In Perfect Harmony: Hybrid MBA Student Starts Nonprofit

Vanessa Grose, Hybrid MBA 2019

All UW Foster Hybrid MBA Program students must learn to manage the rigor and commitment of the program with the rest of their busy lives. Work, family, friends, hobbies – you name it, students learn how to balance it. But Vanessa Grose (Hybrid MBA 2019) has taken the “art of balancing” to an entirely new level.

Vanessa is a Global Innovation Executive for IBM Cloud and a second year Hybrid MBA student. With a good sense of how IBM runs its business and over 15 years of technology experience managing teams, leading projects, and interfacing with clients, she joined the inaugural Hybrid MBA Program cohort to reinforce her career experience with classroom learning.

This past July, while halfway done with the Hybrid MBA Program, Vanessa took on the considerable endeavor of founding a nonprofit called Puget Soundworks. Puget Soundworks is an all-gender, LGBTQ-friendly chorus that sings an eclectic mix of music from the heart and works toward overcoming inequality in energizing and creative ways. She currently serves as the Executive Director of the organization.

Puget Soundworks hosted its first concert last December with about 70 singers strong. The chorus is gearing up for their next show, “Home Is…”, in early May and also looking ahead to the summer of 2020. They’ll travel to Minneapolis to participate in the international Gay and Lesbian Association of Choruses (GALA Choruses) Festival.

Vanessa nears graduation in less than two months, and it’s clear that the Hybrid MBA Program and Puget Soundworks have proven to be a harmonious pairing for her. She shares, “It is almost absurd how much of my Hybrid MBA coursework has been directly applicable to launching and operating Puget Soundworks.”

Photo Credit: John Cornicello,

Read more about Vanessa’s Hybrid MBA experience and her journey into founding Puget Soundworks:

On Hybrid MBA

Why did you choose the UW Foster Hybrid MBA Program over other MBA programs?
I work in IBM’s global sales organization, so my job requires quite a bit of travel. There was no way I could be in Seattle often and consistently enough for the on-campus time required by Foster’s other MBA programs. In the Hybrid MBA Program, I can access my course content, attend class sessions, and work with my team no matter where I am in the world – this flexibility is a must-have for me!

Hybrid MBA Team Orange

What has been your favorite class or experience in the Hybrid MBA Program thus far?
I enjoy learning from other students’ experiences. We have such a diverse set of backgrounds in our cohort, and I love hearing other folks’ work stories that make our course topics come alive. I also like how the program has incorporated team learning across the curriculum. I am consistently grateful for Team Orange; I don’t know how I would make it through the program without them.

What is a key benefit of the Hybrid MBA Program that you’d like to share?
I really appreciate how this program has forced me to become more efficient – in thinking, working, and decision-making. I have definitely become more biased toward action and execution and more ruthless at prioritizing, which has made me a more effective leader.

What is your advice for someone considering the Hybrid MBA Program?
If you are not organized and self-disciplined, the Hybrid MBA Program might not be the best fit for you. Even if your employer is not paying for the program, I strongly recommend working to get your employer’s support for your participation. It is highly likely that the program will impact your work, and it is helpful to be on the same page with your boss before that happens. For example, I make sure that my team at work knows well in advance when I’ll be on campus for Immersion, or when finals week is, so that we can coordinate my availability and travel around those times.

On Her Nonprofit, Puget Soundworks

Photo Credit: John Cornicello,

What is the most rewarding aspect about establishing and developing Puget Soundworks?
The Puget Soundworks leadership team worked deliberately to establish a community that aligned with our values — openness and transparency; diversity, equity, and inclusion; intersectional social justice; and kindness. Providing a safe space where all of our singers and patrons feel welcome and loved is its own reward. Doing so in the context of uplifting performances that strive to make the world a slightly brighter, kinder place is even better. Our singers give me so much joy. It has been immensely heartening to watch this incredibly diverse collection of humans come together to make beautiful music. I know that we are changing hearts and lives, and I will always be grateful that I had the opportunity to do so.

What’s the biggest challenge you face with this nonprofit?
My biggest personal challenge with the organization is time. I’m passionate about the chorus and want it to be amazing, and I would love nothing more than to pour time into it — but there is only so much of me to go around. I’m fortunate to have a dedicated leadership team and a lot of eager volunteers. However, as I’ve been in the midst of learning how the organization needs to work for myself, it’s been hard to know how and what to delegate. Now that we are through our first concert, I have a much clearer vision for how the organization can and should function, and we are gearing up to put a more robust organizational structure in place to improve our operational capacity and make me less of a bottleneck. It’s really exciting to see it all come together! I’m looking forward to empowering our volunteers to take more ownership of the chorus that they love.

How has the Hybrid MBA Program prepared you to be successful with Puget Soundworks?
It is almost absurd how much of my Hybrid MBA coursework has been directly applicable to launching and operating Puget Soundworks. I create budgets and track them to actuals to tune our spending and operations. I help the board understand how to decipher financial statements. I build linear regression models to project ticket sales revenue. I negotiate contracts. I build organizational change plans to improve our operational capacity. The list could go on and on. I have actually really enjoyed having Puget Soundworks as a kind of laboratory to explore these concepts, and I know that the organization has benefited from that expertise.

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