Foster Finance Faculty Spotlight – Jennifer Koski

Get to know Jennifer Koski, Kirby L. Cramer Endowed Chair in Finance and Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs at the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. She teaches the MBA elective course Problems in Business Finance.


Please tell us a bit about your background.

I’ve been a finance professor at Foster for 32 years and am now also Associate Dean for Academic and Faculty Affairs. I grew up in the U.S. My family moved around a lot when I was young, but now they are mostly on the east coast, in the Washington, D.C. area.  I have two adult children. My daughter is a critical care nurse in Tacoma, and my son (a proud Husky alum) is a biotech analyst for a small hedge fund in NYC.

I studied applied math in college, at Brown University. When I graduated from college, I knew I was interested in graduate study, but didn’t want to continue in applied math. So, I took a position as a Financial Analyst with Goldman Sachs in New York. This was my first exposure to finance. I loved it, but realized I needed more training, so I pursued my MBA at Harvard Business School. While studying for my MBA, I recognized I had found my field, and decided to head straight to a PhD program in finance. I earned my PhD from Stanford Business School and after graduating, joined the faculty at Foster. I’ve been here ever since.

In my spare time, I especially enjoy being outdoors in the Pacific Northwest, mostly hiking, but also downhill skiing, snowshoeing, and mountain biking. I really enjoy yoga and went to a yoga retreat in Spain last summer. I also like to bake, read, and go for walks with friends.

Jennifer in Lisbon – a brief stop on her way back from a yoga retreat in Spain.


What excites you about your subject area and what are some of your research interests?

I love finance; I’ve been in this field in one capacity or another for 40 years. I’ve always been interested in math, and finance is a great way to apply math to real-world problems. The frameworks and tools we cover in class are very applicable to a wide range of problems and therefore are useful for a variety of careers. My classes are often taken by those who want to specialize in finance, but I also highly encourage students who want to study another discipline (such as marketing) or work for a different type of organization (such as a non-profit) to take my class.

My research centers on corporate finance. I’ve worked on topics such as payout policy, stock splits, equity offerings, share repurchases, disclosure decisions, and financial fraud. Two of my recent papers (with Sarah McVay in our accounting department) look at the choice by managers to voluntarily disclose free cash flow in their earnings announcements. The idea for these papers originally germinated as we discussed related issues with students in our respective MBA elective classes.


Which factors influenced your decision to join UW Foster?

My impression of the finance department when I was interviewing for a faculty position is that they were a very collegial group, which was my top priority. I joined the UW and found that my impressions were spot on. My colleagues are actively engaged in research and love to discuss topics. They are very supportive and eager to provide feedback to each other, which is critical for any new project. They are passionate about teaching and very invested in the Foster community. It is also great to be in Seattle at a top research university like the UW.


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

The most meaningful thing by far about my time at Foster is the relationships I’ve built, both with my colleagues and with our students and alumni. I’ve stayed in touch with a lot of my former students, and really enjoy seeing how their lives have evolved.  I’ve bumped into our alumni in some of the most unusual places. My daughter now expects that we will see at least one of my former students on the trails any time we are hiking in the area. It is great to have such connections and such a strong network.

Jennifer hiking to Mason lake, summer of 2023


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

Foster’s purpose statement is central to my work in so many ways. I fundamentally understand the role of finance and the allocation of capital to solve local, regional, and even global problems, for example by funding companies that are working to cure diseases such as cancer or by supporting financial management in organizations that promote social justice. Some of my most rewarding endeavors have been helping non-profit organizations understand how activities such as financial planning and budgeting can help them further their mission. As an educator, I believe in the potential of our students to better humanity, and I am fully invested in their professional development so they, too, use their Foster education to help better humanity through business.


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

I work very hard to create an open, inclusive classroom environment. I appreciate that finance can be an intimidating subject. Students vary widely in familiarity with the subject and their comfort discussing finance cases in class. I use techniques such as random calls and gentle questioning to help encourage everyone to engage. I also appreciate my responsibilities as a woman in finance to serve as a role model and mentor for others potentially interested in this career.  


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

Some of my favorite memories come from the opportunities I have had to travel with students over the years. These trips have taken a variety of forms, including a study tour to Brazil, global consulting project trips to work with a non-profit in India, and an excursion to visit Warren Buffett in Omaha.  In each case, students have had the opportunity to apply lessons from the classroom to experiential learning opportunities in the real world, with a variety of organizations. And I have gotten to know the students much better than is possible in class.

Pictured: the group of students Jennifer took to India in March 2019 for the SEWA Global Consulting Project’s class. This was taken in Jaipur during the Holi festival.


