Stepping Up

Connection to Excellence

By Mary Cochrane

Ryan Sullivan, MBA ’18. Photo: Douglas Levere.

Ryan Sullivan, MBA ’18. Photo: Douglas Levere

A West Coast restaurant manager who yearned to work in technology and analytics. A former history teacher who caught the business bug as a raceway office manager. A startup founder with 10 years’ experience who once considered opening her own record label.

Thanks to a unique academic corporate philanthropy partnership, these three exceptional individuals are now UB MBA students.

Developed to recruit the best MBA students in a hypercompetitive market, Connection to Excellence (C2E) awards full-tuition scholarships and specialized career development benefits to full-time MBA candidates with outstanding professional credentials.

Mark Rizzo, BS ’96, MBA ’03, a key member of the Dean’s Advisory Council, championed the C2E from its initial concept to help the school attract top MBA candidates to UB.

Rizzo, a vice president and group manager within M&T’s Commercial Banking Division, worked with Erin O’Brien, assistant dean and director of graduate programs, to devise the innovative program, which has resulted in the enrollment of seven accomplished — and grateful — MBA students, with the promise of more to come.

Inaugural C2E partners M&T and Rich Products are investing in C2E and UB as a collaborative and creative means to build a sustainable pipeline of highly employable candidates equipped with such critical skills as leadership and business analytics. The first cohort of four C2E MBAs began classes in fall 2016 and will graduate this spring; the second cohort of three C2E MBAs began classes last fall and will graduate next spring.

One of the first C2E recipients, Ryan Sullivan, MBA ’18, managed corporate restaurants in San Francisco, Los Angeles and Seattle before choosing UB to complete an MBA with a data analytics concentration.

Maureen Erokwu, MBA ’19.

Photo: Douglas Levere

“I am deeply humbled by the level of generosity and investment in my future,” she says. “The C2E scholarship has lifted my financial burdens.”
Maureen Erokwu, MBA ’19

“In Seattle, I started feeling pretty left behind in technology skills,” he says. “Most of my non-restaurant friends worked at tech companies like Amazon and Microsoft on technologies that completely change our everyday lives. They were doing cool stuff.” 

A Western New York native, Sullivan also wanted to return to the area he believes “is in a second renaissance.”

“Buffalo is a much different place than it was when I was a kid,” he says. “It’s cool to come back to a city on the upswing.”

Sullivan interned this past summer at Quicken Loans in Detroit and hopes to work in business intelligence after graduation. He thanked M&T and Rich Products for investing in his education and in the Rust Belt itself, saying, “Were it not for your commitment to higher education, I don’t think cities like Buffalo and Detroit would be experiencing such positive changes.”

Nigerian-born Maureen Erokwu, MBA ’19, learned about the struggles of business from her father, who owned a company in Nigeria. As an undergraduate business administration major, she was attracted briefly to the music business.

“I wanted to start my own record label, but I found the industry was oversaturated,” she says.

Erokwu developed another kind of business that combined her passion for photography with technology, a venture called Vosmap, now the leading provider of Google Maps’ Street View and Business View map-and-search platforms.

Briar Baker, MBA ’19. Photo: Douglas Levere.

Briar Baker, MBA ’19. Photo: Douglas Levere

UB’s C2E program meant she could afford to pursue her goal to get an MBA and build a career in brand management.

“I am deeply humbled by the level of generosity and investment in my future,” she says. “The C2E scholarship has lifted my financial burdens.”

She praised C2E professional development events that connect students to the business community.

“The school put a lot of thought into what it offers C2E MBAs,” she says. “We were invited to lunch with the CEO of Rich Products, Bill Gisel, who shared his vision and took our questions. It was a wonderful opportunity.”

Briar Baker, MBA ’19, went from substitute history teacher to office manager before finding a new career interest. Pursuing a UB MBA has been a positive experience for Baker.

“I am surrounded by some of the smartest individuals I have worked with, and it has really shaped my professional development,” he says. “The C2E scholarship has provided me with opportunities I wouldn’t have had otherwise. Thank you for helping me pursue my dreams.”

The C2E is a unique way to drive a win for everyone: MBA students, corporate partners and UB. To join us in our Connection to Excellence, visit