MBA Strategic Consulting Program equips Foster students for the real world

Genevieve Cohen (MBA 2013) needed experience. An elementary schoolteacher trying to make the considerable jump from education to business, Cohen knew she’d have to prove her mettle to employers, and demonstrate that she could apply her MBA knowledge to real-world challenges.

MBA students at Isernio’s plant
Foster’s Strategic Consulting Program connected a team of first-year MBA students with Frank Isernio of Isernio’s Sausage, shown here at the company’s plant. A rapidly growing business, Isernio’s has become a repeat client. The most recent MBA consulting project focused on a digital marketing strategy for one of the company’s most popular products, a line of chicken sausage rolls.

She found myriad opportunities to do just that at the University of Washington Foster School of Business. Internships with leading companies. Projects featuring live businesses and brands. And the MBA Strategic Consulting Program which, for the past decade, has deployed teams of graduate students to analyze business problems for a variety of successful firms in the region and beyond.

Gordon Neumiller, the program’s director, says that these education-in-action projects provide good value for clients—and essential value for students.

Foster School Dean Jim Jiambalvo agrees.

“The classroom is a great environment for learning theories and frameworks,” says Jiambalvo. “But it’s critical that students know how to apply these theories and frameworks to real-world problems. The MBA Strategic Consulting Program directly addresses this critical need, and ensures that our students can roll up their sleeves and solve the complex, unstructured problems they’ll face on the job.”


Ten years ago, Dave Albano (MBA 2004) was an MBA candidate with an English degree who had stumbled into the wireless telecom industry. “I found that I enjoyed solving problems and making businesses run more efficiently,” he says. “I became an internal consultant wherever I worked.”

At Foster, Albano parlayed this passion into an existing MBA student organization called the Business Consulting Network. As president, he worked—along the margins of his academic work—with Neumiller to recruit area businesses with strategic problems to solve, assign student teams, and provide quality control.

He and Neumiller believed that the experiences were so valuable—and time-consuming—that they should be worth class credit. They pitched the idea to school administration. And soon there was a formal class, then a requirement, then an official program of the Foster School.

Today the Full-time MBA Program requires a 10-week Applied Strategy project in the first-year core, and many second-year students and Evening MBAs elect to take on a longer Field Study project through the MBA Strategic Consulting Program.

“These projects are an invaluable counterpart of the academics in that you get actual experience and really get engaged,” says Albano, now a consultant at Accenture who continues to advise Foster teams and has delivered a “Consulting 101” intro to many Applied Strategy classes. “It’s critical to have a quality work experience to point to, especially when you’re a career changer like I was.”

This year’s model

The program’s portfolio of recent clients includes Fortune 500 corporations (Starbucks, Intel, PACCAR, Alaska Airlines), smaller firms (Outdoor Research, Web Turner, OneEnergy Renewables, Isernio’s Sausage), non-profits (Seattle Children’s Hospital, Seattle Opera), and, increasingly, firms farther from home (Machine Perception Technologies of San Diego, Scharffen Berger Chocolate of Hershey, Pennsylvania).

The type of project ranges from supply chain efficiency to expansion strategy to brand management to database marketing and anything in between.

One of last year’s collaborations was with Saltchuk Resources, a diversified holding company founded by long-time Foster Advisory Board member Mike Garvey.

The challenge? To develop a more robust and integrated Saltchuk corporate brand across its family of 35 distinct companies that are loosely assembled around a theme of transportation and distribution.

“This task was not in our skill set,” admits Saltchuk president Tim Engle (MBA 2002). “So we looked outside for help.”

He found the team of Foster Evening MBA Students—Etta Mends, Tyler Edgar, and Rose Tucker—was more than up to the task. They worked closely with the company’s many stakeholders to produce a set of guidelines, both internal and external, designed to make Saltchuk a stronger and more cohesive company.

Mends, who works full-time in finance at Boeing, found the deep dive into the unfamiliar waters of branding and organizational structure to be exhilarating. “Not only did this project offer me a completely different perspective on business,” she says, “it also gave me a glimpse into a smaller company that moves so quickly to adapt and evolve.”

