A Love of School and for Creating the Best Student Experience Drive This Michigan Ross Alum and Full-Time MBA Program Director
There are not many MBA alumni who would accept a 40% pay cut to work in admissions at the school where they received their degree. But there are not many MBAs who love their alma mater as much as Soojin Kwon, MBA ’99.
Nearly 17 years later, Kwon is now managing director of Full-Time MBA Admissions and Program at the Ross School of Business. And, she still has a passion for Michigan Ross that shines through to all her colleagues, fellow alumni, and the current and prospective students she engages with each day.
‘One of the best decisions I’ve ever made’
Kwon’s path to Michigan Ross began when she was working in the public sector on Capitol Hill, after receiving a bachelor's degree in economics and political science from Yale University and a master’s in public policy from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. She wanted to switch to the private sector, but did not receive any interviews in her job search.
“I wanted to go into consulting, and I realized an MBA would help me pivot into that industry,” Kwon explains. “I learned that Michigan Ross had this innovative program called MAP, and thought it’d be a great way to get experience in consulting. That’s why I chose Ross, and it has turned out to be one of the best decisions I’ve ever made.”
Perhaps unsurprisingly, Kwon has many fond memories from her time as an MBA student. She says her two favorite classes back then are among the favorites of students today: High Stakes Leadership: Building Resilience through Relationships and Aneel Karnani’s Strategies for Growth course. She also enjoyed going to football games, including flying to California during her first year for the 1998 Rose Bowl, where top-ranked Michigan beat Washington State 21-16.
“Neither of my first two schools had strong sports cultures, so to be part of a winning team, immersed in so much school spirit, was really exciting,” says Kwon. “But what I enjoyed most about my time in the MBA program was the people — really smart, down-to-earth people who I liked going to school with.”
Landing her consulting job, finding her way back to Michigan Ross
After graduation, Kwon accepted a consulting position at Deloitte. She stayed at Deloitte for five years before she began considering another career change. “I wanted to do something more mission- and impact-oriented and to help people get to a better place,” she recalls.
Through a contact she met when she recruited at Deloitte, Kwon found out about an opening in the Michigan Ross MBA Admissions Office. The position, senior associate director, was intriguing. She knew she liked marketing and recruiting — since she did that work on behalf of Deloitte, Ross, and Yale — and that she would be able to leverage her strategy and operations skills from the consulting world.
“I had never considered admissions as a career, but the more I thought about it, I realized the opportunity I’d have to make the place where I received my own MBA the best place for students to come,” said Kwon. “I also knew I would be really passionate about it and excited to be part of the community.”
Making Michigan Ross the best place for MBA students
A lot has changed at Michigan Ross, in the MBA program, and in business education since Kwon joined in 2004, and she continues to play a significant role in shaping that evolution.
Throughout her time at Michigan Ross, Kwon has overseen admissions for the Bachelor of Business Administration, Full-Time, Executive, and Evening MBA programs. She also assisted with the launch of the Weekend MBA and Master of Management programs.
In fact, Kwon says one aspect of her Michigan Ross career that she truly values is the opportunities it has afforded her. She joined the school’s business communications area as a lecturer and has taught core BBA communications courses; advised MAP teams on presentation development and delivery; led an executive education course in Saudi Arabia; and influenced the future of graduate business education by sitting on the boards of the Forté Foundation and Graduate Management Admission Council.
As managing director, Kwon says her team’s greatest accomplishment is attracting top MBA students who embody the qualities Michigan Ross is known for: smart, humble, team-oriented, and wired to pay it forward. “Ross students and alumni are critical in the admissions process, as it is their passion for the school that sparks the interest of prospective students,” she says.
However, Kwon continues to be surprised by how much change happens in the MBA market and program each year.
“You would think that admissions is pretty similar from year to year, but each year has been so different. The market changes, students’ career goals have changed, and how we market to, recruit, and evaluate candidates has changed significantly over the last decade.” she explains.
Leading and working in a pandemic to support a diverse student community safely has not been easy for Kwon. “This past year has been by far the most challenging in my whole career.” She has leaned on her colleagues from Michigan Ross and other B-schools as well as on student leaders to create the best MBA experience.
“I’ve been listening, learning, and adapting more this year than any other, and I’ve had to get out of my comfort zone more than ever before,” she says.
Finding her voice
Despite hosting countless “Ask Me Anything” sessions with prospective students and writing regularly for the MBA Admissions Director Blog, Kwon says the social unrest of the past year, and students’ responses, have motivated her to give voice to her own lived experiences in support of others.
“I decided to speak up because I saw that our students wanted to know where their leaders stood on these issues plaguing our society. I felt like I had a responsibility to our students to say something,” she explains.
Kwon has recently written LinkedIn articles titled “I won’t be invisible anymore” about her experience facing racism as an Asian-American woman, and “We Must Acknowledge the Grief and Distress of Marginalized Communities,” which argues for standing united, across differences, in the face of hate and injustice.
“The impact that posting these articles has had has been surprising. Asian Americans have said ‘Thank you for giving voice to our experience.’ Others were surprised to learn that someone like me -- who was raised and educated in the U.S. -- has experienced racism,” she says.
One Michigan Ross alum reposted her piece and was then invited by his company to share his own experience as an Asian American with over 37,000 employees at his company. That sparked hard and open conversations around racism and bias.
“We can’t make progress without awareness and the willingness to engage in tough conversations in our communities,” Kwon explains.
As pandemic conditions seem to be improving in the U.S., Kwon is looking forward to connecting with the Michigan Ross community in person next year. That includes engaging with the many alumni she has missed seeing at admissions events around the world.