Alumni Spotlight with Melissa Gunnarson, Class of 2020

Why did you choose the Evening MBA program at the UW Foster School of Business?

I chose the Evening MBA program at the UW Foster School of Business because Foster has such a great reputation for academic excellence.  The evening program allowed me to continue working while accessing a traditional classroom experience.   I have an undergraduate and master’s degree in Nutritional Science and I wanted to learn business foundations and transition out of a clinical role into a corporate leadership role.   I knew that Foster would provide me with the foundations I needed to pivot my career.


Student Experience

How do you balance work, family/friends and school?

This was a unique challenge for me and, to be honest, I am not sure that I did a great job of balancing things.  I tried to stick to a schedule as much as possible, but the varying demands of life made that schedule extremely dynamic.  I had some flexibility in my job and a supportive manager so I would take days off when there were heavy school loads as needed which was really helpful.  I worked to prioritize and protect time with my husband every week.  Fortunately, I have an extremely understanding husband that picked up a lot of my slack.  I also really tried to protect my workout and sleep time as much as possible so that I could be as present as possible in all my activities.

How have your fellow students influenced your experience in the program?

Having worked as a healthcare clinician for the entirety of my career, I didn’t realize how narrow my viewpoint had become. I learned so much from all of my fellow students.  My overall perspective has both broadened and deepened.  Building relationships is definitely a huge part of the overall experience in the Foster program.  I feel like everyone really works to lift each other up, from networking to referrals to words of encouragement to genuine friendship.  Several of my fellow students have become close friends and I am so grateful to have them in my life.

Have you participated in any extracurricular activities or clubs?

I traveled to Columbia and Panama as part of one of the MBA global study tours.  Columbia has such a vibrant culture, but it was not a location that I would have probably traveled to on my own.  It was incredible to learn about the transformation of  Medellin’s Comuna 13 via a graffiti tour.  It was also fascinating to see the shipping yards and logistic operations in Panama.   The study tour was extremely educational and provided real world context to consider business problems and solutions from a global perspective.

What’s the most challenging part of the MBA?

The hardest thing about the MBA program is how unrelenting it is.  Having class 2-3 nights per week and doing project work nearly every weekend plus working full time plus participating in career center events plus managing the rest of my life was exhausting.  The hard work definitely pays off, but it was an intense three years.

Faculty

Is there a faculty member who stands out in your mind as being exceptional?

All of the professors at Foster are excellent, however Crystal Farh stands out as an exceptional instructor, and she really made an impact on me.  Her “Leading High-Performance Teams” class required a lot of structured introspection that was so valuable.  Her required reading list was well curated and her in-class exercises were extremely memorable.

Career Impact

Did you participate in the mentor program?

Absolutely!  The mentor program was a great opportunity to connect with local business leaders.  My mentor, Suzanne Keel-Eckman, had one-on-one phone meetings with me as well as group coaching sessions with all of her mentees on a regular basis.  The group sessions were so valuable as they fostered another layer of relationships and learning.  The mentors are absolutely invested in their mentees success, and it was wonderful to be supported by an experienced professional that was so willing to share her unique perspective.

Curriculum

What is the classroom environment like?

Prior to COVID-19, the in-person classroom experience was very supportive and dynamic.  The academics are definitely challenging; however, the professors are all very accessible and are really invested in their students learning and comprehension.  The variety of backgrounds of my peers contributed to a rich learning environment and the instructors worked hard to ensure that everyone’s voice was heard.    Transitioning to a completely online classroom environment for the last quarter of my MBA in response to COVID-19 was challenging because I really liked the in-person experience, however the professors worked hard to make themselves available to support students while maintaining the high Foster academic standards.

What has surprised you about the MBA experience?

I have surprised myself.  I was one of the older students in the program and initially I struggled to keep up from a technological standpoint.  I had to learn many different tools (such as Slack, Smartsheet, Teams, OneNote, SharePoint, WhatsApp, Google Hangouts) that other students were already familiar with, in addition to the Foster academic learnings.  I eventually became an advocate for some of these tools with my work colleagues!  There was definitely a personal evolution.

My personal evolution at Foster also transitioned my mindset for the future.  I see the power of change and the competitive advantage of strategic change that is well executed.  During my studies I concurrently completed the PROSCI Change Management Certification.  I am looking forward to being an effective change advocate in my career and moving businesses forward in an impactful way.