The client was more than satisfied. “We got a heck of a deal,” says Engle. “In terms of return on investment, it’s tenfold, easily. Their work will guide our thinking for a long time to come.”

Repeat business

The largest and most consistent client of the Field Study Program is Microsoft, which generated five different projects this past year.

One of the longest running collaborations is with Windows Azure, Microsoft’s cloud computing venture. Under the guidance of Suresh Sathyamurthy (MBA 2007), group product marketing manager at Windows Azure (who recently joined EMC), Foster MBAs have helped scale the business, identify market opportunities, understand the partner ecosystem, and analyze strategy over the past few years.

“The quality of work has been extremely good,” says Sathyamurthy, who was introduced to Microsoft while doing a student consulting project defining value bundles for the Xbox console. “The Foster students collaborate well and work with the end outcome in mind. This collaboration stands out in every presentation and in every meeting.”


At the end of the day, standing out is the name of the game for every MBA looking to leverage rich experiences into interesting and impactful work.

“We always tell students that the way to turn their project into a good job is to do a good job on the project,” says Neumiller. “It may not land you a job with your client company, but it will help you get a job.”

Mends already has a good job, and really came to the Foster School to remain competitive. But she says that challenging experiences like the Saltchuk project have opened her world. “My ambitions of what I want to do are growing as I grow with the program,” she says.

For Cohen, the former schoolteacher, the MBA Strategic Consulting Program was an essential facet of her management education. Working with different combinations of classmates, she delivered a business development plan for Ecologists Without Borders, a supply chain solution for Alaska Airlines and an international expansion analysis for Starbucks, as well as a dynamite brand audit for Tequila Partida.

“Understanding the different types of clients, different personalities, different challenges that each consulting project brings were a critical piece of my education,” Cohen says.

Her first job after graduation from Foster? Consulting.

Get started early on career management

Guest post by Naomi Sanchez, EdD, CMC, Assistant Dean, MBA Career Management

MBA Career Day at StarbucksEmployers are meeting with incoming MBA students before classes start and internship recruiting has been pushed back into early fall. Year-round networking is required for students in today’s job market. Why? Competition for companies to find the best and brightest is fierce. MBA students are entering a competitive job market and preparation for the interview season starts early. At Foster, we offered several summer workshops on professional brand development, interviewing skills and resume preparation. We also held a special summer orientation for incoming international students to prepare them for recruiting. MBA students will need to have both hard and soft skills to be successful in today’s job market. They must be able to articulate who they are, what they have to offer and what they want to accomplish in their career. Though it may seem simple, considerable preparation for this conversation is required. We teach the three Cs to students: Competence, Confidence and Connections. They need to be strong in all three to find the next step in their career. And they must start building and developing themselves for this challenging job market as soon as they arrive. In light of this competitive landscape, here are my three pieces of advice for the MBA Class of 2015:

  1. Know your professional brand
  2. Have the drive to make things happen
  3. Write thank you notes regularly

Thank you to Starbucks for hosting Career Day for the MBA class of 2015 on Friday, September 13.

Meet the 2013-2014 Fritzky Leadership Fellows

Courtney Biggs
Courtney Biggs
Courtney Biggs is a second-year MBA student at the Foster School of Business, focusing on Marketing and Finance. In addition to her role as a Leadership Fellow, she is a Peer Advisor, sits on the Board of the Diversity in Business Club, and serves a Board Fellow for Planned Parenthood of the Great Northwest. She has a BA from Vassar College in Art History and Economics, and an MA in Art History from the University of Southern California. Prior to starting at Foster, she worked at the Honolulu Theatre for Youth.Courtney chose to participate in the Fritzky Leadership Fellows program because she found her Leadership Fellow to be a tremendously helpful resource during her first year of the MBA program, and would like to provide the same sort of help and guidance to incoming first year students this year. She is enthusiastic about providing her peers with opportunities to develop their leadership abilities, as well as utilizing the Fritzky Leadership Fellows program as an opportunity to nurture and grow her own leadership development.
Evan Daikoku
Evan Daikoku

