Professionals from a broad range of backgrounds come to Willamette University to earn their MBA. There is a stereotype of an MBA student: a middle manager working their whole career at the same big company, earning the MBA just to climb the ladder. At Willamette in 2019, this is not your grandfather’s MBA program. Students represent a wide variety of experiences, industries, and career paths: from newscasters to attorneys and from chemical engineers to not-for-profit executives.
We will highlight two current MBA students who represent less traditional fields.
What sets the Willamette MBA program apart
Here’s to the incoming cohort of fall 2019. I’m so looking forward to getting to meet you.
Samuel A Wilson, PhD, Lam Research | Process Engineer & Product Technical Owner
I enrolled in the Willamette MBA program on a bit of a whim. My personal life had just gone down the toilet, with the abrupt end of a 3-year relationship. I found myself with a significant quantity of free time suddenly on hand, and it seemed reasonable to take a negative event, turn it inward, and work on myself.
But to be honest, the idea of going back to school and getting more education was completely unappealing to me. Despite the fact that my skip-level manager had floated the idea more than once, the reality was having already completed a 7-year PhD in chemistry only 6 years earlier, enough was enough. However, I needed a distraction, I needed new friends, and I needed a change of direction.
After looking at all of the professional MBA programs in the Portland metro area, I decided to enroll at Willamette. From my own educational background, I’ve experienced community colleges, big state universities, and smaller private universities, but never the liberal arts college experience. I have to say: I could not be more impressed.
I believe there are two main things that set Willamette University and its MBA program apart. The first is the quality of instruction. Because Willamette is a small liberal arts college, teaching is the professors primary focus, not research. And it shows. The professors are very committed to ensuring their students’ success. They take it slowly through difficult material, they make sure everyone is following along, and they provide valuable feedback that students can actually use and learn from. What’s more, every professor has also been interested in improving their own teaching! They solicit feedback from the class multiple times a semester and actually implement changes to align their teaching style with students’ learning preferences.
The second thing that sets an MBA apart from any other type of continuing education is the diversity of your cohort. Earning a PhD, one of the things that you experience as you move upwards through school is that the focus becomes increasingly more narrow. The students who you attend class with know chemistry. Sure, sometimes they might have other experiences, but generally, it’s just one flavor of chemistry or another. This experience would again be roughly similar to any higher education experience, regardless of major. But not with a professional MBA program.
What makes the MBA for Professionals program unique from a cohort perspective is that your classmates represent a wide range of backgrounds and experiences. In our cohort, we have people who work in the for-profit sector, the not-for-profit sector, and government. We have scientists, engineers, accountants, human resources professionals, planning analysts, supply chain managers, and customer service . We have people who work in the medical field, people who work for utilities, even a former TV newscaster! And now, these people are all students together in the same cohort, and they bring those experiences into the classroom. The result is a multicultural and multidimensional experience. Class is less of a lecture from teacher to student and more of a discussion among colleagues sharing experiences and ideas. Everyone in the room is learning together.
So here we are, almost halfway through the program. Is summer rough? Yes. Would I rather be out camping and BBQing with friends as opposed to sitting in class for 8 hours a week, doing homework and taking tests again? Yes. But would I go back and not join this group of people, all working and learning together to advance their careers? Not a chance. Thus far, this has been an extremely valuable and rewarding experience, and I would sign up to do it all over again in a heartbeat.
Seile’s take on MBA
I joined the Willamette MBA program because I was interested in the support the university provided for not-for-profit professionals. Running a small local not-for-profit required me to wear multiple hats, ranging from bookkeeping and admin tasks to employee supervision and board management. Willamette’s MBA program was what I needed to brush up on my leadership, as well as learn new skill sets to successfully run the organization. With courses in finance, accounting, and leadership that have immediate impact on my job, the program has delivered huge value to myself and my organization.
Skills acquired from our marketing strategy course can help not-for-profit frame their organization in terms of target customers, just as a for-profit business would. They must provide a compelling value proposition to run a successful not-for-profit and meet the needs of the community they serve. Moreover, Willamette MBA allows not-for-profit professionals to become better leaders, community advocates, change agents, and problem solvers.
Not-for-profits deal with various socioeconomic challenges that are complex and deep-rooted, but they are often constrained with limited resources. Successful leaders must develop efficient resource management and fundraising skills. For instance, when creating programs to serve historically disadvantaged communities, it is important to incorporate effective data gathering and analysis methodology, the right policies and procedures, fundraising plan, and effective financial reporting standards.
Understanding how accounting works and being able to present the organization’s financial performance to supporters and donors is critical. Capturing outcomes with targeted data gathering tools, analyzing the data, and presenting it persuasively allows for sustained and long term success.
In conclusion, mission-based not-for-profit professionals can benefit from the holistic MBA learning environment to better themselves, while enhancing their service work. Burnout is one of the biggest challenges not-for-profit professionals face while engaging in social advocacy and equity work. The right mentor and support network can make all the difference. One of the first lessons in the Willamette MBA program was the importance of self-awareness, motivation, and self-care in leadership. One must constantly recharge as a leader to become an effective leader.
As a not-for-profit professional, I believe that my MBA experience has impacted me in three key ways:
It teaches me self-awareness and self-renewal skills as leadership qualities,
It empowers me to broaden my financial prowess and speak financial language to communicate with donors and funders, and
It helps me design programs that have long-term, measurable impacts on the community my not-for-profit serves.
In my opinion, this is the best investment you can ever make!