General

An Engineer in Business Land

Thursday, December 12th, 2013

I hadn’t always planned to go to business school. In high school I had always done my best in numbers, calculations, cold logic. Everything else was an abstraction. It made no sense to me that there could be more than one answer, or that responses to questions could run a spectrum of right and wrong. In undergrad I studied aeronautical and astronautical engineering and thrived. We used to say that we were really just glorified math majors and we’d joke to each other that “this isn’t liberal arts; we should all get the same answer.” I had always been most comfortable when there was one – and only one – right answer; when it was black and white, yes or no, true or false. It seemed incomprehensible to me to want it any other way, when there was a world of concrete, verifiable absolutism that just made sense.

Fast forward a few years to a few weeks before making the big move to the West Coast. Up until this time, there were two sides to the world that I knew: there was engineering – that marvelous straight-forward world where, if you got your numbers right and all your decimals and arithmetic signs aligned, it was guaranteed to work – and there was everything else. “Everything else” was a big, grey, fuzzy ether on the other side of the wall that separated my small corner of the world from them. I knew there were business people at my old job – financial analysts and planners, human resource managers, accountants, auditors, market analysts and salespeople – but I never saw them. Nor did I really have any clue what it was that they did, or how they did it, or even how it affected the company.

And yet, with each new person that I spoke to, I became increasingly convinced that an MBA would be the wisest course of action. It would open up more doors than a focused engineering degree. It would open up a plethora of new career paths and options to me. It would diversify my skill set. It would bring clarity to that amorphous, hazy something that I called “the rest of the world.”

Now I was poised to hurl myself over that wall and into that foggy, non-specific void to find out what lay beyond. In addition to the usual anxieties and what-if’s that everyone faces when going through a major life change, I was preoccupied with another set of trepidations. Would I be the only engineer in a class full of business majors? Would I be struggling to grasp concepts while everyone around me enjoyed a leisurely review of fundamentals? How could I survive in an environment where there was no single correct answer to any question? To what had I so blindly committed myself, my savings, and the next two years of my life?

I’ve found from prior experience that it never does well to dwell on anxieties, as they have a way of blowing themselves out of proportion. In the weeks leading up to my relocation and subsequent plunge into the frigid, icy unknown, I embarked on an 8,000-mile solo road trip, half conceived by wanderlust and half escapism. I spent three weeks alone, avoiding civilization, and going places I had no business going to with a rear-wheel drive coupe.

If you’ve ever spent any considerable amount of time in solitude, you know that your mind tends to drift towards subjects you’d rather not think about. Anxieties become amplified; insecurities you thought were safely in the closet come marching back out. More than once I thought (if only fleetingly) of turning around, canceling my enrollment and heading back to the comfort of my known universe.

Three things kept me steadfast in my commitment to attend business school. Firstly, I knew that I needed a change in my life and this was to be it. I get restless and bored if I stay in one place for too long, and five years on the East Coast was my limit. Secondly, I focused on what the workload might be. In undergrad, a 20 hour day was not atypical for me. If that’s what it took to succeed in business school, then I could do it. Thirdly, and most importantly, I knew that if I turned away from a defining personal challenge such as this, it would be a long time before I earned back my own self-respect.

So, now here I am, at the end of my first quarter as an engineer-turned-MBA student. At this stage, I can only say one thing for certain: I made the right choice, and in the words of a certain 16th century English playwright, I had made much ado about nothing.

For one, my apprehensions about sleepless nights have thus far proved baseless. I have finals coming up, but I’ve still managed to find the time to write this saga.

It also turned out I’m not the only engineer in the class, and as I got to know some of my classmates I found that regardless of our backgrounds many of them had the same or similar reservations about coming to school. We all came to this place with different strengths and weaknesses. Whether someone’s background was in engineering or computer science, finance or marketing, music theory or underwater basket-weaving, we were all in the same boat, on a more or less even playing field.

The career management center and professional development team work tirelessly to analyze your skill set, drill down to your fundamental essence and help you discover your transferable skills; the skills needed to succeed in business that you didn’t know you already possessed.

