As she evaluated potential MBA programs across the country, Ann Watercutter found herself drawn to schools whose graduate education was tailored to students’ individuality and whose footprint extended beyond the classroom and into the community.
Nearly two years later, that personalization and commitment to creating positive social impact intersected in a powerful way as part of Watercutter’s Full-Time MBA (FTMBA) experience at Fisher. The second-year MBA student and her classmates were the first cohort to experience the college’s redesigned MBA, a graduate degree differentiated by a number of key features. For Watercutter, the program’s Social Impact Challenge helped set it apart from others.
The challenge pairs teams of second-year MBA students with nonprofit organizations throughout Columbus. Over the course of 12 weeks, students meet with organization leaders to learn about a unique challenge facing the nonprofit. The consulting project is complemented by classroom instruction detailing the different facets of nonprofit work. The project culminates in presentations by students to their partner organizations in which they provide actionable recommendations.
“What I really appreciated about the experience was rather than being assigned a client, there was an opportunity to let the program leaders know what we’re passionate about,” Watercutter said. “When I wrote my essay to apply to Fisher, I talked about wanting to empower other women, as I had been by the mentors in my career.”
She was excited to learn that she was a part of a team that had been chosen to work with Women for Economic and Leadership Development (WELD). Their challenge was to help the organization create a strategy for increasing the representation of women, women of color and young professionals on government leadership boards and commissions by proposing a viable business model to train current boards on transparent recruitment.
“Getting to work with an organization like WELD while still in school was a rewarding experience,” Watercutter said. “It was a great culmination of everything we were being taught in the classroom combined with a personal passion.”
Barb Smoot, president and CEO of the WELD National Team, praised the team’s work and the opportunity to collaborate with Fisher students.
“They took time to directly experience the WELD training program they were evaluating and making recommendations on,” she said. “The business world and the public sector needs their talent in the workplace now! We are so grateful that we were selected for this project. The end work product that they delivered was very well done and speaks highly to the caliber of your program.”
In all, the cohort of second-year students worked with 20 organizations dedicated to a variety of causes, including the arts, health care, environmental sustainability and the developmentally disabled.
“I was surprised at the extent to which the organizations we worked with jumped at the opportunity to engage with our MBA students,” said Keely Croxton, co-director of the FTMBA program. “I feared that the impacts of COVID would have their minds and attention focused on other things and they wouldn’t want to be distracted by being involved in a student project."
"If anything, though, COVID was adding new challenges that they needed help figuring out. Operating a nonprofit requires many of the same decisions required to run a business, yet the directors and employees often don’t have a business education. So, the opportunity to infuse our students’ business thinking into their mission-driven processes created new opportunities for them, which they were excited to explore.”
Jon Laurin’s motivation for pursuing an MBA at Fisher was partly rooted in the program’s focus on creating better communities locally through the Social Impact Challenge. He was part of a team that worked with the Worthington Resource Pantry to improve the operations of its food pantry, which was forced to adapt its services via a drive-through in response to COVID-19.
“When I saw one of the projects was based in Worthington, that was a massive selling point for me,” said Laurin, a Worthington resident. "I wanted to give back to the community in which I lived, and I wanted to teach my three kids that life is about giving, not receiving.”
Laurin, a captain in the U.S. Marine Corps Forces Reserves, and his team was tasked with helping the pantry design and incorporate better ways to offer its clients more choices in the staples they received. Prior to COVID, the pantry provided clients with an in-person shopping experience, not unlike that of a grocery store. The pandemic forced a sudden shift to a drive-through model that limited customer choice.
“The process needed to be shorter, but we needed to increase overall engagement,” Laurin said. “During the first six months of the pandemic, demand for the pantry’s services doubled. They were never able to take a step back and see what was and wasn’t working. That’s where we were able to help.”
The team drew on the theoretical principles from the classroom, adapted them to their situation when necessary and always kept their focus on their core audience: the individuals and families relying on the pantry for items such as food and diapers.
“That’s where a project like this is so valuable. As we implemented certain steps, we wanted to keep the psychological considerations in mind,” he said. “The textbooks may say a method is faster, but you have to see firsthand how it may be viewed and received by the customer.”
Whether it was the hands-on experience of helping an organization such as WELD or taking part in classroom discussions about social issues such as the killing of George Floyd, Watercutter said the Social Impact Challenge exceeded her expectations of the FTMBA. It also inspired her as she gets ready for graduation and a marketing leadership development position with Ethicon, a Johnson & Johnson medical device company.
“It demonstrated ways that I’ll be able to continue to give back,” she said. “When you start an MBA, it’s a time of self-discovery and improvement. Now that I am getting ready to graduate and go back into a full-time role, I’m going to make sure I’m having an impact in my new community at work and where I’ll be living.”
Getting to work with an organization like WELD while still in school was a rewarding experience. It was a great culmination of everything we were being taught in the classroom combined with a personal passion.