Sonja Manning, MBA '21
Sonja Manning, MBA '21, hit the ground running when she arrived at Michigan Ross. From starting her own club and expanding her consulting skills, to leading yoga classes for her classmates during the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonja stands as a reminder that anything is possible in the Full-Time MBA program.
She began her journey in D.C.; she received her B.A. in organizational sciences, with a minor in business from George Washington University. She would go on to work at Deloitte to consult in government practice. “I loved consulting,” she said. “There's always a new problem to solve, and you get to work with people and organizations to help them realize their potential.” But after five years, Sonja was ready to take on another challenge. “I was looking to expand my mindset and become a more multidisciplinary thinker and problem solver, and I wanted to see if I could combine my personal and professional passions for health and wellness somehow.”
Through Deloitte’s grad school assistance program, Sonja was able to pursue a full-time MBA. From her years in consulting, Sonja knew she wanted to be involved in a program that kept her on her feet and allowed her to pursue her passions. The Michigan Ross Full-Time MBA Program piqued her interest; she saw that its action-based learning programs could allow her to pursue these passions. When she visited Michigan Ross on a tour, Sonja said the energy of the people and campus forced her to trust her gut. “I just felt like it was a community where you're supported, but you're also pushed to grow. It felt like home.” Throughout the experience, Sonja was amazed at how personal it all felt. “The admissions team definitely have superpowers that the rest of us don't have,” said Sonja. “They remembered the little things, and made Michigan Ross feel even more like home.”
For Sonja, her classmates kept her moving forward. Coming from diverse backgrounds, they added unique experiences to conversations in both the classroom and social events. Even throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonja recalls how motivated her classmates remained, and how they continue to contribute to the Michigan Ross community.
'I'm just constantly inspired and humbled by my classmates, by their journeys,' Sonja said. 'People who come here really know themselves well. It’s such a powerful thing when you know who you are.'
Throughout her MAP project, her teammates brought so many different skillsets to the experience, that allowed her to expand her knowledge beyond consulting. Working with a startup in Peru, Sonja and her teammates delivered marketing strategies to help the company expand to Mexico, communicating frequently throughout the launch. “I loved my team and realized how much I loved the start-up environment,” she said. “We all brought something different to the table, and in the end, we were able to provide a robust go-to-market strategy.”
While at Ross, Sonja noticed a gap in industry exposure; with the recent rise in wellness companies, she took on the challenge of bringing more wellness to Ross. “I was sort of surprised as I went around to meet the clubs, there wasn’t anything regarding wellness and fitness tech,” Sonja said. “So many people my age are interested in working in this space and interested in understanding the business behind some of their favorite brands.”
Determined to ensure that Michigan Ross could break into this industry, Sonja co-founded FitX, an industry club focused on the mental and physical fitness space. Sonja was able to rely on faculty to help her build the club from the ground up; setting up strategy sessions and club objectives allowed her to gain expertise from Michigan Ross professors with years of experience. FitX gives students a nontraditional business pathway and the ability to break into a rapidly-growing industry, through facilitating conversations with industry experts, helping company partners solve their real-world problems, and connecting with students who are thinking about pursuing a career in wellness spaces. This journey took Sonja and her team to New York City, where they met with top industry executives and examined what made companies like Peloton and Equinox so successful. Sonja also utilized her consulting skills to source, scope, and manage over six part-time consulting projects during her time at Michigan Ross with companies in the physical and mental well-being space.
Realizing how many of my peers were excited to jump into part-time consulting projects during school proved that the ethos of action-based learning is really alive at Ross.
Sonja’s wellness journey with Ross doesn’t stop there: she’s co-lead of a cycling club, started a rollerblading club, recorded live and on-demand spin classes for a local Ann Arbor studio, and created a Michigan Ross Peloton community group. When classes went virtual due to the COVID-19 pandemic, Sonja thought her experience with yoga instructing could bring classmates together. “I taught yoga and spin in DC for six years before I moved to Ross,” she explained. “When COVID hit, my section asked me to lead a yoga class.” Her newfound business venture, dubbed Sculpt with Sonja by her classmates, became a sensation among Michigan Ross and the U-M community at large. Teaching classes three to four times a week, Sonja donated 50% of the proceeds to a new charity each month and has raised over $5,000 to date.
Although Michigan Ross has on-campus recruitment events, Sonja opted to do her own research to find an internship that was right for her. Additionally, with help from the Career Development Office, she was able to complete mock interviews, and understand how to utilize her skill set during recruitment. When it came to connecting with others, the Michigan Ross and U-M network proved to be an asset.
I probably had over 100 conversations off campus, and I probably reached out to 110 people. It felt good, realizing how great the response rate is from people in the Michigan network.
Utilizing the Michigan Ross network landed her an internship with a preventative healthcare startup based out of Los Angeles, WellSet, where she executed projects related to marketing, SEO, growth hacking, partnership creation, business development, and fundraising.
After graduation, Sonja is looking forward to returning to Deloitte, this time heading to Los Angeles to work with state and local governments. Excited to be in the wellness-hub of America, Sonja plans to continue pursuing her wellness journey outside of consulting. As for her advice for those interested in Michigan Ross, she urges prospective students to reflect on their experiences before applying.
When you get here, time goes by in dog years it feels like. The more reflection you can do around who you are, who you want to be, where you want to go, and how you want to spend your time here — the better.