Quartet of Foster faculty and staff honored with UW Awards of Excellence

It is said that good things come in threes.

But sometimes, they come in fours.

Beatles, for instance. Ghostbusters. Rushmore presidents. Gospels. Seasons. Intrepid travelers to Oz. Golden Girls. Little Women. Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. French ovens. Quadrangles. Classic elements. Cardinal directions.

Now, to this illustrious list, we can add the quartet of University of Washington Foster School of Business faculty and staff who have been honored with UW Awards of Excellence this spring.

Ronda Rutherford, program and office manager at the Global Business Center, received the Together We Will Award (for distinguished staff contribution). Weili Ge, the Moss Adams Endowed Professor of Accounting, earned the UW Distinguished Teaching Award. Michael Verchot (MBA 1995), founding director of the Consulting and Business Development Center, won the David B. Thorud Leadership Award. And Terry Mitchell, professor emeritus of management, received the Distinguished Retiree Excellence in Community Service Award.

“It’s truly unique to have the Foster School community awarded in every single category of UW Excellence Awards,” says Frank Hodge, the Orin and Janet Smith Endowed Dean of the Foster School. “Ronda, Weili, Michael and Terry are great examples of how the Foster School is fostering leadership to better humanity.”

Grassroots DEI

Ronda Rutherford (BA 2008) had a pretty busy year working her Foster School day jobs. That’s right, jobs—plural. She split her considerable talents between her hired position at the Global Business Center, where she manages operations and delivers federally funded programs that teach and engage key audiences, and an emergency deployment as fiscal manager for Foster’s Advancement team.

Ronda Rutherford

But amid this bustling, bilateral schedule, Rutherford also took it upon herself to build community at Foster in a year without in-person contact. Moved by the raw exposure of racial injustice around the country, she formed a grassroots community of practice (CoP) at Foster around diversity, equity and inclusion (DEI). This has galvanized the school, advanced its mission, and become a popular, powerful space for discussion, education, connection and action.

Rutherford’s “extracurricular” leadership has built an active CoP membership of 75+ faculty, staff and doctoral students. This community has launched a DEI book club, published a monthly DEI Digest that educates and celebrates, and convened a student subcommittee to shape student programming. Rutherford also sparked a 21 Day Race and Equity Challenge that engaged 125 people from across the Foster community in daily education, reflection and conversation around race and social justice. She has fostered 1:1 conversations, encouraged and engaged colleagues in safe discussions of difficult topics, and facilitated applications of DEI principles in people’s work and lives.

“Ronda’s hard work and proactive efforts have led to a more vibrant and active community committed to anti-racism and to amplifying this urgently needed work,” says Christina Fong, the William D. Bradford Endowed Professor of Management and associate dean for inclusion and diversity at Foster. “Her inclusive and welcoming leadership helped engage a diverse group of members from across the Foster School, helping to realize the school’s values of diversity and inclusion.”

Magnetic teaching

You’d be forgiven for stargazing at Weili Ge’s research credentials alone. A prolific figure in the Department of Accounting since 2006, Ge is a powerhouse scholar—listed #125 among the most productive researchers in the field of financial accounting over the past 30 years (and #264 among all accounting scholars over the same period) in the annual BYU Accounting Rankings.

Weili Ge

Her work, as relevant as it is rigorous, has sharpened our ability to predict accounting misstatements and financial fraud, demystified the determinants and consequences of earnings quality, and examined internal control over financial reporting.

It happens that Ge is equally expert at teaching financial accounting, as she does to students at every level of the Foster School.

She leads her classes with passion and uses real-world cases to bring the subject alive. And she is known for being approachable, responsive and encouraging—for caring deeply about her students. And their praise for her is rapturous.

“Weili’s power to induce comfort, extend embrace and suspend judgment,” noted one student, “can only be derived authentically and without incentive.”

This authenticity has earned her many accolades, including an Outstanding Service Award from the American Accounting Association (2013) and the Foster School’s PhD Program Faculty Mentor Award (2020), Dean’s Excellence Award for Graduate Teaching (2016), Ron Crockett Award for Undergraduate Teaching (2013), William A. and Helen I. Fowler Award for Special Achievement in Accounting (2011) and five Evening MBA Professor of the Year awards. The UW Distinguished Teaching Award is a culmination of them all.

