Rice Business celebrates future trailblazers and world-changers at commencement

MBA graduates

Full commencement coverage

A new cohort of Rice University Master of Business Administration graduates crossed the stage May 3 and are heading out into the world to bring their knowledge and experience to organizations across the nation and beyond. This commencement weekend also featured the first class of students at Rice to attain their bachelor’s degrees in business May 4.

More than 400 graduates were invested with their master’s hoods and received their advanced degrees at the ceremony in Rice’s Tudor Fieldhouse May 3 and enjoyed a thoughtful speech from Rice President Reginald DesRoches.

“Completing an MBA takes discipline, initiative and focus,” DesRoches said. “The skills you have gained in pursuit of your degree go well beyond your finance, economics and marketing knowledge.”

MBA graduates
Photos by Jeff Fitlow.

The annual M.A. Wright Awards are nominated by the class and given to well-rounded, exemplary graduates across all of the MBA programs to honor their outstanding academic performance, selfless leadership, community stewardship and career progress.

2024 M.A. Wright Awards

  • Full-time MBA: Ahmad Tipu
  • Executive MBA: Daniel Williamson
  • Professionals evening MBA: Nikki Suarez
  • Professionals weekend MBA: Ben Provenza
  • MBA@Rice: Sarah Aboukhair
MBA graduates

The Faculty Teaching Excellence Awards are conferred upon faculty members selected by the graduating class to honor these professors in each program for their commitment to Rice Business’ mission of creating community and excellence.

2024 Faculty Teaching Excellence Awards

  • Full-time MBA: Balaji Koka
  • MBA for executives: Petrus Ferreira
  • Professionals evening MBA: Kunal Sachdeva
  • Professionals weekend MBA: Prashant Kale
  • MBA@Rice: John Buffington

Another annual tradition is an award chosen by alumni who graduated two and five years ago and honors a faculty member for excellence in teaching. This year’s Jesse H. Jones Graduate School of Business Award for Teaching Excellence went to Utpal Dholakia, the George R. Brown Professor of Marketing.

Julian Duncan ’99, chief marketing and strategy officer for the Houston Rockets and a Rice alumnus, was the 2024 commencement speaker for Rice Business. Duncan, who returned to Rice to earn his MBA in 2006, encouraged the graduates to chase a career that feeds their passion and excitement.

Julian Duncan
Julian Duncan.

“A compelling story is one of the most powerful weapons in your leadership arsenal,” Duncan said. “It can connect you to others, help you articulate your vision, get your marketing buddies to understand data a lot better or even get investors to support your entrepreneurial dream.”

Saturday night’s undergraduate commencement included 60 students receiving their bachelor’s degree in business. The major came to fruition in 2021 when Rice Business Dean Peter Rodriguez recognized the demand for deeper business education from current and prospective students and knew Rice Business could deliver to undergraduates the high-quality degree programs it has always delivered to its MBA, Master of Accounting and Ph.D. students.

Rice undergrads are known for setting a high bar — rigorous academics, multiple majors and minors, research with faculty and gaining real-world experience with internships, part-time jobs and entrepreneurship competitions. To complete a major in business, students must also complete a finance or management concentration, which requires additional advanced courses. Both concentrations provide the knowledge, research and analytical skills to solve a broad array of today’s business problems.

By taking the inherent strengths of Rice students and combining them with the rigorous business program and the entrepreneurship ecosystem of Houston, Rodriguez explains that Rice Business is creating a new kind of leader who can address critical issues in the world. This includes areas such as accelerating opportunities in the energy transition, artificial intelligence and other fields or contributing to the vitality of urban communities.

“Our undergraduate business students will be uniquely capable of doing that,” Rodriguez said in an interview with Poets and Quants.

The graduates had a preliminary celebration the morning of May 3 at McNair Hall, home of Rice Business, where Rodriguez congratulated the first class of “trailblazers” on their accomplishment and presented awards.

Runsi Sen, Austin Cox, Peter Rodriguez
Runsi Sen, Austin Cox, Peter Rodriguez. Photos by Brandon Martin.

“Talk to these students, look at what they do: There are no finer students anywhere,” Rodriguez said. “Exquisitely well-trained, smart, hardworking, ambitious — these are people who can really go out into the world and make a difference to solve some of the problems of the world.

“It’s a tumultuous time, in some ways, on college campuses. But that’s in part because college campuses are the place where we’re intended to think about, debate, suss out good answers to problems like these. Who better to do that than these Rice undergraduate students? They’re truly extraordinary.”

The Faculty Teaching Excellence Award has been a staple of the MBA program, and Rice Business chose to continue that tradition with the undergrad degree. The winner is determined by the graduating students, and this year they selected Management Accounting Professor Ben Lansford as the inaugural winner.

Peter Rodriguez, Jordan Billups, Sean Cartwright, Katherine Cheng, April Chung, Joel Hrncir and Ethan Kao, Alex Butler.
Peter Rodriguez, Jordan Billups, Sean Cartwright, Katherine Cheng, April Chung, Joel Hrncir and Ethan Kao, Alex Butler.

The Rise@Rice Sen Social Pioneer Prize and the six Rice Business Outstanding Student Awards were created especially for the undergrad program. The Pioneer Prize winner is nominated by their peers and selected by a committee to honor a student who embodies the highest standards of leadership, compassion and collaboration within the business school community.

“I’ve learned so much through this major, and I’m so grateful for everything that’s been given to me by my teachers and my peers as well,” said the winner, Austin Cox.

The Outstanding Student Awards are determined by faculty based on academic performance as well as contributions to the school and major. The inaugural awards were presented to Jordan Billups, Sean Cartwright, Katherine Cheng, April Chung, Joel Hrncir and Ethan Kao.

The major joins Rice Business’ other offerings for undergraduates, a minor in business and a minor in entrepreneurship. Rice Business’ graduate programs offer an MBA, a one-year Master of Accounting program and a Ph.D. program in business, the latter for students seeking academic careers at research universities.

If you are a current Rice student with questions about course or program details or about declaring the business major or minor, please email business.major@rice.edu.

Visit the 2024 commencement photo gallery here, and use #RiceGrad2024 to tag your photos and posts.