A&S Class of '24: Before Business, Jonathan Rivers Embraced the Liberal Arts

Jonathan Rivers (A&S '24) majored in religious studies and environmental sciences.

Jonathan Rivers arrived on Grounds with a clearly defined ambition to tailor his studies toward a business-related career. When it came time his second year at the University of Virginia to consider the McIntire School of Commerce, however, Rivers decided that remaining in the College of Arts & Sciences would enhance his professional options.

Graduating next month as a distinguished major in religious studies and with a second major in environmental sciences, the Bedford County, Virginia native is scheduled to move to Charlotte in October to begin his business analyst position with McKinsey & Company.

“Your undergrad years are such a special time, because you really don't get another chance in life before you go on into the professional world to really fully engage in the things that you're interested in that aren't specifically related to your career,” said Rivers, who served as a Religious Studies Undergraduate Department Fellow and as finance director for the student-run Business Ethics Society at UVA. “When I started taking classes in the Department of Religious Studies, I found fantastic professors and fantastic courses that I fell in love with. And environmental science was a natural draw because, like many students, I’m interested in sustainability and in the challenge of working toward a more sustainable future.

“I wanted educational experiences that would not only differentiate me from some of the other people competing for consulting jobs while also providing unique opportunities that I wouldn't be able to take advantage of at any other point of my life.”

Rivers grew up in rural, southern Virginia — he was valedictorian of his high school in Moneta and also attended the Roanoke Valley Governor’s School of Science and Technology — and his family had limited financial means. Federal Pell grants and a generous UVA financial aid package made college possible.

Appreciative of the support afforded him to attend UVA, Rivers helped found an investment club backed by Thomas Gayner, the CEO of the Markel Corporation. The club’s investments are structured so that after 25 years, each year’s compounded fund will pay out in the form of scholarships to future UVA students. The fund already has more than $1.2 million committed over the next 25 years, all of which will go to scholarships, Rivers said.

“The long term, pie in the sky goal is that students [of lesser financial means] will be able to get into UVA and not have to worry about the cost of attendance. “For students like me for whom that cost is a significant barrier, it makes me so excited to be able to participate in something like this.”

At McKinsey & Company, Rivers hopes to get assigned to projects related to sustainability issues. He feels well prepared, given the breadth of his liberal arts education.

The liberal arts allow you to differentiate yourself in ways that I think a lot of other academic programs don't,” Rivers said. “Especially in the consulting world, many first-year analysts do come from business school, but some of the best come from the liberal arts. In the recruiting process, these firms are often giving preference to people from the liberal arts because they have the professional requirements. They can work with Excel spreadsheets; they are familiar with data analysis because they learned that outside of classroom. But they also have this wealth of knowledge to draw upon that maybe other students just don't have.”


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