Foster Faculty Spotlight – Michelle Purnell Hepburn

Get to know Michelle Purnell-Hepburn, Associate Dean for Diversity and Inclusion at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. She teaches the elective course titled The Power of Access: Impact Lending to Underserved Communities.

Please tell us a bit about your background.

[MPH] I was born and raised in Seattle. I followed our family’s original Husky, my big sister, Carolyn. I earned a BA in Finance & Business Economics in ‘79 and an MBA in Finance & Accounting from UW Foster in ’82. I earned Minority Achievement Awards at UW in ’78 and ‘79. I graduated from CUNA Management School (Credit Union National Association) with High Honors and from the Credit Union Executive Society (CUES) CEO School earning a Certified Credit Union Executive (C.C.U.E.) accreditation. I have studied the work of Dr. Edwin Nichols, The Philosophical Aspects of Cultural Difference, since 1983.

I have been a member of Na Hanu ‘O Ku’uleialoha halau (hula school) since 2001 and the Approximations band (rock & roll cover band) since 2008.


What excites you about your subject area?

[MPH] My platform is about belonging. When one feels like they belong, they can do anything. Belonging is love in action. I believe we live in a world of abundance. With this belief system, there is plenty for everyone. Inviting, welcoming, and encouraging everyone ‘at the table’ we create synergistic results that are far better than what we expect. 


Which factors influenced your decision to join UW Foster?

[MPH] My family and extended family have been a family of firsts, as well as serving the public good from credit unions and banking, public servants in law and government. The opportunity to join Foster and add to the work that was socialized in me and carry on the work of my family is a privilege. The fact that this is my alma mater…joy! 


What do you find meaningful about your time thus far at Foster?

[MPH] Dean Hodge and my predecessor Christina Fong have created an atmosphere where diversity, equity and inclusion is everyone’s role and considered in every decision. 


How does your work align with Foster’s purpose? Purpose statement: Together…We Foster Leaders; We Foster Insights; We Foster Progress…To Better Humanity

[MPH] Together…belonging…goes hand in hand. One of my favorite roles is to uplift the community atmosphere here at Foster. When we feel we belong, it is easier to be mindful of bettering humanity.


How have you worked to make your classroom/course curriculum inclusive?

[MPH] I have the honor of teaching FIN 579 – The Power of Access: Impact Lending to Underserved Communities – with Dean Emeritus Bill Bradford and Jack Unbehend from Commerce Bank. The course engages our second-year MBA students in working with small BIPOC businesses to secure access to business loans from Commerce Bank of Washington. At the end of the quarter, student teams give credit committee-worthy presentations for their businesses to receive debt financing. The students learn to be financial consultants; the businesses have the opportunity to glean insight from the students and embark on a business banking relationship, regardless of whether debt financing is granted. In our first year, Commerce Bank lent over $1 million to BIPOC businesses at reasonable market rates.


Any favorite memories from your experience with Full-Time MBAs/Evening MBAs?  

[MPH] Students are a joy to learn from and last June was even more poignant to participate in their graduation ceremonies. Seeing their joy in accomplishing a major task and being recognized for it in a time-honored tradition was thrilling. Witnessing the reactions of their families and friends…priceless. 


How have you supported students outside the classroom?  

[MPH] Since I graduated, I have given back to the business school in mentoring students, coming back to speak at different events and attending student/alumnae celebrations. Since taking on this role, I would add having students in my home for dinner, connecting a student with a post graduate job opportunity and taking part in a case competition.


How is your teaching influenced by instructional best practices?

[MPH] I have spent most of my career as a VP of Finance, Controller or Chief Financial Officer in a financial institution or community foundation. What I bring to teaching and my equity/inclusion work is corporate and community experience.


Are you currently doing work outside of Foster that influences what happens in the classroom?

[MPH] I serve on the Board of Directors of Community Roots Housing, whose charge is developing and managing affordable homes across the Seattle area. This work is grounding, keeping me mindful that we all need to belong, regardless of circumstances.


How will students apply the knowledge and skills they gain in your classroom in their careers?

[MPH] Students completing FIN 579 The Power of Access: Impact Lending to Underserved Communities – will leave with an understanding of the truth behind being an entrepreneur – and – what it is like to be an entrepreneur of color. They learn the joys and the struggles, but they also have a chance to make such a positive difference in a small entrepreneur’s life and business. They also learn what a financial institution needs/requires to grant a business loan. This kind of knowledge is invaluable for the future graduates no matter what their road is post-graduation.


What advice do you have for students to ace your course?

[MPH] Actively participate in class. Bring your questions. Share your thoughts.