“Weili is a magnet in the classroom,” says Dean Hodge, a colleague in the Department of Accounting. “Students start her class a little apprehensive about the topic of financial accounting. But they leave with not only a strong affection for Weili as a person and a mentor, but also an appreciation of the topic and its value in their professional career.”

Ascending small business

Every one of the past 26 years has been momentous for Michael Verchot (MBA 1995) and the Consulting and Business Development Center, which he co-founded in 1995 to accelerate the careers of students and the growth of small businesses owned by people of color, women, veterans, LGBTQ+ entrepreneurs and those in under-served communities.

Michael Verchot

Its impact has been remarkable. Through the work of student consulting teams and faculty-led management education, the CBDC has helped small businesses across the state of Washington generate more than $250 million in new revenue—at an annual growth rate more than double the state average—and create or retain more than 225,000 jobs since its founding.

In 2017, Verchot and the center spun their evidence-based M3 strategy—growing businesses owned by people of color by addressing a historic lack of access to management education, money and markets—into the nationwide Ascend program, in partnership with JPMorgan Chase.

But 2020-2021 was like no other. When the pandemic hit, Verchot shifted the center from spurring growth to catalyzing survival and recovery. His team helped the center’s network of client businesses weather the pandemic, rallied Foster faculty to deliver online seminars on pertinent strategies, and deployed an army of students and mentors to produce a playbook to recovery and sustainable growth available to small businesses across the 15-city Ascend network.

But it wasn’t all triage. In the past year, Verchot brokered a partnership with the Seattle Mariners and cultivated a $100,000 gift from longtime center champions Joanne and Bruce Harrell to seed an endowment supporting student engagement. His leadership also inspired a massive further $8 million investment from JPMorgan Chase to expand the Ascend network and animate its effort to grow 500 small businesses owned by people of color into multi-million-dollar firms.

Characteristically humble, Verchot will deflect credit for all of this, of course. But these events—and the Thorud Award—are testament to his innovative vision, endless energy, boundless dedication and inclusive leadership.

“Michael has been a driving force for diversity, equity and inclusion for over a quarter century,” says Fong. “His lifelong passion for using business as a tool for empowerment—and his unwavering commitment to that principle—has benefited countless students, small business owners, faculty and administrators. He has changed lives, bettered communities and helped the Foster School advance its values.”

Activist retirement

Terry Mitchell certainly has earned the right to kick up his feet after a Foster School career that spanned a half-century of passionate teaching, dedicated service, sage mentoring and extraordinarily impactful research.

Terry Mitchell

An Academy of Management Lifetime Achievement Award honoree, Mitchell’s nearly 150 research papers and books published since 1969 have delivered groundbreaking insights on leadership, motivation, decision making and employee turnover. He has been ranked the #18 most influential scholar of all time in the field of industrial and organizational psychology, #23 most influential in organizational behavior and #35 most influential in general management. A 2020 study tags him among the top 1 percent of the world’s most-cited researchers—across all scientific disciplines. And he has amplified this impact through a stint as “activist” director of the Foster School’s PhD Program and many years fostering generations of doctoral students to their own successful careers.

So, has emeritus status finally delivered a well-deserved break? Not exactly.

Mitchell has met retirement with the same industry and verve that fired his academic career. He remains a top-performing researcher, continually collaborating with colleagues and doctoral students to produce, amazingly, nearly a scholarly publication per year since retiring in 2014, on average.

And he has devoted himself—and all of his powers—to furthering environmental health and conservation. He is a super-volunteer at three animal conservation organizations: the Woodland Park Zoo, the Hawaiian Islands Humpback Whale National Marine Sanctuary and the Alligator River Wildlife Refuge in North Carolina. In these native and adopted homes, Mitchell has improved exhibits, enhanced docent training and, of course, leveraged his considerable pedagogical gifts to inspire visitors to play an active role in protecting the planet’s threatened species.

“Terry gives a tremendous amount of time and energy to better the communities in which he lives and visits,” says Hodge. “He is truly a role model.”