Independent Study at Foster

Experiential learning through student consulting projects is one-way Foster MBA students seek to solidify classroom learning and gain new skills. While UW Foster has a formal independent study program, many MBA students seek out independent relationships with companies they can work with to gain experience. “We were fortunate to spend the last two quarters of our MBA completing a cybersecurity project with Frances Dewing, CEO of Rubica. Rubica is an advanced personal cybersecurity company focused on protecting individuals’ digital rights and ultimately reducing the incidence of cybercrime,” mentions Marshelle Slayton, MBA Class of 2019.

Frances, or Fran (as many of her colleagues call her), has connections with the University of Washington both as her alma mater (JD, Law) and as a member of the UW Michael G. Foster Women Board Directors Development Program. Through the Women Board Directors Development Program, Frances met Cate Goethals, and our lives crossed. Cate not only founded the Women Board Directors Development Program but also founded and teaches the Foster course, Women at the Top, which was ranked by Forbes as one of the 10 “most innovative” MBA courses. In this class, Cate encouraged all students to ask for mentorship from individuals with experience and seniority beyond their current level. Cate connected Marshelle directly with Frances, who had expressed interest in mentoring students.

Marshelle and Frances developed a natural bond during a handful of coffee dates that started at the Starbucks on University Way, continued to Montlake’s Fuel coffee shop, and led to a meeting at Rubica’s headquarters in Kirkland. Frances was (and continues to be) a fantastic mentor. She always made time on her busy calendar, relates her personal experiences with Marshelle’s current career and life challenges, and came up with important questions to help strategically approach career growth. After a few meetings, Marshelle approached Frances in late-fall 2018 about completing a project for her company.

Marshelle and Tami with the Rubica team

Marshelle and Tami with the Rubica team

As a hands-on learner, Marshelle loved the idea of completing a project to gain experience working for a start-up. Additionally, she thought exposure to the growing field of cybersecurity may be beneficial to her future full-time role as a Consultant at McKinsey & Company. Frances saw value in the idea and decided to identify a list of potential projects that could be completed within a two-quarter timeframe. She and Marshelle ultimately identified a survey and analysis project with an initial focus to gain insight into the gender differences in cybersecurity threat perception and the resultant protective actions.

In typical Foster MBA fashion, the more, the merrier! Marshelle asked her classmate Tami Geiger if she would be interested in joining the project. Tami complemented Marshelle’s engineering background, bringing her experience in technology and focus on marketing. It was a perfect match of diverse talents and complementary personalities. Tami was quickly sold on the project, hoping to gain experience in data analytics and increase her network in the cybersecurity space as she will be joining Microsoft’s Cybersecurity Solutions Group post-graduation. Over the next two quarters, Tami and Marshelle worked diligently in Paccar Hall, or on early morning car rides to the Eastside for meetings.

This project was destined for success because of Frances’ commitment, her collaborative work approach, and her strategic foresight to remove potential project barriers. Despite her role as the CEO of Rubica, she was incredibly engaged and responsive throughout project selection, during the research phase, and into the data analysis. Early on, she connected Tami and Marshelle with her employees at Rubica so that they had internal resources for any questions that popped up, and it was apparent that the energy provided during her mentorship was replicated at Rubica. Everyone they met reflected both the warmth and expertise found in Frances.

While they were free to execute the project autonomously, Frances happily provided support throughout the project. They were given room to give recommendations and insight when we needed to collaborate on strategies. Though they drove the project, Frances remained engaged and kept up to speed on their progress through bi-weekly check-ins. As they moved into the final phase of the project, they leveraged Frances’ expertise in the cybersecurity field to draw meaningful insights around consumer cybersecurity behavior.

In the rush of the academic quarters, formalized internships and recruiting, it can be easy for the side projects that MBA students take on to become a burden. However, this project was a highlight of their MBA experience. Not only did they gain great experience working for a startup, exposure to cybersecurity, and connecting the dots on survey results to actionable insights from the results, they also derived huge value from working with and learning from Frances. Not many students get the opportunity to work directly with a CEO during business school. She was invested in ensuring that the project not only added value to Rubica, but that it was a valuable experience for the students. This commitment exemplifies her investment in mentoring young women entrepreneurs. Observing Frances’ passionate, driven, and collaborative work style provided Marshelle and Tami with a benchmark and role model. They appreciate Frances’ effort greatly and are committed to taking the mentorship advice and project experience into the future.

About the author: Mukund Rajasekhar is from the MBA Class of 2019 and has written this article in collaboration with his classmates Marshelle Slayton and Tamara Geiger.