An educator’s journey through the MBA

Getting accepted into the MBA program is just one step in a holistic journey of self-discovery, and resilience-building, key traits needed from any business leader.

Each person’s MBA journey is never straightforward and full of surprises. This is true even for someone who has spent a career educating others.

One such journey is of a high-school teacher turned Program Manager, Mike Parrish, Foster MBA Class of 2020. Mike embraced the various aspects of the MBA program, focusing on gaining not only from the classroom experience but from multiple experiential learning opportunities. Soon to achieve the milestone of completing the MBA, he shares his personal growth journey at Foster.

Why the MBA?

Having spent 7 years working as an educator, Mike came to Foster seeking to learn how to effectively manage complex business situations in large organizations. His greatest strength, the interpersonal relationship building skill set that he developed during his career as a 10th-grade Chemistry Teacher and later High School Dean of Students (High School Principal) at the YES PREP North Central (YPNC) in Houston, TX.

Mike Parrish

Mike Parrish

Mike enjoyed working in education but felt that the skills he had gained during his time in teaching could be applicable and leveraged effectively in other industries. The career goal at the time of entering the MBA program was to become a strategic consultant at one of the big four consulting firms.

Challenges faced

Mike knew it would be an uphill battle to land an internship within the major consulting firms. As soon as school started, Mike joined the Foster Consulting Society, a student-led MBA club that helps MBAs learn about, prepare for, and secure high-quality career opportunities in consulting.  While juggling getting to know classmates from across the world, studying for the midterms, interview, and case prep, Mike also made time for numerous networking calls and coffee chats to understand the strategy and outlook of his targeted consulting firms.

At this point, Mike warns prospective students that what happened next is actually very common in any MBA program. By the end of January, despite all the effort, consulting interviews did not materialize. With other MBA internship deadlines quickly approaching, it was time to think about a plan B. Instead of letting panic set in, Mike took a weekend to rest and recalibrate. He could either play the volume game and start resume bombing every MBA internship opening in sight or take a step back from recruiting and fully invest himself in all Foster had to offer.

Recalibrating approach

With a keen focus on personal growth, Mike rediscovered various aspects of the Foster MBA program. While he had loved the classroom experience along with great interactions with the professors, Mike knew and acknowledged that he was an experiential learner. The first thought was to explore the various experiential learning opportunities at Foster.

The Foster Applied Strategy coursework provided the first opportunity. This required course for all first-year MBAs during the winter quarter engages them in teams to consult on business problems faced by companies in Seattle and the Bay Area. This is done much earlier than most other business schools in the nation. The group of MBAs serves as a mini-consulting agency to help the client solve a problem they are experiencing.

Leveraging Experiential Learning

Mike’s team was assigned to a client called Vettd. Vettd is an AI start-up in the HR space based out of Bellevue, WA. While working with Vettd, the team got to work alongside the CEO and his executive team to build a marketing plan to help bring their product to market. This was Mike’s first exposure to the technology industry, and he found it fascinating to be working with a product on the cutting edge of AI. He was able to utilize the storytelling skills developed over years of teaching chemistry to shape a cohesive narrative around Vettd’s products.

Mike with his Applied strategy team

Mike with his Applied strategy team and the leadership at Vettd.ai

Vettd liked the team’s work so much that they hired Mike to work part-time for them during the Spring quarter. Working for Vettd was a lot of fun for Mike. He not only got to complete some of the product marketing work that the applied strategy team had started, but the opportunity also boosted his personal confidence. This is the power of the opportunity created by the hands-on learning at Foster.

One opportunity leading to another

A few weeks into the part-time job at Vettd, Mike was recommended by a colleague for an internship at Expedia Group within their HR Tech Team. Going into the Expedia Group interview, Mike was in the unique position of having fresh experience with HR Tech market research and customer pain points. He quickly advanced within the interview process and landed a summer internship offer at Expedia.

The internship experience

At Expedia, Mike got to work on the implementation of a global HR product working with a cross-functional team of technical, programmatic, and product tech professionals. The internship was a ton of fun, and the team at Expedia was incredibly supportive as he transitioned to the tech industry. At the end of the summer, Expedia, impressed with his work over the summer,  offered Mike the opportunity to return as a full-time program manager, which he has accepted.

Other continuous learning opportunities

Looking back at what made this career transition from education to technology possible, Mike believes the differentiating factor was Foster’s experiential learning opportunities. And getting a full-time offer has not stopped the experiential learning journey. Other than the work with Expedia and Vettd, by the time graduation rolls around in June 2020, Mike will have participated in the following additional programs:

  • Foster Field Study, in which Mike and his team conceptualized a blockchain product for Microsoft. They created a product feature list, wireframes, and a business plan and presented it to the Microsoft Blockchain leadership.
  • Analytics Consulting Lab with Dr. Russell Walker. Mike worked on a team that created a prediction machine in RStudio that analyzed and optimized an NFL betting scheme for investment opportunities. The team partnered with an outside researcher who is exploring this business opportunity.
  • A fellowship with the START Center at UW, which is a student-run consulting firm in partnership with the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. At START, Mike worked on three consulting style projects in the fields of global health, cybersecurity, and donor solutions.
Mike with his team at Microsoft

Mike with his team at Microsoft after a successful field study presentation

Final thoughts looking back at this journey

Thinking back to those moments in January of 2019, Mike now sees those serving as a catalyst to his own personal growth. Not getting the first internship available resulted in Mike going through personal reflection, skill development, and career prototyping necessary to find the best version of his professional identity. Effectively, it was a blessing in disguise, reminding Mike of his time when he would lecture teenagers on the importance of persistence and overcoming adversity. These are the most memorable lessons Mike will carry with him into his post-MBA career.