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Originally from Seattle, Evan attended Claremont McKenna College, where he majored in organizational psychology and government. Prior to starting the MBA program at Foster, he worked for five years in Deloitte Consulting’s Human Capital practice in San Francisco and Seattle. This summer, Evan completed his internship at Nordstrom, as a member of the Corporate Strategy team leading multiple growth and innovation centered initiatives – including international expansion, capital budgeting, and customer service experience.He is honored to be a Leadership Fellow and is excited to serve as a resource for first year students and help develop their own leadership skills.
Joel Duck
Joel Duck
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Prior to enrolling in the Foster MBA program, Joel Duck received his Industrial Engineering degree in 2002 from Texas Tech University and moved to Seattle to begin his new life in the great Pacific Northwest.  He spent two years working in the WA district office for UPS in their management training program in Operations Excellence and as the Seattle Hub Industrial Engineer.  More recently, he spent 7 years working for Swagelok as a Key Account Manager, developing new business relationships with a variety of clients including Boeing, Puget Sound Energy, Puget Sound Naval Shipyard, and World CNG.  After graduating from the Foster MBA program he plans to pursue a career in Marketing and Consulting.Joel is excited and honored to be a part of the Fritzky Leadership Fellows and hopes to provide the same level of support he received from his fellows as a first year student.  He lives in West Seattle with his wife Collette and two clownish English bull terriers.  He enjoys playing guitar, Seahawk & Husky football, camping, grilling, aquariums, games of all sorts, and hosting great parties.
Luke Goodrich
Luke Goodrich
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Before returning to school, Luke was a Customer Strategy Consultant in the technology industry with Accenture Management Consulting. Luke also and managed multichannel marketing campaigns for an online retailer, and deployed twice to Iraq, where he was an infantry team leader in the Army. At Foster, Luke is focusing on marketing and entrepreneurship. During his internship, he determined the ideal market, and developed a commercialization plan, for an early-stage medical diagnostic technology. He is excited to be a Leadership Fellow to contribute to the Foster community, and to continue to develop his own leadership abilities.
Liza Green
Liza Green
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A native of Virginia, Liza lived in Wyoming, Idaho, and Oregon before relocating to Seattle for business school. Her professional experience spans various industries, from restaurants to biotechnology and education. She is most passionate about the food industry, and spent her summer interning in brand management at Starbucks. In her second year at Foster she is a Leadership Fellow and president of Foster Foodies, among other things.She looks forward to developing her leadership skills in both of these roles, and is excited to serve as a resource for the incoming class at Foster!
Zach Gretch
Zach Gretch
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Prior to joining the Foster MBA Program, Zach worked as a consultant for PwC’s Advisory Services practice. Focused in the technology sector, he led and supported a broad range of business initiatives in areas such as risk management, market research, mergers and acquisitions, and process improvement. While at Foster, Zach is focused on building his skill set in the areas of marketing and strategy. He completed his summer internship with a sales strategy team at Philips Healthcare.Zach views the Fritzky Leadership Fellows program as a special opportunity to work on developing both himself and others. His goals for the program include: expanding his leadership knowledge through studying the art and learning from others, building personal leadership skills and experience through interaction with his first year teams and peers, and supporting growth by recognizing and encouraging leadership qualities and behaviors in others.Away from business school, Zach invests his time primarily in sports, exercise, and family. He and his wife excitedly await the birth of their first child, due in February of 2014.
Dennis Grubbs