How have you supported students outside the classroom? 

This question is hard to answer, because I have basically done all of the above over the years:  career advice, startup formation, case competition prep (and judging), independent studies, club advising, support for student events such as the C4C Auction and graduation, etc.

When I joined Foster as a new faculty member, one of the first things I noticed was how easy it was for students and faculty to connect. As faculty, our doors are always open. Students are typically very engaged in the community, and faculty and students interact in a variety of ways. Having experienced other business schools where this is not the case, I found it to be one of the best features of Foster. And it is still true.


How is your teaching influenced by instructional best practices?

One aspect of instructional best practices is a technique known as the “flipped classroom.”  In a traditional classroom, the in-class experience has historically been very passive, for example a lecture. Active learning, where students collaborate together to discuss the material and prepare deliverables, took place outside of the classroom.  In the flipped classroom, this is reversed; students may watch a recording or read some material outside the class. The classroom experience is reserved for interactive engagement.

I teach almost exclusively using the case method, which is the essence of a flipped classroom. A case is a short (10-page) summary of a business issue faced by a particular company or organization. Students prepare the cases before class, with support from readings and video tutorials.  The class time itself is highly interactive; we work together to discuss the issues, frame the analysis, and identify and evaluate potential solutions. 


How do you maximize learning and keep students engaged?

The best way to engage students is to keep the material current and relevant. When I was an MBA student many years ago, I studied at a business school that used cases extensively.  I found as a student that with a case discussion, you feel as if you are solving the problem yourself in real time. My engagement as a student was much higher in case classes, which is one of the main reasons I use it so actively as a professor.


How have your relationships with industry experts influenced what happens in your class?

I am in regular contact with people from industry in a variety of ways: campus visitors, meetings related to my own research, outreach to our community, and interactions due to my administrative responsibilities. Conversations with these experts provide vital input to both my research and my teaching.

For example, I have a pair of research papers with Sarah McVay, my colleague in the accounting department. These papers explore the decision by managers to voluntarily disclose free cash flow in their earnings announcements. As part of this research agenda, we spent a substantial amount of time last summer interviewing executives, including Chief Financial Officers and heads of Investor Relations, at several companies to learn why they made this disclosure choice. Our research includes a summary of these interviews. And free cash flow is a concept that is central to valuation in finance; I discuss this research and our interviews in my class.


Are there components of your elective that can help students build their resume? E.g., experiential learning components? 

Yes. In class, we address issues related to raising capital, managing cash flowing through a business, and financing company operations. Students learn specific modeling techniques that are broadly applicable to business, such as creating pro forma forecasts, estimating the company cost of capital, and valuing businesses using a variety of techniques. These are all “resume” skills.


Please tell us about the structure of your elective course – what can students expect to master by the end of it?

My course is an elective, corporate finance case course. As noted above, I use the case method almost exclusively. Students are responsible for preparing cases to discuss for each class session.  Deliverables include written case analyses (both individual and group). Class participation is a substantial portion of the grade.

The goal of my class is to use the cases to learn to solve unstructured, real-world problems.  My elective course serves as a natural transition between the relatively theoretical way the material is presented in the core finance class and the messy, complicated nature of business problems in the real world. Often, information is imperfect; however, managers still need to add structure to a business problem, make assumptions, identify alternatives, evaluate advantages and disadvantages, and make a recommendation. We go through this process with each case so that students may master (or at least, more fully develop) their problem-solving skills in preparation for their careers.


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

Focus on learning, rather than your grade. To succeed in my class, you need to do two things: prepare the cases and come to class ready to discuss them. The very nature of a case class is that it is something you can’t learn by reading the textbook or watching a video; you need to engage with your classmates in the conversation. And if you have tried to work through the analysis before class, the discussion will be that much more meaningful. It doesn’t matter whether you got everything “right” in your preparation; in fact, I don’t expect that anyone will have. (If they did, they wouldn’t need me.) But if you try, and come to class to engage, you will succeed, regardless of your prior background in finance.  


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

The problems we address in class are very realistic. The structure of my class is designed to give students practice solving real world problems. We work on building frameworks to support strategic thinking, which is vital in most careers.

Students sometimes say they need to miss class to prepare for job interviews.  I happen to think my class is great preparation for these interviews, because of the practical relevance of the material and the tools (such as modeling techniques) students learn in class. Come to class!


Any tips for the summer for incoming MBAs?

Rest. Take a vacation. Spend time with loved ones. Read a book.

In general, our courses are designed to be self-contained, meaning they do not require advance prep. The best preparation is to take care of yourself, so you are ready to engage fully once you begin your program.