphy (Mktg’18)
Account Executive, Lattice
An early-career layoff can be devastating for young professionals, who wonder what they could have done differently to keep their jobs.
Fiona Murphy decided the solution was to make herself indispensable, and her willingness to raise her hand and take on additional responsibilities is how she became one of her company’s first employees in its London office.
“A lot of skills I built at Leeds have translated to my professional life,” Murphy said. “I don't think I would have had as many opportunities available if I didn't have the support I got at Leeds.”
In her role, Murphy works directly with corporate HR departments to show them how Lattice’s people management software makes companies better places to work.
“I’m so grateful that my work allows me to make an impact on people's lives,” she said. “That’s what excites me and keeps me motivated.”
Also keeping her motivated? She has a cheering section—a network of 14 Buffs at Lattice who encourage one another and share their successes.
“We love watching our herd grow,” she said. “There’s a lot of pride in our in our channel, and we're always just hyping each other up.”
Murphy has fond memories of her time at Leeds, especially with faculty like Laura Kornish, who helped her get one of her three internships, and Brian Higgins, who got her started in her sales career. While she applied to plenty of schools, one visit to the Boulder campus was enough to sell her on CU.
“Boulder felt like the start of an exciting new adventure, where I’d be pushed out of my comfort zone and have all kinds of opportunities to be involved,” she said.
The same is true of her new home, London, where she eagerly moved in the fall despite having never visited before. She’s eager to explore, and has a goal of visiting 22 new cities for 2022.
“When I look back at who I was when I joined Lattice, I’m most proud of my career mobility, the skills I’ve learned and how much I’ve grown as a person,” Murphy said. “I’m excited about what the future has for me in London, professionally as well as personally.”
Kai Suematsu and Samariddin Meliboev (both Info Mgmt, BA’21)
Co-founders, Kobu Foundation
Ironically, Kai Suematsu and Samariddin Meliboev realized they had good chemistry when they met in a high-school chemistry class in Denver’s George Washington High School.
Since then, the friends and recent Leeds graduates have been a force for change in helping Colorado’s less-fortunate population through several initiatives focused on food donations and delivery.
“When people say, ‘What do you do for fun?’ and you say, ‘I volunteer,’ people think it’s weird,” Suematsu said. “But it’s really just hanging out with friends, and volunteering while you do it.”
Suematsu and Meliboev created Denver Club of Humanities, a food pantry, in high school with classmate Kelly Trang, also a CU Boulder student. Because of their different schedules in college, Trang and Jamal Giornazi—another CU Boulder student and Washington alumnus—have not been as involved with Kobu, “but Kelly had such a big influence on how we run Kobu, especially in terms of how she helped us create a culture at Denver Club,” Meliboev said.
The friends started Kobu after searching for ways to pick up the threads of Denver Club of Humanities, and found their answer when pandemic-related quarantine measures made it harder to get food donations to the people who needed them. Since then, Kobu has delivered some 150,000 meals, powered by both donations and the volunteer efforts of CU Boulder students who help prepare donations for delivery. On top of that, Kobu has awarded more than $15,000 in scholarships to students—the founders’ acknowledgment of the scholarships they received and their role in making an education affordable.
In turn, their education has given Suematsu and Meliboev invaluable perspective on how to build a better, more sustainable vision for their volunteerism.
“Business classes taught us how to network with the community, which helped us quickly get started when the pandemic hit,” Meliboev said.
Suematsu, who also completed a certificate in entrepreneurship as part of his Leeds studies, said the ability to iterate and shift is core to almost every class he’s taken.
“Knowing when to pivot, knowing what the big idea is and figuring out how to fill a needed role is something we learned about a lot,” he said.
Their business skills are especially important now, as the pair decide what to do with the nonprofit they’ve built. Both have started work after graduating early (Meliboev at Kaiser Permanente, Suematsu at Accenture) and are now weighing an acquisition offer from a larger, more established organization.
“We’d like to see Kobu get to the next level, and this organization has the systems, grant money and scale to do that,” Suematsu said. “But there’s also value in having it stay with CU students.”
Magda Luczak (Bus’25)
For most first-year students, a major accomplishment of the fall semester is navigating campus without getting lost.