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Dennis Grubbs is a lifelong Northwest resident and also earned his Bachelors Degree from the University of Washington.  Prior to coming back to Foster, Dennis worked in mortgage lending and then digital marketing at Microsoft.  In addition to taking on leadership roles in a number of clubs at Foster, Dennis is extremely honored to have been selected to take part in the Fritzky Leadership Fellows Program.He feels it will be a great opportunity to develop his leadership skills while also lending support to first-year students; something he appreciated having when he was a first year.  He is looking forward to this huge personal growth opportunity.
Kyle Hiatt
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Kyle Hiatt is a former Army Officer who is focusing strategy and finance at Foster. He majored in international relations at Tufts University, and studied abroad in St. Petersburg, Russia. Kyle grew up in Rhode Island, but has spent time living all over the United States throughout his career in the Army, including Georgia, Kentucky, Arizona, Southern California, and Washington.  Kyle decided to stay in Washington because it is the place where he sweats the least.Kyle decided to get his MBA to facilitate his transition from a career in the military to a career in business.  At Foster, he is on the executive boards of the Operations Club, Consulting Society, and the Sports Business Club.  This past summer Kyle interned at Deloitte, consulting on a supply chain project at Wal-Mart Headquarters in Arkansas.  He hopes to be in a management position one day, where he can help his employees feel fulfilled and valued as members of a team. Kyle sees the Leadership Fellows program as the perfect opportunity to test his abilities to work with and mentor groups of individuals striving toward collective success.When he is not hanging out in Paccar Hall, Kyle enjoys spending time with his dogs, watching and playing sports, running, hiking, and exploring the city.
Alyssa Hochman
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Prior to attending Foster, Alyssa spent close to seven years working as a Project Manager/Implementation Consultant at Epic, a healthcare software company based in Verona, Wisconsin.  She earned her undergraduate degree from Dartmouth College and was a 4-year varsity member of the Women’s Swim Team.  Alyssa is passionate about improving health-care delivery and is interested in the intersection between clinical care and technology.As a Fritzky Leadership Fellow, Alyssa endeavors to help and support first-year students as they navigate the MBA program. She is also interested in furthering her own leadership development and working with this year’s cohort of Leadership Fellows.
Andrew Kepley
Andrew KepleyLinkedIn Icon
Andrew comes to the Foster School of Business from his hometown of Washington DC. After graduating from James Madison University in Harrisonburg, Virginia, Andrew worked for Deloitte Consulting. At Foster, Andrew is focused on opportunities that build upon the skills he developed as a consultant while furthering his interests of marketing, strategic planning, and leadership.Andrew spent his summer interning for Brooks Running where he focused on the organization’s culture as the path to innovation. As a Leadership Fellow, Andrew is excited to further his leadership abilities while having the chance to better connect with first year students.
Cecily Northup
Cecily NorthupLinkedIn Icon
Cici is a second-year MBA student at the Foster School of Business. Prior to attending Foster, Cici worked as a senior analyst for a market research and consulting firm in Portland, Oregon where she led custom, mixed-method, proprietary research projects for Fortune 500 healthcare and technology companies. She is hoping to pursue a career in marketing, strategy and/or business development following graduation. Cici holds a BA in psychology from Columbia University and enjoys playing soccer, hiking, and skiing.
Carlton Wilson
Carlton WilsonLinkedIn Icon
Before moving to Seattle in 2010, Carlton worked at an independent music label in his hometown of Washington, DC. He traveled the world as a tour manager, then became the COO of the label’s own music venue. After moving to Seattle, Carlton became a financial advisor primarily working with middle-income families.Carlton is concurrently pursing dual masters in Business and Health Care Administration, with a goal of working at a non-profit health care provider.  Over the summer he interned at Virginia Mason Medical Center, where he helped the Graduate Medical Education department prepare for new regulations in the training of resident physicians.As a Leadership Fellow, Carlton is looking forward to helping guide the incoming class through the fun and challenging process of growth here at Foster.  Additionally, Carlton is a member of the Honor Council, MBAA VP of Academic Affairs, as well as a board member of several student groups.  Trying to be a good Seattleite, Carlton spends his free time sailing, cycling, and running.


