Developing a network and lifelong friends: Q&A with Christine White, MBA 2021

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

Christine WhiteI chose the Foster Evening MBA program at UW for three reasons.

My main objective with an MBA was to pivot industries and not functions — I have a background in digital marketing for SaaS organizations, and I’m passionate about growing my marketing career in the outdoor retail industry, specifically, companies that have sustainability in their mission. For this reason, I knew an evening program in an area of the country that valued sustainability and the outdoors was a critical factor – and what better place than the Pacific Northwest where there is a plethora of organizations and business leaders in this sector of retail.

Secondly, I’m a New Englander but had spent some time in Seattle before and knew there was something really special about this city that always made me feel a certain sense of a “home away from home” – especially the mountainous backdrop to this city by the ocean. I knew Seattle was the right city for me to pursue an MBA so I could explore both the outdoors and where my career could grow within the industry.

Lastly, when I began connecting with current evening students at Foster to evaluate the program, the thoughtfulness, authenticity, care, and humility of those first few interactions made this program stand out from all the rest. I observed a genuine bond and dedication that these students felt to each other as peers and to the Foster community as a whole that seemed to be inherent values when you join the program. The people here are truly exceptional, so this made the decision to choose Foster even easier.

Student Experience

What has been the highlight of your Foster MBA experience so far?

It’s hard to choose just one highlight, especially when there have been so many amazing professional and personal experiences. But the Challenge for Charity Sports Weekend is up there; participating in such a positive, active, and communal bonding weekend as representatives of UW made this a top highlight. It’s impossible to leave Foster without making lifelong friends, especially after C4C Sports Weekend. Plus, a few days in California were a nice respite from the gray, misty winter days in Washington!

What are the most impactful experiences you’ve had?

Being a part of the Women in Business club as a board member has impacted me the most because of the truly inclusive, welcoming, and adaptable environment that our club leadership has fostered. This club has given me the support to throw out ideas and run with programming I felt I could contribute the most value to our community with. Being valued for your unique contributions and seeing others support and share your values is incredibly meaningful to me, in addition to building relationships and networking with other women and allies of the club.

Another highlight is summiting Mount Saint Helens with the Outdoor Sports and Industry club in 2019. Doing the Helens hike with Foster students from both the evening and full-time programs was a fun way to bond between classes by pushing ourselves to do something adventurous and challenging together as a club.

Finally,  as corny as this may sound, some of my favorite experiences at Foster so far have been those day-to-day interactions on campus when you’re grabbing coffee with a friend, having lunch on the ave with your team, sharing a laugh in between classes, going for walks to destress, the happy hours after class, and seeing everyone help/encourage each other on a daily basis that make student life feel special. I’ll probably miss these moments the most when I look back on getting my MBA at Foster. The friends I’ve made here feel like family in that respect. Leaning on each other in stressful times, then celebrating together when we’ve all accomplished great things, are the invisible gifts that bring me the most joy here.

Curriculum

What class has been the most useful or interesting to you?

We’re currently taking macroeconomics with Professor Debra Glassman, Ph.D. The real-world application and feedback loop with current events is invigorating and extremely interesting to see play out, every day.

Another class I really loved was Strategy with Professor David Sirmon, Ph.D. This class was the most useful in applying to my work at a publicly-traded platform company — as well as sparking the most interest in future positions in corporate strategy. This class opened my eyes to new job roles I didn’t quite understand before or even believe I could excel in.. job roles that I’m now interested in potentially pursuing post-MBA.

What is the classroom environment like?

At first, the classroom can feel like an intimidating place, but I’ll say three things: the first is that the program office puts a lot of thought into making the orientation experience a bonding experience, so everyone’s a bit familiar with one another when class starts. The second is something I wished I had learned earlier: admitted students are chosen for a reason in that each student is there because of their unique experience and perspective that no other classmate has to offer. Everyone is here to learn, so sharing your perspective, experience, and asking questions is the best way for everyone to be a part of a collective conversation. The third is something I appreciate about the faculty at Foster, in that most classrooms are a lap-top free environment. Taking notes on tablets and notebooks are welcomed, but I love that Foster values the practice/school of thought that electronics hinder your (and the people around you) retainment of information. I also love a good excuse to load up on highlighters and really great pens.

Faculty

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

Supply chain was historically never a function of business I gravitated towards learning more about or thought was interesting, until we took Operations with Professor Apurva Jain, Ph.D. Apurva brought supply chain to life: he is so energetic in the classroom, brings real-world applications and different formats of content to our learning experience, and facilitates a classroom discussion remarkably well. Operations was a blast and Apurva made it a truly exceptional experience.

Career Impact

How has your MBA experience enabled you to see your industry/company/career differently?

The MBA has truly given me a new lens to look at my industry and company through. Once you see it, you can’t unsee it — in the best way. I understand previous business decisions my company has made before in new ways, which allows me to see where we’re going and how I, and my role, fit into that. For example, after taking finance as a first-year MBA and learning how corporations fund the products and services they have to make and then sell — and the different tradeoffs between funding options — my understanding of our business’ strategy is deeper, allowing me to contribute not just the work but now to a larger conversation amongst my leadership team and colleagues. In addition, the introspective learnings we’ve picked up along the way from leadership workshops in the program have allowed me to work with my manager on strengths/areas of opportunity to advance my career while still in the program.

Did you participate in the mentor program?

Participating in the mentor program was one of the best decisions I made early on; my philosophy going into Foster was “say yes to everything the first year” and it certainly paid off. I was paired with a well-known leader in the outdoor industry who was incredibly generous with the stories, advice, and experiences he shared. Having moved here from the east coast and developing a professional network from the ground-up at Foster, the mentor program also gave me a significant leg up in this respect.

Work / Life / School Balance

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

At first, I didn’t get the balance right — but over time I had to learn and adapt to a new lifestyle, find the right support systems, change habits, etc. It was one of the hardest things I’ve ever had to do. Some weeks, school will overwhelm everything else, and some weeks, work might take priority over school projects, and you have to find flexibility with your team or professor. Same with your family or friends.

My experience is a bit different in that I moved out here from Cambridge, Massachusetts for the program, so my family and friends are all on the east coast. This certainly gave my schedule more flexibility than many of the other students in the evening program, but I had to learn how to ask for help and find the right support systems (in multiple timezones…). Being “comfortable with the uncomfortable” is something I’m now used to — which I think is great, and an underrated aspect of the balancing act.

The best advice I’d give incoming students here would be to know who your support system is, be kind to yourself, and everything will be fine. You’ll come out a stronger person on the other side!

What part of the MBA experience do you enjoy most?

The best part of getting an MBA at Foster has been making lifelong friends and developing a network of people with the highest integrity, ambition, humility, and kindness I’ve ever met. The ski trips, study dates in coffee shops, hikes, times when we help each other out networking and making connections where we can for each other — it’s all so incredibly enriching and priceless to me. When I was evaluating business school a lot of friends back home that got an MBA said it’s the most fun and rewarding experience they’ve ever had and they wished they could go back. I couldn’t agree more. Yes, there are days that feel impossible, and you will feel stretched beyond your limits. But for me, the net benefit of the friends and community I’m a valued part of are exponential in comparison to the hardest of days.