Magda Luczak expects her days of getting lost on campus aren’t over yet, but she has an excuse, having only spent six weeks of the fall semester in Boulder. The rest of the time, she was in the mountains of Europe, preparing to represent her native Poland at the 2022 Olympics in Beijing.
Her spring, meanwhile, began remotely from her home of Lodz, outside Warsaw, after a successful 2021 that saw her earn her first World Cup points at an event in Courchevel, France.
“Coming from Poland, everything was new to me—the people, the culture and the campus,” she said. “When I was applying to CU Boulder, I read about how it’s one of the most beautiful places in the U.S. Now, being here, I realize how lucky I am to be able to study in such a nice place.”
The best alpine skiers, not surprisingly, tend to come from mountainous areas—which Lodz is not. Luczak credits her love of the sport to her parents, who enjoyed the sport and encouraged their daughters’ interest in it.
“I’m grateful for my parents and their support, because I wouldn't be here without them,” she said. “I may be the one going to the Olympics, but it feels like a win for all of us.”
One of the most valuable things an athlete can bring to the field is a sense of perspective. Luczak is fortunate in that in Poland, there are fewer skiers, and therefore more opportunities. She’s appreciated being able to being around older athletes who have helped her adopt the right mental attitude to the sport, but being part of a team at CU is helping her even more.
“Even just in doing some of the physical preparation and training, it’s a really nice change to be supported and be part of a group, as a skier,” she said.
That also extends to her academic experience. As a freshman, she doesn’t have to declare a major yet, and isn’t sure what career path she might take, “but I’ve never received so much support as a student than I have at Leeds,” she said. “The academic advisors, the staff and the faculty have been a great help to me already.”
Ben Altschuler (Mgmt, PolSci’22)
Don’t be surprised if Ben Altschuler makes a name for himself in politics someday.
In addition to serving in CU Boulder Student Government, Altschuler has done consulting work for a political advocacy group and just finished an internship with Deloitte as a government and public services analyst. He recently accepted an offer to return to Deloitte in a similar role after graduation.
“Originally, I was convinced that I’d work directly in public sphere, at a nonprofit or a government entity, which is why I was excited to consult for the political advocacy group,” Altschuler, a recreational hockey player and avid Colorado sports fan, said. “I could still end up there someday, but I’m very happy and excited about where I’m going next year.”
In fact, it was during his Leeds experiences, especially with the Dean’s Leadership Fellows, that he got his introduction to consulting. As part of the inaugural class of this group—which helps talented students become leaders—Altschuler has a voice in setting its direction. It wound up giving him some career direction of his own.
“In a panel discussion, someone brought up the Leeds Consulting Group, and said it was for high-achieving students—so even if you don’t know what you want to do, you’ll learn valuable skills and be surrounded by great people,” he said.
He’s now a senior analyst who helped a food and meal prep startup develop a go-to-market strategy, in addition to the political advocacy research project.
"Because we got to know the guys behind the company well, we got to see the impact of our work,” Altschuler said. “We had four recommendations for them, and two of them we saw go on their site within six months.”
In addition to his summer with Deloitte, Altschuler completed internships with Laws Whiskey House and the Colorado Youth Congress. His most recent internship, he said, has left him prepared to succeed when he returns to Deloitte after graduation.
“It felt like a very real experience—I was put on a team, and I had real tasks that I needed to accomplish, and they had real impact on how our team was doing,” he said. “It was one of those things where I didn’t know I was prepared for it until I did it.”
Court Rye (Mktg'06)
Founder and CEO, ElectricBikeReview.com
Court Rye knew there would be sacrifice involved in pursuing his startup business full time. So the two years he spent living in his Toyota Prius were all part of the plan.
“Your business is a living thing—you need to take care of it for it to work,” Rye said. “I’m doing this because I want to have something authentic that helps people looking for honest answers when they buy an e-bike.”
Rye’s business, ElectricBikeReview.com, offers thousands of bike reviews for hobbyists and newcomers alike. In almost 10 years, the site has generated millions of page views from people who come to EBR for simplicity and authenticity, instead of being sold on some fancy marketing.
