August, 2012

What a Difference a Year Makes

Thursday, August 23rd, 2012

What a difference a year makes. Last year, I completed my last tour as a U.S. Marine, moved from my duty station in Japan back to Seattle, studied for the GMAT, worked tirelessly on my business school applications, and reconnected with old friends and colleagues.

This year, I finished up my volunteer service as a writing and math tutor at 826 Seattle, rekindled my passion for jazz music and swing dance, connected with local veterans and military-friendly companies, and traveled to Eastern Europe and Scandinavia. And now, in less than a month, I will hang up my uniform and don a business suit…and this old Marine will soon become a full-time MBA student at the Foster School of Business.

After my deployment to Iraq, I knew that I did not want to make the military a long-term career. I joined the Marines out of a sense of patriotism and duty, stemming from the 9/11 terrorist attacks and the Iraq War. I wanted to serve my country, deploy to Iraq, and, like Cincinnatus, go back home. My military experience helped me discover my personal strengths and professional interests and develop my leadership and management skills. But I knew that I didn’t know enough about business theory and practices. I was hungry and wanted to know more. And I saw business school as a way to satisfy that hunger and make a successful career transition from the military to the business world.

Having spent my entire career overseas in Asia and the Middle East, I look forward to starting business school in my hometown of Seattle. I look forward to meeting and learning as much as I can from my future classmates and professors. I look forward to making lifelong friendships and golden memories. I look forward to the parties and social events. I look forward to building my professional network and making inroads into the local technology industry. But most of all, I look forward to starting a new chapter in my life as a veteran in business school.

Every now and then, I miss the Corps. Sometimes, I wonder how the veterans of World War II, Korea, and Vietnam made the transition back to civilian life after they got back from the war. How did they cope with hanging up their uniform and remaking themselves as part of American society? Last year, the Commandant of the Marine Corps, General James F. Amos, said, “A Marine is a Marine…there’s no such thing as a former Marine. You’re a Marine, just in a different uniform and you’re in a different phase of your life.” As I begin the journey of the Foster MBA program, I know that I will have to remake my identity on a personal and professional level, but I also know that I don’t have to forsake my identity as a Marine. And thanks to the wisdom of General Amos, I will stand as a proud veteran at Foster and, in return, hope to make the Corps proud someday.

~Guest Blogger Mark Bonicillo, Full-time Class of 2014

Meet Erin Ernst, Foster MBA Admissions Director

Friday, August 17th, 2012

The Foster community is composed of more than just students (though students are, of course, important!) – program staff, faculty and alumni all play a role in creating Foster’s warm, welcoming, unique and collaborative environment.  This post is first in a series highlighting some of these diverse perspectives to help illustrate the personalities and passions of our community members and the many ways different community members interact with the program. Inside the Foster MBA interviewed Erin Ernst, Foster MBA Admissions Director, to learn about how she contributes to the Foster community.  Her responses are given below.

In your opinion, what makes the Foster MBA program special?

Hands down, the people. When I started working here over 10 years ago, I’ll admit it – I had some preconceived notions about MBAs. I suppose I thought that they were all the same. Boy, was I wrong. Foster MBAs truly support one another. They genuinely want to get to know one another. They aspire to use the skills gained in the MBA to rise to the top as much as they plan to use these same skills to give back and make a difference. They astound me year after year with their incredibly diverse and impressive talents, experiences and goals. They are ambitious, humble, funny, brilliant and passionate. I feel so fortunate to know them all!

What qualities or attributes does the Foster Admissions team look for in candidates?

There are certain qualities that almost any competitive MBA program would look for – strong academic abilities, quality work experience, polished communication skills and leadership potential. Basically, admissions committees want to know whether a candidate can handle the coursework, work effectively on a team, and be successful in their career after the MBA. Foster is no exception. But beyond these basic attributes, at Foster we look for students who are passionate about their goals. People who will roll up their sleeves, dive in and soak this experience up.  We are known for our small program size, and this means that each student has the potential to contribute a great deal to the program. It is very difficult to hide here; this is not the place for someone who just wants to go through the motions and get the degree. We offer a ton of opportunities to network, to develop your leadership skills, to try new things and to put knowledge learned in the classroom to practice out in the real world; we are looking for people who want the MBA to be a truly transformational experience.

Moving on from work, what are some of your hobbies?

 I am a born and raised Seattleite, and I suppose my hobbies reflect that. I enjoy the outdoors as much as I enjoy trying out a new restaurant. I love hiking. A lot. But I love the pizza and beer after the hike just as much. I am almost always listening to music – at home, in the car, at work, on my way to work – and I particularly enjoy discovering new, obscure bands. I have played the piano since I was seven years old and find it to be a great stress reducer. If I could camp every single weekend in the summer and ski every single weekend in the winter, I would. I swim laps a few times a week and I aspire to still be doing this when I’m 85 years old. I am still friends with people that I went to kindergarten with, but I absolutely love meeting new people – I definitely found the right career for that!

Where is the most interesting place you’ve traveled to?