Learn more about the Leadership Fellows program here.

The who, what, why, and Howe of Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle
Impact HUB Seattle

Impact HUB Seattle makes a great first impression.  It has that industrial chic thing down to a T: exposed brick, grand staircase, rustic wooden beams. There are Herman Miller chairs and 24” monitors at every desk, state-of-the-art meeting rooms, hot showers for bike commuters, and blazing fast internet, of course.   But the HUB is more than just a pretty face. It’s a space where entrepreneurs, nonprofits, and innovative start-up companies work side by side with the shared goal of making the world a better place.

“That’s Mark,” says HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe, waving at a young man through the glass walls of a sleek conference room.  “He’s the CEO of Moving World. It’s a for-profit start-up that connects professionals with vacation volunteer projects that match their skill sets.”  He turns and gestures in the other direction. “Two offices down,” he continues, “is the Seattle Good Business Network. They promote the benefits of buying and thinking local.” The HUB is filled with start-ups and nonprofits like these – organizations committed to treating contribution to the common good with the same reverence as financial gain.

Howe’s fascination with entrepreneurship began in law school, when he and an MBA student were assigned to help entrepreneurs in underserved communities with their business plans and legal issues. “It turned out I enjoyed the business side more than the legal side,” says Howe. So after getting his law degree, he set out to build his entrepreneurial expertise and earn what he calls a “poor man’s MBA,” competing in the UW Business Plan Competition with Safety Innovation, a company that produced protective garments for hospitals.

Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe
Impact HUB Seattle founder Brian Howe

As Howe became more confident of his start-up skills and his law firm found its niche serving impact entrepreneurs, he found himself spending more time helping clients with introductions to investors, writing business plans, and polishing pitch decks. He was passionate about the work, but it did not match the billable hour model of a law firm. Howe asked himself, “Is there a business model that allows me to do the work that I love doing?” His answer: Yes, start an incubator.

Howe went looking for inspiration and came across the global HUB network, an ecosystem for social entrepreneurs. Started in London in 2004, the HUB network had grown to about 40 outposts worldwide, and one had just opened in San Francisco. “I fell in love with the energy of the space,” says Howe, of his visit, “and thought, this is it. I don’t need to reinvent the wheel. I need to bring this to Seattle.”

Roughly a year later, HUB Seattle has 500 members who use the space to work on their start-ups, hold meetings and workshops, and share ideas with a community of like-minded entrepreneurs. The HUB’s “everything under one roof” model means that members can help each other with just about every aspect of running a start-up, from accounting to web design. HUB Seattle has built partnerships with organizations like Social Venture Partners and Bainbridge Graduate Institute, aopens its space up for community events like Startup Weekend, film screenings, and Tech Meetups.

So what’s next for HUB Seattle? Howe is thinking globally. “The HUB is arguably the largest network of impact entrepreneurs in the world,” he says.  He plans to develop a globally dispersed consulting network made up of HUB members who can share their talents, collaborate on ideas, and help each other change the world.

WCRS: an incubator for novel ideas

paccar interior for WCRSFor entrepreneurs, collaboration can be key to innovation. The same is true for doctoral students and scholars in entrepreneurship. Faculty and graduate students from across the country and overseas met in Seattle September 4-6 for the 11th annual West Coast Research Symposium (WCRS) to do just that: collaborate. “The WCRS started as a simple idea to connect faculty and doctoral students passionate about technology-based entrepreneurship on the West Coast of the United States,” says UW professor Suresh Kotha. “It’s wonderful to see how it’s evolved into a premiere conference.”

Hosted by the UW Foster School of Business and presented jointly by the University of Washington, Stanford, Oregon, University of Southern California, and UC Irvine, the WCRS is an opportunity for researchers to share, discuss, and build upon the latest ideas in the world of technology-based innovation and entrepreneurship.

“The WCRS is an incubator for novel ideas that challenge received wisdom and offer valuable lessons to anyone who lives or wants to live in the world of technology entrepreneurship,” says USC professor Nandini Rajagopalan.  Stanford professor Kathy Eisenhardt, co-director of Stanford Technology Ventures, agrees: “This conference brings together scholars from major universities to share their latest insights. It’s cross-university collaboration at its best.”