Even with this new-found self-discovery, the classes are still challenging; the workload burdensome at times. But the shared drudgery becomes the commonality that knits the class together. And the whole becomes more than the sum of its parts.

The future still remains murky and unclear. I don’t know where I’ll end up when I graduate, in both a career sense and a geographic sense. In a previous life, when I was dependent on the need to have a clearly defined sense of the right and wrong directions to take, that might have given me insomnia. But now I know that I can learn how to pick the right answer within the context of the situation. That erstwhile shapeless and formless “other-world” becomes tangible and I can define my own path without the need for the crutch of absolutism.

~ Guest post by Kevin Cotter, Class of 2015 MBA Candidate

Helpful Advice for Incoming MBA Students

Wednesday, August 28th, 2013

If you are an incoming first year student, we may have already met. I’m looking forward to seeing you again in September! Here are some helpful tips for success as you transition into the program:

Get to know your classmates

This may seem like common sense, but I am going to say it anyway. Now, I know some of you may be married and/or have kids, and this makes it very hard to do this outside of class studies, but get to know your classmates. Some of them are going to be friends for life. They will be great connections as you advance your career. And most of all, they are amazing people. How do I know this? The Foster admissions staff does a pretty good job of selecting great people. The first person I met shares my love for music, particularly hip-hop, and we have been best friends since. This amazed me, and it is only one example of the great people you will come to know. This also includes second years! I was a little timid in getting to know the second year students when school first started. They don’t bite. At least, I didn’t get bit, I didn’t see anybody get bit, and I have no urges coming on to bite people as I get ready to start my second year. Before you know it, we’ll be gone and you’ll be giving this advice to a new set of students, so don’t wait until it’s too late.

Utilize MBA Career Management during Fall Quarter

Winter quarter gets here quick. Internship recruiting starts basically the day winter quarter is here. Don’t wait until that time to get to know MBA Career Management and what they can offer because internship recruiting can be very overwhelming if you don’t feel prepared. I don’t care how busy you think you are, get in there fall quarter. Set time for this. Talk about your goals. Do mock interviews. You will thank me later and I can say I told you so. MBA Career Management is great, but you have to get in there and leverage them. They’ll be expecting you.

Get Involved

Volunteer. Do the C4C Weekend in California. Go to Whistler after fall quarter ends. You don’t have to do them all, but make sure you do some of the extra activities that the school and the students organize. They are great ways to get to know your fellow classmates and they also happen to be a lot of fun. It’s a short two years here; don’t look back and wish you would have done more of the activities, because I guarantee you people will be talking about how fun they are after they’re over.

You Will Survive

I’m not going to elaborate on this too much. You will have multiple times fall quarter where you think you aren’t going to make it. You will. I promise. In addition to your family, friends, and spouses, you have a great support system at Foster. You’ll learn more about this when school starts. Lean on them. They will help you get through it.

These are just a few takeaways from one student who has completed the first year of this great journey. Many others will no doubt have great advice for you. In closing I would just like to say, it’s going to get a little crazy at times, it will feel overwhelming, but make sure you remember to have fun. See you this fall.

~ Dennis Grubbs – Full Time Class of 2014

Taking a Pause

Friday, October 12th, 2012

Being a 2nd year MBA is amazing. You no longer have 8:30 classes assigned to you, you get to take the classes you want, and you’ve got the confidence of an internship behind you! So fear not, young 1st year Padawans, there’s a bright future if you just stick it out.

What I really appreciate about being a 2nd year is the whole new level of confidence I have in my personal goals. I’m taking a small load (only  13 credits!) this quarter because I want to take some time to really focus on my career search, my classes, and the people in my life. My first year I was still coping from the shock of being back in school after five years in the work world and trying to re-learn how to write memos and reports longer than two paragraphs. I was stressed about doing well academically and on scoring a summer internship early. I didn’t really have as much time to sit back and think about what I wanted to do once I had my MBA. This quarter I’m blocking out time on my calendar to do just that: taking personal assessments and time to reflect on the person I want to be and the type of career that follows from those goals.