My career in MBA admissions has allowed me to travel the world more than I ever thought possible. And the more I travel, the more I want to see. I have a hard time calling one location more interesting than another. But one trip that really stands out is a vacation to Guatemala that I took a few years ago. I had never heard Howler Monkeys until I walked into Tikal National Park. Let’s just say that I thought the animal producing this terrifying sound was a lot bigger than a monkey. We also visited Lake Atitlan, and getting there involved a three hour, very bumpy ride in a van, and a very fast, rain soaked ride in a boat to get to our hotel – there are no roads connecting the villages around the lake. That night we ate dinner around a big table with all of the other hotel guests, and watched lightning strike the San Pedro Volcano from our porch. Unforgettable!

If you could go anywhere in the world, on an all-expenses paid vacation, where would you go?

New Zealand. I have a feeling that it is right up my alley!

Time for a Change

Friday, August 10th, 2012

What are your life-time career goals? Jesus, I don’t know…to retire early? I overheard my sister ask my niece what she wanted to be when she grew up and I leaned in closer to hear the answer. Maybe this six year old knows something I don’t. In case you’re wondering the answer was cashier at the grocery store or the trash guy. She didn’t want to touch the trash; she just wanted to drive the truck and operate the arm that picked up the cans. These answers did not inspire anything in me. Although the discount at the grocery store was appealing, I had little interest in wearing an apron. Also, I’m too short to drive a trash truck.

For the last ten years I have developed my expertise in a small and specialized industry, which was dying a slow and painful death. I could see the writing on the wall and needed to reinvent myself, but transitions are difficult. As my old boss was fond of saying, “change just brings problems”. This brilliant, albeit fictional, political campaign slogan was quoted ironically, but that company has since had to lay off more than half its staff.

A career change was in order. I have extensive experience in a very specific field and I didn’t think this was enough to make the career change I wanted. So, I decided to go back to school. This presents a new set of challenges, like “What are your life-time career goals?” Answering this question actually forced me to examine what I wanted as opposed to what was immediately available to me. I wanted more options and felt an MBA could help me with that.

Foster has lots of the qualities I was looking for in a school. Ideologically, the program’s very supportive and collaborative environment was a plus. I didn’t quite realize how prevalent this theme was until I arrived at the welcome weekend. It’s all anyone talks about. Well that and coffee. A good number of the students were also career changers, the class was a little smaller and more diverse, and the location was a draw. The cooperative focus was actually a really strong selling point for a career changer like me. Let’s be honest, I can use all the help I can get.

Ultimately, these little bits of information about the program and the opinions of a bunch of people I don’t know are all I had to go on. Is Foster a good fit for me? I think so, but I haven’t even started yet. My own experience will be shaped greatly by what I put into it, but I just don’t know exactly what that looks like. It may be the best decision I ever made. I’ll let you know in two years. So, right now the only thing I’m certain of is that Foster will be the best MBA experience of my life, or really, the only one. Here’s hoping I’m right and Foster is a good fit.

~Guest blogger Nicki Miyoshi, Full-time Class of 2014

Why Settle for One When You Could Have Two?

Saturday, August 4th, 2012

Foster is committed to providing students with the knowledge and skills to compete in a global marketplace.  Learn about one student’s unique experience pursuing dual MBA degrees in the U.S. and China.

By Robert Gardner, UW Foster Full-time MBA Class of 2013 / PKU Guanghua International MBA Class of 2013. After graduating from Texas A&M University, Robert worked in New York in Architecture, later moving to China to work work in a NASDAQ-listed education corporation before starting his unique MBA experience at Peking University. He is looking to get into international business.

Taking the GMAT, sending in applications, gathering transcripts and getting those verified, paying tuition and finding housing are all a part of the process to getting into an MBA program, but this was the second time, as I was applying for the double-MBA program’s second year at the University of Washington (“UW”). I’m already an MBA student at the prestigious Peking University (“PKU”) in Beijing, China, but I had decided I wanted to pursue the double-MBA opportunity when I first applied to PKU the year before.

Most people have no idea that these programs exist, and when I tell them I’m going to Seattle for my second year, they think it’s just another exchange program. When I explain that it is a dual-degree or double-degree, they ask what the second degree is. It usually takes a little effort to explain it is an MBA from each university.

Why would anyone pursue a program like this? It’s fairly simple, but much more complex at the same time. By obtaining PKU credentials, you get “China Expert” forever written on your resume, while UW credentials show that you have enough stuff to complete a degree in the USA. In China, the PKU credentials are extremely venerated; it is no wonder the PKU Guanghua School of Management has been called the “Harvard Business School of China”.

The program still lasts two years, you spend the first in Beijing, and the second in Seattle; and the result however, is double. PKU has multiple partners set up in this arrangement; there is the University of Texas McCombs School of Business, and the new partnership with the Massachusetts Institute of Technology’s Sloan School that grants an M.S. degree in Management in lieu of an MBA. Other options are in Canada, South Korea, Singapore, France and Germany. These programs are really allowing students to expand their education beyond just the one at Peking University, and allowing a China perspective combined with another perspective, creating a truly international MBA experience, and hopefully, allowing me to become an MBA graduate better suited for international business opportunities between the USA and China.

There have definitely been challenges on the way, but it is those experiences that are impossible to convey by words alone that prepare me for doing business cross-culturally. I cannot deny that I am sad my time with my classmates at PKU seems cut short, the truth is many of us will be taking the second year at other schools around the world, either as full-year double-degree students, or one-semester exchange students. In the meantime, I look forward to meeting my new classmates at UW and look forward to the friendships and challenges that will arise in another location.