Foster School expands collaboration with Gates Foundation to advance education initiatives

Christie Youde (BA 2006, MBA 2013) is a proud product of the Washington state public education system—from K to MBA. While working toward her latest degree at the University of Washington Foster School of Business, she seized an unexpected chance to strengthen that system.

Youde and classmate Haid Garrett (MBA 2013) piloted the Foster School’s new education research project with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation this year. Working under the guidance of Mark Hillier, an associate professor of quantitative methods, they contributed two vital research projects to the Gates Foundation’s education programs.

In the first they developed a financial model for prospective charter schools operators in the state, which became the 42nd to support independent public schools with the passage of Initiative 1240 last November. In the second, they forecasted the exploding market for Massively Open Online Courses (MOOCs) in the higher education space.

“This is the coolest thing we have done in the MBA Program,” says Youde. “To get to work with such a dream organization, such a giant in this space, and to do such relevant work that’s getting used… it’s incredibly rewarding.”

Expanding the relationship

The Foster School’s relationship with the Gates Foundation began in fall of 2011 with Saara Romu (MBA 2007), then a portfolio manager in the Foundation’s Global Health group. Romu connected her Global Health colleagues with faculty and graduate students at the Foster School and the Department of Global Health to provide subject-matter expertise on a broad range of projects.

Word got around. Early this year, demand at the Foundation expanded the Foster Research Group to take on education-based projects.
Today the Foster School, the Department of Global Health, the College of Education and the Evans School are engaged in projects that touch several areas of the Gates Foundation’s priority strategies in global health, development and education.

On the Foster side, nine MBA students worked with six faculty member to tackle a variety of projects this year.

“It’s amazing to have the assets of the University of Washington a few miles from the Foundation,” commented Martha Choe, chief administrative officer of the Gates Foundation. “And it’s been so exciting to see how we’ve taken advantage of the terrific support—from the students, the professors, the leaders.”

Win win

David Parker, the senior program officer for College Ready Education at the Gates Foundation and coordinator of UW-bound education projects, offered high praise to the Foster team: “Christie and Haid absolutely knocked it out of the park. They got up to speed quickly, asked the right questions and delivered final products that were extremely well received. My colleagues said this was the best money they’ve ever spent.”

Word of a proven resource at the UW led the number of global health projects to grow, well, virally. Parker expects the same in the education space.

“Considering how well the first two education projects went,” he says, “I expect word will get around quickly.”

Youde and Garrett speak of the experience with the Gates Foundation as life changing.

“Learning spreadsheet modeling and thinking through problems and how to present to a client are skills that are really applicable to what we both will be doing post MBA,” says Garrett. “It’s a huge value to be able to hone those skills on something real, with implications.”

Youde will continue in that vein. In September, she joined the foundation as a financial associate supporting the College Ready team.

“To be a part of this important work,” she says, “is incredibly motivating.”

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