I also enjoy having more time for the classes I do want to take. I learned my lesson from Spring Quarter – taking a 2 credit class does not mean half the work, it just means an entire quarter’s work consolidated in half the time! So this quarter I’ve got more time to do all the readings, think about the course content, and actually learn. The key to success is preparation, especially in my Negotiations class. In this course, you’re given the details of a case and have about an hour in class to come to an agreement with your partner on how to carve and share that mythical pie. I highly recommend this class, it will change your world.

Finally, I am prioritizing making time for people. This includes being involved in clubs to a greater capacity than I was last year, and also keeping in touch with friends. Serving on the boards of clubs really helps cement the relationship with fellow Fosterites and enables you to build additional channels of access to companies for networking purposes. Just about the only drawback about 2nd year is that everyone is on a different schedule, so some people I’m lucky if I see only twice a week, which makes coffee breaks that much more important.

~Guest Blogger Bin Ma, Full-time Class of 2013

Welcome to the MBA Experience

Thursday, October 4th, 2012

It’s now nearly two whole weeks into fall quarter!  How are Foster MBA students feeling so far?

First year students are hitting the ground running!

I am exhausted, overwhelmed, excited, and hungry to learn. About what I expected coming into the program, just even more extreme. I am looking forward to getting involved in the clubs and interacting with great people.

~Dennis Grubbs, Full-time Class of 2014

I’m overwhelmed, but in the best way possible. Beyond tackling and mastering the coursework ahead, I am looking forward to getting involved in the Foster community and beginning my exploration of career opportunities ahead.

~Liza Green, Full-time Class of 2014

I keep remembering the words of wisdom from last year’s First Years during my campus visit: “You’ll be drinking from a fire hose from day one!” They weren’t joking. It’s been a great first week and the workload has been everything they promised and more.

~Dan Metz, Full-time Class of 2014

Have a great quarter, everybody!

First Year Highlights: Advice from an MBA Mentor

Friday, September 7th, 2012

The Foster MBA program provides so many opportunities to meet with and talk to people in business, from meet-the-firms to happy hours to career fairs sponsored by MBA Career Services. While all of these opportunities are excellent, the one I found the most unique was the MBA Mentor Program. I knew this program was something very different early last fall when it held an “NFL draft” of mentor meet-and-greets, only this time the mentors were the prospects instead of the students! The mentors spoke about their areas of expertise and then were unleashed to the students for more getting-to-know-you conversation before students voted for their top three mentor choices. The mentors provided such a great opportunity to learn more about an industry, gather information about what to (and not to) spend time worrying about throughout the next couple of months, and garner any wisdom that they could pass down. The meetings with mentors provided an outlet for true curiosity and learning because the mentee groups were small and people did not have to wonder if they were asking enough thought-provoking questions or smiling enough, or worry if a recruiter was interested in their types of questions.

One of my mentors was Herb Bridge, chairman of Ben Bridge, a jewelry company with stores all over the western U.S. While the jewelry industry is not at the top of my priority list, I found myself drawn to Mr. Bridge’s experience, dedication, and no-nonsense responses to questions. As a career-changer in an MBA program, I gravitated to his resolute and definitive decision-making and responses. I was the coordinator for my small group so I was responsible for setting up each meeting between mentor and mentees. This role gave me additional opportunities to speak with Mr. Bridge and pick his brain. Most mentors have one meeting with their mentee group, but Mr. Bridge held two meetings: one with him where we discussed paths, what we wanted to do, and his thoughts; the second with additional people from his office (his CFO, etc.) where we had the opportunity to gain further information and different perspectives. Each meeting was left very open-ended, with contact information exchanged and an invitation for further communication.

Thanks to my meetings with Mr. Bridge I was able to get answers to my personal questions regarding business, sacrifices, and potential opportunities. His comments were really tailored to the goals of each person. Often I find that speakers and industry representatives generalize their answers for the wide audience, but Mr. Bridge really took the time to tailor his remarks to each person.

After speaking with classmates with different mentors, my experience of multiple visits and introductions, open invitations for further communication, and definitive answers and opinions on how to achieve our desired goals was unique to Mr. Bridge. His interest in the students and successful business experience created a unique atmosphere and one that I have yet to find in any other MBA or business networking opportunity.