Many of the 21 papers presented at this year’s conference focused new attention on topics ubiquitous to entrepreneurship: identifying and evaluating start-up opportunities, intellectual property and patent wars, navigating relationships with boards and investors.  Others addressed themes unique to specific demographics: technology choices in the solar photovoltaic industry, venture capital funding of Asian-led ventures, trends in the video game industry. “The WCRS gives us a chance to test drive new ideas, present our work in progress, draw the field’s boundaries, and shape its future trajectory,” says University of Oregon professor Alan Meyer.

A central component of the WCRS is a day-long workshop for doctoral students. WCRS faculty recognize the importance of innovation and entrepreneurship as key drivers in national economies, and encourage current PhD candidates to pursue research in this field. Students who attend the doctoral consortium leave having further developed their areas of interest and built relationships that last throughout their careers. “The relationships formed at the WCRS are often enduring in nature,” says Foster School associate professor Emily Cox Pahnke. “In fact, many doctoral students find themselves working with WCRS faculty on future research.”

So fresh and so green

Ryan Suddendorf, Hunter Brooks, Todd Fishman

Evergreens Salads has a sense of humor. Each item on the menu has a name that will make you laugh out loud (or at least smirk). One might order, for example, the “Pear-ly Legal” (Asian pears, caramelized onions, walnuts and gorgonzola cheese over romaine and baby spinach), “Dice-Dice Baby” (romaine, roasted turkey, salami, garbanzo beans, basil, cherry tomatoes, jack cheese), or “The Cobbsby Show” (a new take on a traditional Cobb). Evergreens t-shirts carry slogans like “kale me maybe” or “biggest bowls in town.”   This new “salad experience” located in the heart of downtown Seattle is all about fun, but don’t let the antics fool you.  Founders Todd Fishman and Hunter Brooks mean business, and they’ve done their due diligence to make sure this salad start-up succeeds.

After graduating from the UW, Fishman and Brooks both headed east to experience life in corporate Manhattan. It was there that the childhood friends reconnected, bonding over their shared history and love of salad bars. Yes, salad bars. Seems odd at first, but we’re not talking Old Country Buffet here. The East Coast boasts gourmet salad restaurants so popular there are lines around the block.  It was while waiting in one of these lines, remembers Brooks, that the guys said to each other, “This would be killer in Seattle.”

An idea was born and the time was right. “We’re both really entrepreneurial,” says Brooks.  “We’d both been in New York for a few years. We were both ready to move on from our corporate roles and head back home.” So the two friends got down to work – fast. “We spit-balled the idea last August [2012],” Brooks recalls, “quit our jobs in September, moved home in November, signed a lease in May, and now we’re having our soft open on Friday.” (That’s Friday, August 16, just a year from when their initial concept, for anyone who’s counting.)

Fishman, who’d competed in the UW Business Plan Competition in 2009 with Nanocel, took on the task of writing the business plan.  By the time Brooks and Fishman moved west in November and teamed up with restaurant manager Ryan Suddendorf, (another UW alum), they had an impressive business plan and were ready to pitch to investors. “We raised money in about three months,” says Fishman.

One of Evergreens’ major investors is Kurt Dammeier of Sugar Mountain Capital, Seattle’s Pasta & Company, Beecher’s Cheese, and other successful restaurant ventures. “He has opened a lot of doors for us,” says Fishman. “He believes in our concept, and thanks to him, we’re getting better pricing, and real estate opportunities we wouldn’t otherwise have had.” Dammeier has been a great resource for the Evergreens team, but he’s not the only one. “I’d gone through several coaching rounds in the Business Plan Competition,” recalls Fishman, “and seen how much you can gain from mentors and advisors.” So Fishman and Brooks met with as many mentors as they could – 225 to be exact. “We’ve reached out to people, asked questions, and surrounded ourselves with people who are smart and successful,” says Brooks.

They’ve put that advice to use, making sure they have a strong business from the very beginning. “Lots of early-stage entrepreneurs don’t know how to come up with a model, stay on budget, and watch every dollar,” says Fishman. “The restaurant business is expensive, and has a high failure rate. You have to know what you’re doing.”

