Developing teamwork and balance: Q&A with Kerry Driscoll, MBA 2018

Kerry Driscoll

Why Foster?

A lot of factors drove me to Foster. When I made the decision to go back to school, I knew I needed a program that met in person (versus online only), would accommodate me working full time, would be a challenge intellectually, and set me up for success upon graduation in regards to a career change. I knew going back to school for me was more than just getting the degree – I was taking a step to really invest in myself and my future. All that said, with my list of requirements in hand and Google at my fingertips, I quickly stumbled upon University of Washington’s Evening Program (not hard to do when you live in the Seattle area!) The more I read about the school, the program, and the team component of the program, the more I saw myself as a student at Foster. I wanted to be surrounded by Seattle’s brightest young professionals. I wanted to be one of Seattle’s brightest young professionals. Every other school paled in comparison, and set my sights on proving to the Foster Admissions Team that I would be as asset to the University. Now here I am, three quarters shy of graduating!

Student experience

How do you balance work, school, and family/friends?

This is a question I’ve gotten a lot from coworkers, prospective students (when I was an ambassador and Peer Mentor), and others who I’ve mentioned being a student in the program. “How do you balance it all?” The truth is, sometimes it’s tricky. Sometimes there are tears. I work full-time. I go to school part-time in the evenings. I’m a single mom. I live in Tacoma (quite a commute to the Seattle campus!). I don’t drink coffee. The odds aren’t in my favor for balance. But in all actuality, it’s not too bad. I am a person who thrives off routine, so I quickly fell into the routine that works best for me. I’ve made sacrifices in the form of watching TV and early bed times to help me be successful in school. I’ve also made sure I press pause on my schoolwork to take time to spend with my daughter and boyfriend, and I’m always trying to squeeze in a couple of runs during the week to keep my mind clear. I think anybody can be successful balancing this program with their lives outside of school as long as they make the effort to find what works best for them!

I’m also very lucky to have a great group of people who love and support me through this whole process. Having a daughter is just another layer of complexity to figuring out balance, but I have a great support system who have stepped in to help with babysitting when I have a school obligation, and have continuously encouraged me when I’m exhausted and it’s hard to keep moving forward.

How have your fellow students influenced your experience in the program?

This is the best part of Foster – hands down. The admissions team knew what they were doing when they admitted us for Class of 2018! I heard former students (during my admissions process) speak about how much they learned in the classroom just based on their classmates’ contributions, but I didn’t fully grasp it until I was the midst of it in Fall 2015. Our professors at Foster are incredible – but sometimes topics didn’t make sense or stick in my head until a classmate would chime in and ask the perfect question or say the same thing in different words to help clarify it to me. I also can say nothing but positive things about the team aspect of Foster’s program. Both my first and second year teams were comprised of so much diversity, and getting the opportunity to work with these individuals in a smaller setting on projects and assignments has contributed to my overall education and experience in a way I couldn’t have imagined.

Curriculum

What is the classroom experience like?

Being in the classroom at Foster is the part that I was most excited about. I don’t do well with online classes, so having a program with onsite classes was a requirement for me. It was also something I looked forward to because I knew I would gain much more from the program with my classmates’ contributions. The classroom is so different from what I’ve experienced in the past; the professors at Foster recognize the value that we as professionals bring to the classroom, and encourage us to contribute to the lectures through discussions, questions, and presentations. It is a bit intimidating to speak up in a classroom with 65 or so peers, but once I started to get the hang of it and realized most everyone else was in the same boat as me, it made it easier and I’ve grown more through that!

Describe your experience with the team aspect of the MBA program

I said it earlier, the team experience is the best part of the Foster MBA program. My first-year team was fantastic and looking back, I wouldn’t have survived Finance or Microeconomics without them (shout out to Matt, Rich, Ming, Kelly and Renate!) There were so many times we’d be camped out in a team room working on a Finance case, and I would be challenging our model because it didn’t make sense. A teammate would explain it to me only then did it click. I appreciate the thoughtfulness the program office put into organizing our teams to pull together groups of people from different backgrounds. Each one of my teammates brought something different to the table, and it was cool to see how we all meshed together to create awesome results throughout the year. My second-year team was just as great; again, different backgrounds and skill sets came together for some fantastic results. I gained some new insights and ways of thinking about things from my teammates, and I’m grateful that this is a cornerstone for the program because it has had the biggest impact on me thus far.

Faculty

Is there a particular faculty member who stands out in your mind?

There are so many incredible faculty members at Foster; it’s hard to narrow it down to just one! There were two professors from my second year, however, that still have me thinking (months after finishing their courses). The first is David Sirmon, our Business Strategy professor. David had a way of scaring you enough with his threat to cold call for case discussions to get you to thoroughly read and understand the cases for class. He also made the conversation and discussion around the cases lively and thought-provoking, so you wanted to be in the know on the cases and not be left behind. I’m still thinking about some of the cases we discussed! The second faculty is Debra Glassman, our Macroeconomics professor. I went into the quarter pessimistic about macroeconomics – it’s not my thing. Debra had a way of making the topics incredibly interesting and got classroom conversations going. I’ve mentioned several times to others that I wish I had her as my undergrad macro professor because I feel like I’ve missed out on understanding so many things while they were happening (like the Great Recession). You can tell she loves macroeconomics in her sense of humor and the way she presents it, and it makes you as a student want to enjoy it too.

Career Impact

How has the MBA program equipped you for a future career change?

I’m an Accountant, and if you had asked me 5 years ago I would assume my future would entail being an Accountant doing financial statements for life. Don’t get me wrong, I still love it when my balance sheet balances and the audit is clean, but I need something more. My goal upon graduating is to change job functions. I love Accounting and I’m good at it, but I’m ready for a different perspective. I’m not 100% sure what that means or looks like, but I know I’m more prepared to take on something a little less black and white and a little grayer, revolving around decision-making in the future. The MBA program has aided in my future career change in many ways, mostly with providing me with the educational tools I was seeking to become more well-rounded (and not just focused in Accounting). While I haven’t taken full advantage of the Career Services office at this point, that is at the very top of my priority list heading into the third and final year to be able to get myself out there to future employers in the right way. I also think that not having to choose a focus/area of study allows us students to explore a variety of classes and become the well-rounded professional that so many of us are seeking to be.

Final Advice

What’s your #1 tip for someone considering an MBA?

My #1 tip for someone considering an MBA is to have a little work experience under your belt before thinking of going to business school. I remember having a conversation with a friend from undergrad who went straight to get her MBA, and she mentioned how she felt “behind” because she didn’t have this real work experience to bring to the table or relate to on projects or conversations. Having worked for nearly 10 years before going back to school has been invaluable in contributing to what I’m getting out of the program. I think having some experience also helps give direction and purpose to getting an MBA, beyond just getting a degree.

Is there anything else you want to tell prospective students about this program?

The UW Foster Evening MBA program is everything they say it is. It’s not a cake walk; if you are admitted into this program, you are an elite student and a lot is expected of you academically. But there will also be fun. Between weekly happy hours, the Foster 5k, football tailgating, TG’s, Frosters, and Fosters, there will be chances to relax and have a good time with your classmates. Both hard work and fun (aka networking) are essential to success in this program. Take advantage of what interests you but don’t try to do it all. This program offers more than just a degree, so be open and willing to take it all in. Lastly, talk with current students if you’re interested in the program. Visit a class. These conversations were the most valuable to me as I went through the admissions process, solidifying my desire to be in the program.