For Samantha “Sami” Tellatin, the path to Stanford’s Graduate School of Business began with planting chia seeds on a farm in Costa Rica — literally getting into the dirt, making small imprints with her fingers, placing the seeds, and covering them with soil. Then it meant watching the crops grow for the few summer months she spent on the farm. “That was so powerful, because I had never worked on growing food before,” she says.
Tellatin helped harvest food, too, like cilantro, and took it to a restaurant on site — witnessing, quite literally, the process from seed to table. She also was introduced to a cacao orchard and was soon leading tours for guests. “I love chocolate,” the Springfield, Missouri native says. “Cacao is bright red and orange. It’s beautiful but it looks nothing like what you’d expect chocolate to look like.”
As Tellatin steps foot on the Palo Alto campus this fall, she does so as one of three Stanford USA MBA Fellows. For the third year, Stanford is providing $170,000 to each fellow, covering all tuition and fees as long as the fellows return to one of 12 Midwestern states within two years of graduating.
“Developing principled business leaders committed to driving change is integral to the GSB’s mission. We’re eager to further strengthen our connection to the Midwest — a region vital to the U.S. economy — and play a role in the next wave of economic development and social innovation through our USA MBA fellows,” explains Kirsten Moss, assistant dean and director of MBA Admissions at the GSB.
APPLICATIONS UP 25% FROM THE MIDWEST FOR STANFORD’S FULL-TIME MBA PROGRAM
According to Elisa Köppl, an assistant supervisor of admissions at the GSB who also oversees all fellowship programs, applications are up 25% from the Midwest since GSB launched the fellowship in 2016. Admission counselors are in the process of completing a 12-city tour of the Midwest, in which at least one alum of the GSB showed up to every stop. The objective: To get the word out about Stanford’s commitment to enroll students from the Midwest and then replant them back in the region.
Joining Tellatin in this year’s class will be Lucy Montgomery and Andrew Pikturna. Montgomery is a fifth-generation Iowan who has worked as a management consultant in Accenture’s Washington, D.C. office. Her plan is to return to Iowa and create a nonprofit that amplifies women’s voices while preparing them to launch and manage ventures. Pikturna grew up in Wisconsin’s Fox Valley, which was once home to a booming paper industry. Also an Accenture consultant, he plans to return to Wisconsin to launch a tech company focused on helping people in Wisconsin succeed in a changing economy.
USING THE GSB DEGREE TO CHANGE THE FOOD SYSTEM, REVERSE CLIMATE CHANGE
Implementing changes in the Midwestern economy (and mindset) is the main reason the school launched the program and have seen it grow, Köppl told Poets&Quants. It’s also what Tellatin plans to do. She grew up in Southwest Missouri with a father who had a passion for gardening and composting. When she started her studies at the University of Missouri in Columbia, she helped launch a program that took the school’s food waste and turned it into compost and energy. “That was the segue for me learning more about agriculture through composting,” she says.
Then came the internship on the farm in Costa Rica between her junior and senior years at the University of Missouri. That’s where Tellatin also learned about the importance of soil restoration and its role in mitigating and adapting to climate change and the warming planet. “I could see that agriculture had a really direct connection everyone has with the environment,” she says.
The idealistic approach to changing people’s minds on connections with food and the environment were large portions of Tellatin’s application to Stanford, she says. “I’ve been thinking about business school for several years now, going back to the farm experience,” Tellatin explains. “I realized then how important business could be to instigate the change I wanted to see happen with our food system in the U.S.”
RETURNING TO THE MIDWEST
Tellatin saw a business degree as an essential piece to implementing that change. “Business school seemed like the best option for me,” she says, noting that she is interested in switching from the public sector to the private sector to see the change through. “It’s a really dynamic degree.”
While she has been based out of Oregon for the past year, Tellatin says she plans to return to the Midwest soon after completing her degree. “I felt a lot of guilt for leaving,” she acknowledges. “My heart stayed in the Midwest because that’s where I see some big potential for changing the food system.”
Tellatin has lofty goals. One of them is to steer the food system as well as other industries related to the food system to “practice accounting for the environmental impact the way we already account for financial impact.”
“I’d also like to instill more gratitude into the world surrounding the food system by connecting people with the environment more,” she adds.
It’s that change that Moss says they are looking for in the USA MBA Fellowship program.
“Andrew, Lucy, and Samantha’s devotion and commitment to the Midwest is inspirational,” Moss says, “and we look forward to their contributions to our student body as well as their long-term impact as future leaders.”