MBA.PM Conversation With Lisa Dracolakis and Mari Muller







USC Marshall MBA.PM Program

Co-VPs of New Student Development Lisa Dracolakis (left) and Mari Muller (right)


What were your favorite parts about setting up events for the incoming class? What were some of your goals?


Lisa: We made a commitment early on that we were going to hold weekly events for the new class - and we did! Everything from happy hours to beach days to study sessions, we tried to do as much as possible to get 2020ers forming bonds early. Starting grad school is a nerve-racking, life-changing experience, so we wanted to reduce the additional anxiety of walking in somewhere brand new and not knowing anyone.


Mari: That’s why we held 13 events between May and July for the class of 2020, all to help the students get to know each other and establish a social base well before going into Pre-Fall. Because Lisa and I met each other at an event prior to our own Pre-Fall in 2015, we were also aware of the power that lies in bonds that are formed ahead of time.


My favorite part of the summer was slapping name tags on each one of the students at every event we held, a brilliant idea that Lisa came up with. We were soon getting massive turnouts, and name tags were an essential part of the learning process! The students were such great sports, and toward the end of the summer they would be texting us before events reminding us to please bring the name tags. By our last few events, they were so confident and comfortable with each other and with welcoming in new faces to the group that they barely needed us anymore, and realizing that was the most gratifying moment of all.


Lisa: Mari and I were also sticklers about documenting every social event we had with 2020.  My favorite part of the entire experience was seeing how the numbers at our events grew over time - from maybe a dozen at our first happy hour to almost 100 at one of our last!  I definitely practiced my outdoor voice, trying to make sure all 100 heard me when it was time to gather for a picture! Seeing the impact these events were having and how much it was helping the new class bond was so fulfilling. It was a lot of work, but completely worth it.   


As you were getting to know the class of 2020, what do you think stands out about them?


Mari: 2020 impressed me in how quick they were to embrace and embody the Trojan spirit. In addition to overwhelming turnouts and impressive networking, they were incredibly engaged and wanted to be involved from day one. They began to help each other, even without our prompting, whether that meant picking up tabs for fellow students or hosting extremely organized study sessions all the way up to the night before Pre-Fall began. They overwhelmed Lisa and me (in the best way!) with questions that indicated they were setting themselves up to be the finest members of the Trojan community they could be, and they have followed through on that early enthusiasm with remarkable consistency.


Lisa: From our first experiences with them, you could tell that this class was something special. They were immediately engaged with the program and excited to get started - almost too excited!  They had a ton of questions about how to be leaders in the program, how to excel academically, and how to be involved in the Trojan network. They are already active in making the most of their time in the program and their sense of community and support for one another - they are true Trojans in every way!


You serve together as Co-VPs of New Student Development. If you could give one piece of advice to incoming students, what would it be?


Mari: The piece of advice I would give is to invest in every single opportunity this program provides to the extent that you are able, whether that means taking leadership roles, traveling, attending events, participating in competitions, or being a part of clubs and organizations. As an extremely busy professional, I was shocked to learn that your life expands to accommodate the things you take on in an almost unexplainable way. It will seem daunting at first to add even more to your to-do list than work and academics, but this program and community are faithful in that you are rewarded ten-fold for the time and effort invested. It is my sincere desire that every MBA.PM Trojan experience those rewards to their fullest.


Lisa: I totally agree with Mari. My advice is to say yes to everything!  Go to every game, every happy hour, every networking event that you can.  You’re only in this program for three years and the time flies, faster than you would think. If it means taking that extra day off work to go to one of our amazing weekender events or taking the time to have a one-on-one conversation with every person in your core, every moment you invest makes this degree more valuable. You might not remember the details of every class but you’ll live with these friendships and these memories for the rest of your life.  


At the end of Pre-Fall, you shared an activity map with the class of 2020. At the heart of the activity map is the “Trojan Family.” What does the Trojan Family mean to you?


Lisa: I went to UCLA for undergrad, so I was definitely curious about what the Trojan Family would be like from the inside, compared to the hype and mystique that surrounds it from the outside. And honestly - becoming part of the Trojan Family surpassed every expectation. For me, the Trojan Family is about the unbelievably passionate culture - the commitment from generation after generation of Trojans to ensure that future Trojans are proud, loyal, and successful members of the family.  


Mari: The Trojan Family, at its heart, is an unbelievable organizational culture. A central tenant of this Family is that we will help each other with the blind faith - something you can’t find in virtually any other circle - that simply being a Trojan makes you worthy of our time and help. I will always take another Trojan’s call, whether I know that person or not.


The Trojan Family is such a rare and special entity, that as participants in it, we all feel duty-bound to ensure its eternal survival. Like all cultures, however, even a single generation (or in our case, a class year or two) that has not fully bought in can cause that culture to wither and fade, as traditions and norms then fail to be passed onto future generations.


Lisa: Mari and I feel personally responsible to ensure that the Trojan Family lives on and thrives in the class of 2020. From everything we’ve seen so far, they are already engaged and committed ambassadors who are eager to share the traditions and values they’ve learned with the classes of 2021, 2022 and hopefully beyond!



USC Marshall MBA.PM Program

Lisa and Mari created this activity map to share with the Class of 2020.

October 04, 2017