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New View On MBA Admissions At Tippie

Tippie College of Business admissions director Paul Pinckley in a Cambodian village

Tippie College of Business admissions director Paul Pinckley in a Cambodian village

The applicants who sit in front of University of Iowa Tippie College of Business’s new MBA admissions director have little idea that his assessment of them is based, in part, on the scenes of suffering and deprivation he witnessed in a far off land. To be clear, those were not scenes from Paul Pinckley’s nearly 11 years as executive director of student recruitment at Pepperdine University’s Graziadio School of Business & Management, which overlooks the sea in star-studded Malibu – but in those years he saw a lot of would-be business students come through his office doors. It was the three years directly previous to his start at Tippie that changed the way Pinckley looks at B-school applicants.

Pinckley is, you could say, fresh off the boat. From September 2011 till last August, he was manager of Ship of Life, a ship that cruises the waterways of Cambodia, providing medical care to villagers. “That is as Third World as Third World can get, where we were anyway,” Pinckley says. “Here were people that have nothing.”

A member of the United Church of Christ, Pinckley had been reading a church publication one day when he saw an ad. In big letters, it said “Ship Manager Wanted.” His interest piqued – he already had an affinity for Asia and its cultures after recruiting in the region – Pinckley talked to his wife Debbie about it. “She laughed at me and said, ‘You’re nuts.’”


She ended up with him on the boat, too, where they were to spend the next three years living out of a 200-square-foot cabin. Ship of Life, which is funded by the United Church of Christ, runs 103 feet from stem to stern, and carried 13 Cambodian crew and medical staff, including a doctor, dentist, pharmacist, and paramedic. Foreign volunteer doctors, dentists, and nurses, mostly American, would join for stints of a week to a month. 

Tippie MBA admissions director Paul Pinckley aboard Ship of Life

Tippie MBA admissions director Paul Pinckley aboard Ship of Life

The ship motors along the Mekong and Tonle Sap rivers, and Tonle Sap Lake, in a circuit that typically brings it once a year to each of the villages it serves. “That once a year that we pulled in was the once a year that they would have any access to health care,” Pinckley says.

While Cambodians are often hit up for bribes at government medical centers – “You go to the free clinic and you pay to get into the free clinic, and to get anything beyond basic care you pay your doctor” – health services on Ship of Life are free, and free of corruption, Pinckley says. No invasive surgery is done on board – patients are referred to hospitals for that – but the staff treat a range of serious health afflictions, including severe parasitic infection, gastritis, high blood pressure, and diabetes, ailments that can be fatal if left untreated. Also, there is post-traumatic stress disorder among Cambodians old enough to have survived the Khmer Rouge genocide that killed nearly two million people, and parents’ psychological problems can affect children, he says. “We dealt with depression, insomnia, anger-type issues,” Pinckley says.

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