Education with impact: Q&A with Emma Hohenstein, MBA 2019

Emma HohensteinWhy Foster?

When I decided to pursue an MBA, I was interested in an Evening Program for the flexibility it provides and the opportunity to have an extra year to leverage the unique access and resources afforded to students. I was planning to move from New York to Seattle and decided to time the move to coincide with the start of the school year. Having an immediate community after a cross-country move made the transition to a new city incredibly smooth.

Before moving, I visited Foster and another Seattle-based MBA program that specialized in sustainability. One of the primary factors driving me to pursue an MBA was my view that business plays an essential role in environmental conservation and mitigating the negative effects of climate change. I had misgivings regarding the tradeoffs inherent to a highly specialized MBA and visiting both programs validated those concerns. The choice was clear; Foster was a superior program in all facets: academic rigor, career management resources, access to alumni working in the Seattle business community, and peers that shared similar views that business can act as a catalyst for positive social change. Foster has provided the opportunity for me to pursue activities that have made the MBA experience well-rounded without sacrificing the core subject matter that I believe an MBA should provide.

Student experience

What has been the highlight of your Foster MBA experience so far?

I define a highlight in the MBA program as an experience where I took on a new challenge, pushed through the uncomfortable phase of not knowing up from down, and came out the other side feeling like I summited a mountain. During my first year at Foster, my highlight was Finance. I didn’t know what I didn’t know – free cash flows, NPV, leveraging a Beta, WACC – these terms meant nothing. I just knew that I wanted to understand Finance, a subject which seemed from the outside to be complex, nuanced, and full of assumptions. The ten weeks of winter quarter were grueling. The learning curve was steep and, just when I thought I had sure footing, the next topic would start and the climb got steeper than ever. Nonetheless, a desire to understand the new and fascinating material drove me forward. When I walked out of the Finance final knowing I’d crushed it, I felt like I could do anything. The experience was a reminder that I can learn anything and the only limitations in my life are ones I put on myself.

What are the most impactful experiences you’ve had?

I participated in the Environmental Innovation Challenge and Business Plan Competition put on by the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship.  My teams focused on the power of technological innovation to drive environmental conservation – coupling impact with entrepreneurship. These competitions allowed me to integrate the topics that I was learning in the MBA program and sit at a table as the business advisor.  I completed a market analysis, developed a go-to-marketing strategy, built a financial model, pitched to investors, and finished my first business plan. I loved integrating subjects from the classroom and applying them to a real situation. The competitions demonstrated (particularly to myself) my ability to execute on what I was learning in the classroom to achieve something impactful in an area that I cared about.

Are you a member of any student organizations?

I love being a part of Women in Business (WiB). Early into my MBA, I was looking for a leadership opportunity and WiB was seeking a representative from the Evening Program to join the board.  I quickly learned an important lesson: leading in business school has nothing to do with your job title or your experience managing teams. Stepping up and leading makes you a leader. Showing enthusiasm and a willingness to get things done provided me an opportunity to lead. I applied, was selected by the board, and jumped in. WiB expanded my network quickly. I got to know students whose paths I wouldn’t have otherwise crossed because we weren’t in the same classes. I learned more about my peers, their goals, and the experiences they’ve had was women in business. Being in WiB gave me another reason to reach out to female business leaders in the Seattle community, to learn from them and find ways to engage them at Foster. There are many things that can be learned in the classroom during business school but it an MBA doesn’t make you a leader. WiB enhanced my MBA experience by giving me the opportunity step up and lead, something that is learned by doing, not by reading.

Curriculum

What class has been the most useful or interesting to you?

Without a doubt, Microeconomics with Ed Rice was the most useful class at Foster. The class reshaped some of my fundamental views on how the world worked, so much so that I voted differently on a ballot measure in the state election. The experience of taking Microecon with Ed Rice was like being handed a pair of glasses when you thought you have 20/20 vision and then seeing the world more clearly than ever before. Professor Rice’s class was captivating, challenging, and the concepts have carried over into the subsequent classes that I’ve taken at Foster. If every person on the planet took this class, the world would be a better place.

Have you participated in any experiential learning opportunities?

I participated in the Venture Capital Investment Fund competition where my team and I created a uniquely positioned fund concept, researched companies that our fund would invest in, and as finalists, pitched to institutional investors in New York. The experience contributed to my MBA because it allowed me to grow my network within Foster by working with peers in the full-time program and in other years of the evening program. I learned more about VC, something that I’m very interested in, a year before I’d be able to take a VC specific elective. Our team made it to the final round and presented to real institutional investors. It was a unique experience to have three executives giving detailed feedback on our submission and was empowering to have our idea, a fund that invests in female founded, SaaS ventures, so well received.

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

Weili Ge was my Financial Accounting professor during my first quarter at Foster. As a Comparative Literature major, learning Accounting felt like learning a foreign language. If you’ve learned another language, you know that immersion is key. Professor Ge created an immersive environment in the classroom by bringing in relevant news articles to demonstrate how the accounting principles we covered were being applied in real time. Accounting came alive because Weili made it was more than a topic in the classroom. She took what once felt like abstract concepts and made them concrete. Weili not only taught a thorough understanding of the material, she took it a step further by teaching how to apply accounting tools to larger business problems.

Careers

How has your MBA experience enabled you to see your career differently?

Through the MBA experience, I’ve learned about career opportunities that I didn’t know existed. I regularly find myself asking: She does what? That’s a job? Before the program, I felt pigeonholed into an industry and on a career trajectory that I’d come to more by happenstance than by choice. I entered Foster thinking I knew what I wanted to do after graduation but, as I learned about different opportunities and explored new topics in the classroom, I realized that the next step in my career is wide open.

One of the most rewarding things I’ve done as an MBA candidate is to reach out to people for informational interviews. I get to sit down with smart people working at companies and in job functions that I’m interested in and learn everything I wanted to know about what their job is really like. From the day to day tasks, to where they see their industry moving, to how their company views their department. These conversations have given me a better understanding of what I want to do and where I want to do it. They also serve as an important reminder that once you get an MBA, there are no longer any “bad” outcomes, only experiences to try new things and grow.

Work/Life balance

What strategies do you use to balance the demands of the MBA as well as your life outside of the program?

Time is the most precious resource you will have in an MBA program. I often find myself wishing I had a time-turner to attend both interesting events that are happening on the same evening.  When I’m faced with this occurrence, which happens almost weekly, I remember my goals both for the MBA program and my life in the long-run. Our Assistant Dean, Dan Poston, in true Dumbledore fashion, imparted the following wisdom during our orientation, sharing Dr. Stephen R. Covey’s words: begin with the end in mind. Before starting at Foster, I spent time thinking about what I wanted to get out of the MBA. When faced with potentially conflicting priorities and too many cool choices, I think to the question I originally asked myself, “what do I want to get out of this experience?” and which event gets me closer to my desired outcome. Having goals to guide me has made juggling the demands of the MBA experience easier and has allowed me to spend less time making decisions and more time doing things.

Final advice

Pursuing an MBA is one of the best decisions that I’ve made. An MBA is smart from a financial perspective: according to a study by the Forte Foundation, women who earn MBAs see pay gains of 55-65% of pre-MBA salary within five years of graduating. It is smart because an MBA unlocks seemingly endless opportunities. In this program, I’m learning frameworks to tackle huge problems, working with smart, interesting people, gaining confidence and growing as a leader, and having a great time. The Foster MBA is truly what you make it. Raise your hand and get involved. This experience offers some of the highest ROI for your time available anywhere.