~ Guest blogger Jennifer Yanni, Full-time Class of 2013

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

A Time of Transition

Saturday, June 30th, 2012

There are a number of reasons an individual may choose to pursue an MBA.  Here is one account of how an incoming first year student found her perfect fit with Foster, and has begun transitioning to the program.

By Liza Green, Full-time Class of 2014. Upon graduating from University of Virginia, Liza moved to the Rocky Mountains. Her experience there spanned various industries, from restaurants to biotechnology and education. Liza hopes to one day run her own food-related business, and in the meantime is eager to explore marketing and entrepreneurship at Foster.

Applying to boarding schools at the age of thirteen was as rigorous as the processes I would later experience for college and business school. I recall writing numerous essays and completing short answer questions in the style of Mad Libs, albeit a bit more serious. One that I distinctly remember was “What I like most about myself is that I am ____.” My answer: well-rounded. To this day, I would probably answer that question the same way, as I have worked in real estate, education, biotechnology, retail, restaurants, and more. But, I might also give the same response if asked what I like least about myself.

I recently started to feel that I was not only a jack of all trades, but also possibly a master of none. I realized I wanted something different, something more; I wanted an expertise and a committed direction. I had billed myself as an administrative specialist, and while I had contributed significantly to various organizations, I was having difficulty taking my career to the next level. I knew I had a lot to learn, so my natural decision was to return to school.

Having grown up back east, my over-generalized image of MBA students consisted of little more than i-bankers in business suits. I had lived in the mountains for years and had never once donned a suit, so when I visited schools on the east coast, I wasn’t quite sure if I fit in. I wanted to be around people whose experiences were as diverse as mine, whose perspectives were as unique, and whose motivation and goals were as individually-driven and tailored. In my search process, Foster emerged as the only school that truly excited me. What I found is a community that I believe will allow me to excel while pushing me to develop the skills that I need. The energy at Foster seems contagious, and my own excitement about the program is reinforced by every interaction I have with students, staff, and alumni.

When I first committed to Foster, the start of school could not come fast enough. I was ready to quit my job, pack a UHaul, and get to Seattle. Thus far, I have only made the first step in that transition – quitting my job. I am now heeding the advice of current Foster students as I relax and spend time with family and friends. I have recently returned from two months with my family in Virginia and New York. Soon, my boyfriend and I will depart on a two week trip to whitewater raft, hike, camp, and recharge in the mountains of Idaho.

Yet behind all of this leisurely personal time lurks an ever-expanding to-do list. I have been out of school for nine years and I was a History major in college, so my prep list might be a bit more extensive than most: purchase and complete online coursework in Accounting, Finance, and Statistics; do some soul searching to better direct my studies and focus at school; research potential careers and employers; schedule and complete informational interviews with potential networking connections found on LinkedIn. On top of that, I need to ensure my financial aid is in order, rewrite my resume yet again, find a place to live, and possibly transition to the world of smartphone users. The list goes on, and I will do my best to manage it all while making sure to enjoy the calm before the storm.

Foster on Two Wheels

Friday, May 4th, 2012

I live in a great part of town called Fremont.  It has three things that are important to me.  It’s near the water, it’s near about a dozen great bars, and it’s near the Burke Gillman trail.  I’ve been biking since I was a child.  Before my legs could reach the pedals my old man would sit me on the cross bar and ride us along hopping curbs and “stump jumping.”  Needless to say, biking is and has been an important part of my life.

Seattle is the most bike friendly city in the world.  They literally rip streets up and put in bike lanes.  Cars don’t run you off the road, and most of the time you don’t need it because of wonderful trail routes.  I’ve been riding my bike to school since starting at Foster. It’s about 2.5 miles and my only concern is not getting so hot that I’m a sweaty mess in class.  Waking up on a crisp morning and riding to school has been more effective for me than the liter of coffee I consume regularly.  Getting out of class and bombing down the University hill is the best part of my day.

~ Guest Blogger Charlie Northrop, Full-time Class of 2013