Alumni Story: Mike Justus

Written by Sage Corps 2014 alumnus, Michael Justus.


Why Sage Corps?

If you asked most BBA Juniors at Michigan Ross, they’d tell you they had their vision figured out; Wall Street banker, Big 4 CPA, MBB strategist, the list goes on. Enter me: a coursework generalist with a smaller network than most and a hint of entrepreneurial blood forged from myriad articles, presentations, and TED Talks when studying became too much of a chore. Recruitment season and its host of networking events and resume drops came and went with limited excitement, in part driven by my own disinterest in many of the typical programs offered. I wanted something that gave me the credentials to recruit for full-time positions the following year, but something that didn’t just qualify as a typical 9 to 5. 

Searching for alternatives, I paid a visit to the infrequently traveled 3rd floor of Ross, home of the Zell-Lurie Entrepreneurial Institute. I had recently caught wind of the Marcel Gani Internship Program, designed to fund student exposure to local Michigan startups. The list of small web development, tech, and Uber-modeled companies had some winners, but none that stood out as ‘the next big thing’ to me. Nearing the end of the alphabetical list, I noticed an outlier called Sage Corps, whose description was a breath of fresh air. A program pairing you with a startup based on the work you wanted to do in a country you wanted to go abroad? It took little convincing to see what this was all about. After a few weeks of applications and interviews, my suitcase was packed for two months in Buenos Aires, Argentina

On the Ground

In my eyes, Sage Corps brings forward three core components that, when combined, make for a truly unique experience that cannot be matched: Doing Great Work, Experiencing Authentic Culture, and Building a Powerful Network.

Doing Great Work

Michael and the CookApp team.

Michael and the CookApp team.

During the summer of 2014, I worked with CookApp, a web platform designed to connect foodies and chefs through dining events expressing their mutual love of food. My role began as a data analyst, primarily evaluating digital engagement, customer retention, and market penetration. Beginning to understand their key strategic objectives, my focus shifted to reviewing their analytic methodologies to better enable decision-making in these areas. The questions they were attempting to answer were multi-dimensional and answers were not apparent through conventional standard reporting. By enhancing and simplifying the way the CEO and COO accessed business insights, the team was able to spend less time interpreting data and more time running the company. This work was exactly that I had been looking for in an internship: a dynamic work environment, solving critical business questions, working hand-in-hand with a core team eager to make an impact. 

Experiencing Authentic Culture

World Cup watch party in Buenos Aires.

World Cup watch party in Buenos Aires.

Even though my time at CookApp hit all the right notes from a work perspective, it was the cultural side of Buenos Aires that really made the summer of 2014 something to remember. Having previously only visited one Latin American country, Argentina brought forth a whole new fascination into Hispanic culture. From inherent staples like cuisine and local dialects to more experiential aspects like nightlife and Argentina’s fanatical World Cup run, each day brought a newfound appreciation for the place I shortly called ‘home’. Having the opportunity to fully immerse myself in another culture, even if only for two months, is something that I will always cherish, knowing I might never be able to truly do that again in my lifetime.

Building a Powerful Network

Summer 2014 cohort and house mother.

Summer 2014 cohort and house mother.

All of this is made much more special when you get to experience it with an incredible set of individuals. The Buenos Aires cohort brought together students of all backgrounds from a variety of universities around the country and has created friendships I can count on for years to come. I am confident that anyone who has gone or will go through the Sage Corps program will be part of the next wave of global business leaders and this network of common ground is incredibly powerful.

Where is He Now?

After my summer program finished, I had a rejuvenated outlook on potential careers. The two paths that stuck out were to continue the entrepreneurship track or expand on my most recent CookApp experience as an advisor / consultant. I ended up recruiting for the latter and took a full-time role with Accenture Strategy starting in June 2015. Citing my global work experience, emphasis on analytics, and self-structured work environment, my time at Cookapp and Sage Corps resonated with every recruiter I met throughout the process. I can, without a shadow of a doubt, attribute my career success to the Sage Corps experience that helped me stand out from my peers who followed more conventional paths.  

Interning abroad provides invaluable experience that employers love to see. Join the less than 1% of college students gaining international work experience today.