Student Reflections: Aim High and keep an open mind!

Lavanya Venkateswar is a rising third year Evening MBA Student and scheduled to graduate this upcoming spring. Beginning her career as a product developer in the food industry, she’s using Foster’s Evening MBA Program to transitioning into a marketing role. Here she reflects upon her experience in Foster’s Evening MBA program.

Lavanya Venkateswar and her family.

Lavanya Venkateswar and her family.

I started off the Foster MBA program with a very conservative and achievable goal – get a Masters of Business Administration to move ahead in my current career path. I started my career off as a food scientist and after seven years of product development, I found myself wanting more: I wanted to work with consumers, making business decisions on what products to launch and how to make them profitable. I knew that marketing was the right spot for me to do what I wanted. But when I applied for the MBA I only gave myself permission to want to move into management in R&D in the food industry. I didn’t even want to say in my application essay that truly I wanted to move into marketing at the risk of sounding pretentious.

Once I started the Evening MBA program at Foster and started talking to other students in the 2nd and 3rd year of the program, I found out that it was quite common for folks with many years of experience in a particular function to move into other functions within the same industry or other industries. I felt more confident in voicing my desire to move into marketing. I also found that knowing other people had similarly wanted to move into new roles and were successful in their roles gave me confidence that I would do well in a marketing role. Within 9 months of starting the Foster program, I moved into a product manager role in marketing at the current company for which I was working – Continental Mills. During the first 6 months, I learned by leaps and bounds the various skills I needed to be successful in my new position. I also found that the learning experience at school and learning experience at work went hand in hand. There were times when I did a class at school before I had to experience it at work and there were times that I did something at work that made more sense after I learned why it was done a particular way at school.

My classmates were one of the greatest resources in helping me make the decision to move into marketing, as well as after I moved into my new role. Talking to classmates who were in marketing roles helped me understand the different kinds of marketing roles in different industries,  the day to day activities of these roles as well as the skills required to be successful in the roles . These conversations helped me determine the skills and knowledge I would need to supplement what I already had, ultimately leading to a plan for what classes and electives I needed to take.

Going to the coffee breaks and weekly happy hours gave me the greatest opportunity to talk to my fellow classmates and bounce ideas off of them. The word “networking” always gave me the jitters. What am I supposed to say? What do I ask? What could I possibly have common with random people? After a year of weekly happy hours, I got it – networking just means talking to people and listening to them…that is something I could do! It got me comfortable with talking to new people about what they did, how they did it, what is common and different between the skills they needed to do what they did and what I did. Also, I got to learn this in the safest environment to practice the skills needed for networking – with friends trying to learn about you and practice their skills as well.

The next step in this discovery process was to engage with the Career Management team. One “ah-ha! moment” for me was when I realized I had access to the entire Foster Alumni in the Seattle area. It was truly humbling to see how the Foster alumni are so helpful and ready to talk to you. Every alumna and alumnus I have reached out to, whether through the Linkedin Alumni group or through introductions from the MBA office and Career Management office, has made time to meet with me or at the very least have a phone conversation. This is a great way to discover and understand different company cultures, different roles and how the Foster MBA helps you be successful in these roles, ultimately determining your interest in it and fit for you. The best way to make the right decision is to have all the facts and the easiest way to get these facts are through people who have done it.

You don’t know what you don’t know – that is something I found to be true time and again in this program. As I have talked to people in different industries and business functions I began discovering roles and opportunities that I had never known existed before. This has intrigued me and has made me think about possible future opportunities. I have given myself permission to not limit myself to a particular role or industry. What I ultimately want is to have transferrable business skills that would be applicable to multiple industries. I hope to continue this discovery process as I get into the final year of the evening MBA program and see where this exciting road takes me!
-Lavanya Venkateswar Evening MBA, Class of 2015

Lavanya and her first year study team

Lavanya (center) and her Evening MBA first year study team