Lifting each other up: Q&A with Ashley Adair, MBA 2021

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

I chose the Evening MBA at Foster because after the program I didn’t want to leave with just a piece of paper. I wanted a full MBA experience that would help me grow as a person through challenging studies while surrounding myself with the amazing Foster community. I was accepted into three programs and Foster was my top choice because of all the experiential programs offered and because I had an excellent admissions experience, they were not only open to conversations but welcomed them. I was more than a GMAT/GRE score, I was a full person with experiences and abilities that were celebrated assets to the community. I started my MBA journey looking to broaden my business acumen since I run my own company and this program has given that and more in just the first year.

Student Experience

What are the most impactful experiences you’ve had?

In my first quarter of school during finals week I got word my Dad had cancer. It happened fast and was unexpected. I wasn’t sure what to do, should I take the finals and get them over with so I could travel home? Should I delay? As you can imagine, I was emotionally exhausted. I shot off an email explaining my situation to one of my professors whose class has a reputation of being difficult – think rite-of-passage difficult. I was surprised when my phone rang, and it was my professor calling instead of just replying via email. The caring, personal, and very human conversation that followed as we both strategized my exam options made me feel certain that I had made the right decision in selecting Foster as my ‘home’ for the next three years. I ended up taking the final, studying enough to get a grade I could live with so I could then travel to be with my family. Foster is filled with stories like that, of people going the extra mile not because they must but because that’s the kind of people who fill the community. I’m happy to report my Dad was declared cancer free just last month, but I’ll never forget the care and kindness I received in that moment when I needed it most.

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

What I’ve learned about balance is that it doesn’t mean equal distribution to all the things in your life. It’s knowing which way to lean, prioritizing what needs attention, and intentionally taking action accordingly. Most Sundays I spend them at school all day working on cases, going to TA sessions, and completing homework. If you catch me on a Friday night, I’m typically enjoying friend or family time and not doing any MBA work. If you have your feet on solid ground, you can bend every which way without falling over and that to me is the best way to balance everything. Initially I didn’t view balance like that and quickly found myself getting sick and burning out – an MBA is a marathon and taking care of yourself is critical to success in the program.

How have your fellow students influenced your experience in the program?

I really hoped that my MBA experience would lead to new connections and friendships, but I didn’t expect to feel so supported by my classmates. I had concerns that I would encounter your typical MBA stereotype of cutthroat, overly competitive MBAs, but what I’ve found is that we truly support each other at Foster. Sure, we are competitive (we are MBAs after all!) but we compete with ourselves and lift each other up at the same time. Just the other day I received a disappointing midterm score and as I was sharing the news and not only was I receiving multiple pep talks, but many offered to help me study on their own time. The caliber of people at Foster is second to none. Not only is the community filled with talented and accomplished people, but those same folks are the kind that will lend a hand when layoffs happen at a company or someone needs some extra help.

Around the second week of classes I remember looking around the room thinking only a type-A, list lover like myself would remember to set out the name tent (and should I put it out if I’m the only one? Will I look dorky?), I wasn’t the only one who put out their tent, everyone else had remembered too and that’s when I realized: I’ve found my people!

Curriculum

What has surprised you about the MBA experience that you wish you had known?

I’m in my early 30s, so I’ve been out of school for over ten years. I’ve taken lots of continuing professional education courses and certifications but found getting back into the groove of being an academic student challenging. Specifically, I found I didn’t really know how to study – not really. I was surprised that turning in homework weekly seemed much more challenging with the added responsibilities of being a working professional with a full life. I wish I would have spent some time before the program learning how to be a student again. Learning how to do those things while complex curriculum is coming at you felt like learning to drive during a high-speed chase! Now at the beginning of each quarter I take the syllabus and break it down for the entire time before the first day of class even begins.

Describe your experience with the team aspect MBA program.

My undergrad experience was unique – I spent it studying theatre at Cornish which also has a team aspect, so it felt familiar to be paired with the same group all year. I love that over time we learn each team member’s strengths and weaknesses so we can adapt to projects better. I’m fortunate that I have a great team that gets along and works well together. I think we work so well because we celebrate each other’s knowledge and experience while also pushing each other to learn new concepts. Sometimes we put our finance person in the lead because we are short on time and other times, we challenge our health care guru to take the lead on a finance project. I think it all boils down to respecting and trusting each other while always assuming the best. Over time we’ve developed this bond that I know we will carry with us way past our time at Foster. I love that each one of us is vastly different and we are successful because of our diverse backgrounds!

Faculty

What are your impressions of the faculty?

All I can say is the hype about the faculty is true! Not only are we learning from the best of the best in the industry, but they really want each person to succeed. They are willing to go the extra mile to ensure each student understands the material. I didn’t even think to ask about it before I got to Foster, but the TA’s are amazing as well. Sometimes a TA session was the only way I was going to get that homework done and I became so thankful that I had that resource.

Career Impact

Did you participate in the mentor program?

I participated in the mentor program and I’ve had a great experience. My mentor is a successful female founder who has owned her business for over 20 years. It was cool to be able to tour her office, ask her questions, and learn about the advertising industry. She went the extra mile to pair her mentees up with other folks in the office she thought we’d benefit from knowing. I was paired with two female leaders who are starting an employee resource group for women in business. I have experience setting those up so we are going to continue that conversation and they might even hire my company to help in some respects! It’s so awesome that signing up for a program has led me to make great connections, expose me to a new industry, and potentially lead to new business!

Work / Life / School Balance

What’s your #1 tip for someone considering an MBA?

If you are even a little interested in getting an MBA, it’s worth it to investigate the program. Don’t self-select out of the process! Let admissions do their job – your job is to be clear if you want to pursue the program and to do your best to tell your story. Get really clear on your ‘why’ – I can’t tell you how many late nights I’ve had to call upon my ‘why’ and even visualize walking across the stage to get my degree to get me through those tough moments. I also found a lot of value out of attending the class visit nights where you can sit in on a class with a current student ambassador.