In the end, Evergreens Salads aims to be a restaurant people will want to come back to. “We’re catering to people who work in downtown Seattle.  They sit at a desk all day and they take maybe 30 minutes for lunch, and that’s sacred time,” says Brooks.  “The big takeaway,” says Fishman, “is that Evergreens is a great place for people to get a delicious, healthy meal, and have fun while they’re at it.”

San Francisco Trek

San Francisco Trek 2013

Foster Undergraduate Career Services team understands the importance of giving our students opportunities to engage with employers outside of the Seattle area. With that said, we are happy to report that Foster Undergraduate Career Services had the opportunity to take a group of Foster students to San Francisco to visit five companies. This group of Foster students consisted of finance/accounting majors who are interested in working in the bay area after they graduate. Each visit entailed an overview of the company, in-addition to students getting the opportunity to network with company representatives. During this two-day trek we also had a San Francisco alumni networking night, where we had roughly 40 Foster alumni from the San Francisco area meet up to network with each other as well as our current students.

When we asked some of the students who attended this trek what they liked best about it, here is what they had to say:

“I loved the networking night at Thirsty Bear. It was beyond helpful to socialize and talk with all the alumni. They were beyond helpful and interested in answering all of our questions.”

“I met several great companies that are on my target company list. These companies let their partners, managers and seniors share their work experience. That is very helpful to me. I knew more about these companies and got in touch with people there.”

“Going to the companies and learning about what is out there was definitely the most valuable part of the trip for me. In addition to and along with that, getting the chance to connect and meet with professionals in the field, particularly the UW grads, was great.”

The companies that we had the opportunity to visit on that two-day trek were:

Focus on career services drives MBA placements, ranking

Interview with Naomi Sanchez, Assistant Dean, MBA Career Services

In the recent U.S. News ranking of MBA Programs, Foster’s placement rate for 2012 graduates three months from graduation was higher than any other school in the top 25. Why did Foster do so well this past year?

Naomi Sanchez:  We started with great students. Beyond that, we had a very intentional program this year. We offered boot camps to prepare students for their interviews. We reached out to employers that had not been affiliated with Foster before and they began to recruit with our office. We brought on competencies that are necessary for the competitive work world, including people with background in corporate marketing, HR and finance. So we all have industry backgrounds that enable us to see what employers are looking for, and to make that very, very important match of students and graduates with corporations and companies – both large and small companies. It helps that we have a great mix in the Pacific Northwest of both entrepreneurial opportunities as well as the more traditional Fortune 100 companies. And, of course, we’re right next door to some technology giants, with Microsoft and Amazon in our back yard. Because Foster has such a great relationship with companies like these, we’re able to create networking opportunities that other students would not have.

You’re an advocate for getting students focused on the search for internships and jobs early in the MBA program. Why is that important?

NS:  We face the same challenge that career professionals across the country face today: How fast can we prepare our students for the work world, knowing that our students are here because they are interested in career advancement? Once we focus on that, we have to look at what we do here in MBA Career Services as something that begins even before they enter the classroom. We are looking at touch-points prior to the start of classes in the fall. We’re going to be taking a “fast-start” approach to reaching newly-admitted students prior to September. If you think about it, the profile of the new employee is based on what they did prior to the MBA program and what they are able to talk about in January of their first year. Students literally have only a few months in which to prepare for that first interview, which could determine whether or not they are employed the following year. So we need to get a head start on working with students because of the competitive nature of MBA hiring today. It’s as simple as that.

You’ve developed a system of working with students to help them effectively define their personal brand and market themselves to employers. Can you describe that system? Why has it been so effective?

NS:  What we did this year was a bit different. We made a concerted effort to get close to students. We instituted a peer advising program for second year students, who provide services and counseling to first-year students. For that to be effective, we had to understand what the second-year students were facing in terms of their career issues. We offered five grants to clubs to promote career services within their memberships. We also offered a professional development course that focused on recruiting, case interviewing and behavioral interviewing, business etiquette, business writing – all the essentials for a student being able to be successful in the recruiting process. We implemented a new software system that helps us to track every attendance of a student to any of our events. It allows us to note achievements, changes or challenges a student might have that our coaches can work with. I think that gets us into a different relationship with students, which helps us help them find the opportunities they’re seeking, because they often change over time. So there are a number of different initiatives I think have brought us closer to students.