Rye has worked at big companies—including Google and Accenture—as well as smaller ones over the years, but he’s always had a taste for the startup life. On nights and weekends, he would practice programming and launch side projects, two of which he sold when he lived in Silicon Valley.
Turning to startups was a natural, but not always smooth process for Court. He participated in the entrepreneurship program at Leeds, but failed to earn the official certificate after receiving a C in the capstone course.
“I’m really thankful for that C,” Rye said. “It was the lowest letter grade I earned at CU and it reflects the reality of business—it’s not just about how hard you work, and there’s no extra credit.”
It’s safe to say the lesson stuck—EBR shows no signs of slowing down. Rye still creates virtually all the content for the site, and even a brief sampling of his videos shows obvious enthusiasm for what he does. Luck and timing have played a role in his success, he said, but so does his hard work; the site is the longest running independent resource for e-bikes on the web.
“I’ve had a couple of good offers to sell,” he said. “But it’s honest, it’s a special place, and I want to preserve that. My plan is to keep EBR independent.”
Amy Gillespie (MBA’22)
Ask Amy Gillespie about her passion, and she’ll tell you about all the music festivals she and her husband attended, often camping out to embrace the outdoors and be close to the action.
But then, she became pregnant, “and sleeping in a normal bed was hard enough. How was I supposed to sleep on the ground?” she said.
The answer was The Campfire Experience, her startup specializing in glamping for weddings, festivals and corporate events, which opened up the outdoors to an audience less accustomed to roughing it in a tent in the woods.
“There were concepts like this, but only on the coasts, and I was in Columbus, Ohio,” Gillespie said. “But I thought, I’m a customer, there have to be other people like me—and honestly, I couldn’t stop thinking about the idea.”
Gillespie has since sold the business, but the experience of running her own startup is changing her outlook on what comes next—as is the Leeds MBA she’ll complete this spring.
“In all that I do, from Campfire to college, my motivations center around building a sense of community,” she said. “My Leeds MBA has helped me connect to a group of students as passionate about the startup ecosystem as I am.”
While she enjoyed scratching her entrepreneurial itch, Gillespie said she expects to return to the corporate world after graduation; she brought nearly 10 years’ experience at Nationwide to the classroom. On her internship with NetApp, “I get to be a part of this giant company that’s incredibly entrepreneurial,” she said. “That’s the kind of environment I’ve learned I like—where I’m challenged to find problems, have the runway to figure them out and be around other people who are like minded.”
Finding people who view challenges the same way she does has helped Gillespie at Leeds, also, including leadership roles with Women in Business and the Deming Center Venture Fund—where she is director of DEI initiatives—and as a recipient of a High-Growth Venture fellowship.
“The High-Growth Venture program has helped me connect to savvy leaders, incredible mentors, brilliant students and engaging professors,” she said. “The incredible value lies in its community of alumni, professors, mentors and peers, who are all active in their engagement and support.”
Instructor and Writer
Say you’re leading a sales presentation to an executive team at a major company. Intimidating, right?
Now let’s say partway through your pitch, the CEO rolls over, kicks her legs in the air and takes a nap.
That doesn’t happen in most boardrooms, but before she came to Leeds, Bonnie Auslander used to see something like this all the time in her work in business communication.
Auslander brought in dogs to be a more sympathetic audience for nervous presenters—leading to a predictable rise in stated speech anxiety at the Kogod School of Business at American University, where Auslander directed its business communications center.
“I probably would have pretended to have anxiety, too—‘Oh, I’m shaking like a leaf, I want to work with the dog,’” Auslander said with a laugh. “In truth, I found there was a lot of stress, and nothing we did in the center to that point quite met that need.”
At Leeds, Auslander—a poet, essayist and aspiring children’s book author—teaches Leeds undergrads to be more proficient writers and communicators through core classes that emphasize a lot of drafting, revising and rehearsing. In her course, she encourages students to draft their best work, then be open to her suggestions as she coaches them through the challenge of learning business and team writing. She plays a similar role for case competitions and in entrepreneurship classes.
“There’s no substitute for getting someone who cares about you as a writer and presenter, gives you comments on your draft and helps you rewrite or revise it,” she said. “That’s when you learn—revision is when true learning takes place.”
Revision and, perhaps, the chance to pitch before a canine audience. But the pandemic curbed the chance to release the hounds at Leeds, so Auslander is using her more conventional coaching techniques to coax the best work out of her students.
“I tell the students, ‘I’m here for the long haul—when your best friend gets married, I want you to feel like you can give the toast,’” she said. “Teaching people how to present effectively is more than a business skill, I really see it as a sort of world citizenship issue.”
Consultant and Professor
Brian Higgins built a successful sales career, rising to CEO of a startup and eventually opening his own consulting practice. So he knows a thing or two about persistence.
He needed it when he decided Leeds should start a sales program.
“I kept running into companies that were recruiting students into their sales organizations, because they were cheap,” he said. “The students had no foundational knowledge of sales, and were feeling defeated, because the companies threw them into the deep end.”
So, in 2015, Higgins turned his attention to solving that problem, and found a partner in CU. He audited a course to understand what students were learning about sales, then told his professor he was willing to bring a specialized course to Leeds.
That one course is now a portfolio of five courses, including one for MBAs. It also features a group of full-time and adjunct faculty with extensive sales experience, and a network of nearly 200 mentors working in sales who meet regularly with students.
“I don’t think all my students are interested in sales careers, but the skills you learn in these classes—how to schedule, plan and execute a meeting; how to report back on a meeting to a sales manager; communication and organizational skills; time management—are valuable in any career,” Higgins said.
He also enlivens classes by bringing in guest lecturers, such as Michael Leeds, who discussed his decision to invest in the school, and players and coaches with the football team, who walked students through the recruiting process, “which teaches students how the purchase decision gets made.”
Higgins himself was a college athlete, playing soccer for an elite Division I program at Southern Illinois University-Edwardsville. Athletics taught him about work ethic, competition and rejection—all important to a sales professional. Today, he enjoys skiing with his wife and golf, and is the father of two grown children, including a son who graduated from Leeds in 2019.
“I never dreamed we’d have this grassroots community of students, faculty and sales professionals,” he said. “I get a tremendous amount of gratification from seeing the students grow and learn, and appreciate how important what we’re teaching them is—either in their personal lives or professionally.”
Tandean Rustandy (Fin'87)
Founder and CEO, PT Arwana Citramulia Tbk
Vision and Tandean Rustandy have always gone hand in hand.
It was true when he was an undergraduate student, feeling privileged to attend a great university as a first-generation student. It’s true in his professional career, as founder and CEO of one of the world’s most successful ceramic-tile manufacturing companies. And it’s true as an alumnus, as Rustandy’s support has helped to usher in a new era not just at Leeds, but at the University of Colorado Boulder as a whole.
During Homecoming Weekend, the Rustandy Building will celebrate its grand opening. This expansion physically joins the business and engineering buildings on the CU Boulder campus; for Rustandy himself, this connection is a perfect representation of the continuing overlap between these disciplines in the real world.
“It is not often that you have the opportunity to change the face of the university,” Rustandy said. “And it’s even rarer that creating such a physical space accompanies a vision for an academic and programming partnership that will improve the education of our students.”
The expansion features state-of-the-art classroom, meeting and collaboration spaces; an innovation and entrepreneurship hub; and a revitalized business library. The building has been operating at capacity since students and faculty returned to campus in August—a welcome sight for faculty and leadership at Leeds and the College of Engineering and Applied Science, who are finding new opportunities to collaborate as a result of the new building.
“With a convergence like this, innovation is bound to happen,” Rustandy said. “We just have to provide it with the means to happen.”
Coming from humble beginnings in a small town in Indonesia, Rustandy has dedicated his life to helping advance his native country through his business practices, and to supporting education as a pathway to a better future. That’s part of why supporting Leeds is so important to him—a message he hopes resonates with students.
“Take full advantage of your time at CU Boulder to learn and grow,” Rustandy said. “And then come back often, and continue the legacy of paying your success forward to bring new opportunities to the generations of students who come after you.”
From left are Derek Cain Bus’22, Delaney Cain Bus’24, Jennifer Cain Comm’95, Michael Cain Bus’93 and Matthew Cain.