If I’m a prospective MBA student who is considering applying to Foster, what do I need to know about the career services offered at the school.

NS:  If you’re a prospective student, I think you’re coming in at a time when the leadership of the school has realized the importance of career development, and has put resources in this area, and has built a world-class team of people that cares about every individual student. We provide advising, training for the recruiting process, help with salary negotiations, and outreach to the best companies that hire MBAs today – globally — and we are there to make sure that every student has the optimum opportunity to find a great job. As a result, I have full confidence that every student is capable of finding a great job – not just any job – but a great job.

Rotary First Harvest: adapting to new bylaws

Guest post by Laura Peirano, 2012-2013 Board Fellow

The Consulting & Business Development Center’s Board Fellows Program places Foster MBA and Evans School MPA students as non-voting board members of local nonprofit organizations. Nonprofit agencies participating in the program reach diverse communities with different passions and interests.

At the annual Net Impact conference in Portland in fall of 2011, I met Benjamin Rasmus who works for the nonprofit Rotary First Harvest (RFH). RFH locates surplus produce, coordinates the harvesting, packaging, and distribution of it in order to solve two problems: leftover crops that go to waste and hungry Americans in need of nutrition. I’m very passionate about nutritious food and the food system in America, so I asked Benjamin if RFH would want to partner with the UW Board Fellows Program. We had a group meeting and decided it was a great fit and I became the Board Fellow.

As a Board Fellow for Rotary First Harvest, I attended RFH’s strategic planning meeting in September along with many RFH Board of Directors meetings from May 2012 to May 2013. As part of the UW Foster School of Business Board Fellows 2012-2013 Nonprofit Board Leadership Seminar, I also attended twelve hours of class sessions during which I learned about nonprofit strategic planning, structural analysis, effective Board governance, and changing Board structures.

In order to get to know the way RFH works first hand, I volunteered at several work parties to help pack produce at Northwest Harvest and volunteered at the local food bank. The Northwest Harvest facility is clean, with an abundance of volunteers wearing hairnets and gloves, working tirelessly while chatting, laughing and getting to know each other. I was impressed by how easy it seemed to package food for 100,000 meals in four hours.

The University Food Bank receives produce from Northwest Harvest and Food Lifeline, so a portion of the fruits and vegetables there go through RFH on the way. When I volunteered at the University Food Bank, I was able to witness the supply chain in action, as well as the people who are benefitting from this nonprofit’s amazing work. After sorting donated produce and organizing it in the food bank store, I helped check out customers and bag their groceries. It was rewarding to see people who would not have access to this food without the Food Bank picking out their food for the week. Rotary First Harvest plays its part by making sure more of the food available comes from wholesome fruits and vegetables.

There are hundreds of nonprofits in Washington State, and only thirty-six of them were selected to participate in the UW Board Fellows Program. Of all of these strong nonprofits, Rotary First Harvest has one of the highest functioning and successful Boards in the program, which made it difficult to find a topic with problems to solve. Since RFH recently updated its bylaws, I decided to focus on the transition from the old bylaws to the new bylaws and on ways that the transition could be more successful. My recommendations include evaluating the level of Board involvement, using metrics to evaluate Board success, and engaging the Advisory Board.

Rotary First Harvest Board of Directors is a successful, strategic and nimble Board that has identified and taken steps to correct the problems that have arisen. The fact that the bylaws are frequently reviewed and updated shows that the Board is continually looking for ways to improve. I presented my findings and recommendations in May 2013 to the Board of Directors. My recommendations suggest ways that the Board can continue to be successful and even exceed expectations. It was a great experience working with the board, learning how a board functions and how their strategic objectives shape the success of the nonprofit.

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