Meet Washington Foster’s MBA Class Of 2020

Cherry blossoms on the UW Quad. Photo by Katherine B. Turner/ UW


Along with that, Poston adds that the program has revamped its alumni directories. Based on feedback from students and alumni, the school added more robust functionality to better connect the Foster community and boost networking opportunities in the process. “Early this year, the Alumni Engagement and MBA Program Offices partnered to launch the Foster Alumni Network, an online platform for Full-time and Evening MBA students and alumni,” Poston writes. “Because the directory is opt-in, everyone joining is excited to (re)forge connections. The network continues to grow in numbers and should prove to be a great benefit to the classes of 2021 and 2022.”

To break into blue chip firms – let alone the tech sector – students need experience. That’s one reason why Foster provides an intensive portfolio of experiential learning opportunities – an area that Poston believes is sorely underrated at the school. One of his favorites is the Board Fellows program, where MBA candidates serve as non-voting board members at local non-profits.

Student fellows attend monthly board meetings, join a board committee, complete a board-level project, and participate in seminars taught by UW Evans School faculty,” he explains. “It’s an incredible opportunity to make an impact in their community while learning about the intricacies of being a board member and developing leadership potential.”


Dan Poston

The Applied Strategy Project is another experiential staple at Foster. A required first-year course held during the winter quarter, the Applied Strategy Project matches 5-6 member student teams with companies. Like a consulting assignment, students conduct research, develop strategies, and pitch their recommendations to senior leaders at their firms. For students, it is a way to make an impact and apply what they learn to a real marketplace issue. In the process, the project requires team members to practice soft skills such as adapting to different work styles and building consensus. In the end, the course serves a dual purpose. Students can build relevant, resume-ready experience to make it easier to transition to different roles or industries. At the same time, the project prepares them for the all-important summer internship that follows.

Overall, MBA candidates are eligible to complete up to three projects during their two years. In recent years, student projects have covered areas such as developing employee retention plans, mapping customer journeys, and evaluating manufacturing and distribution processes. Not surprisingly, the roster of Applied Strategy Project partners includes the area’s big names – Amazon, Boeing, Starbucks, and Nike – not to mention plucky startups. However, the list also includes some unexpected partners, such as the National Park Services, the Boys and Girls Clubs, and the Seattle Opera.

Three years ago, Melissa Young, a 2018 Best & Brightest MBA with P&Q, partnered with Amazon nearly three years ago, focusing on embedding the firm’s sustainability credentials on their business platform.  We created a white paper detailing a recommendation and strategy that we presented to several cross-functional teams at Amazon,” she says. “It was a great success and is being implemented today on their platform.”


In an October blog post, Mukund Rajasekhar, a second-year who completed his Applied Strategy Project with Google last winter, observed that it was far more than a hum-drum marketing project. “Through the project I got to wear many hats; from consulting, when we were researching, digging for data and providing recommendations; to operations when we went about planning the project timeline and deliverables. One of the more challenging aspects of this experience was scoping the project and deliverables…I learned to prioritize and execute on the fly, a skill that I have used both at school and in my summer internship at Amazon.”

These project not only help students get exposure at top firms, but also build networks within them. Bryan Robert Salvador Smith, for one, has been impressed with the extensive web of relationships that Foster has with Seattle employers. One reason for that, says Dean Jiambalvo, is the number of executives who come to campus each year.

“We have something like 2,000 business execs on the Foster campus. A lot of it is judging competitions and executives coaching students. I have an advisory board of 60 people. The masters of science and information systems has an advisory board. All of the centers have advisory boards. When you roll it up, there are more than 300 adviser board members.”


MBAs at Gasworks Park

If you ask the Class of 2020 for Foster’s biggest advantage, they would undoubtedly cite Seattle. Matt Bishop, for example, reveres the Northwest, particularly its “sense of community, its culture of openness and curiosity, and the ingenuity found in the business community.” In contrast, Natalie Sullivan believes Seattle’s greatness stems from the wide range of industries that’d “be at my fingertips” while she studies at Foster.

“Given Seattle’s eclectic range of industries, it attracts a student body reflective of that breadth, from social impact gurus to policy wonks to data analytics geniuses, you can find someone cut from each type of cloth at Foster.”

A dynamic nightlife, a thriving cultural scene, an outdoorsman’s paradise – these are just a few of the features that distinguish Seattle…along with the rain and the coffee shops. In Forbes’ 2017 ranking of “The Best Places for Business and Careers,” Seattle ranked third in the United States. This quality of life is one reason, Dan Poston explains, why Seattle ranks as the fastest-growing American city since 2010.


“While these trends aren’t necessarily in our pipeline,” he admits, “they are indicative of the thriving business ecosystem in the Northwest that continues to grow and benefit our MBAs. From sports apparel and outdoor (Nike, Adidas, REI) to gaming (Nintendo, Valve, Big Fish) to tech (Amazon, Microsoft, T-Mobile) retail (Nordstrom, Starbucks, Costco) and startups (Adaptive Biotechnologies, Leafly, Moz), our MBAs profit from their surroundings.”

Of course, all work and no play makes for dull MBAs. Here, there are plenty of activities and scenery to clear the mind and stir the spirit. A land of hills and lakes, Seattle offers something for everyone: biking around Bainbridge Island; running the Issaquah Alps’ rustic trails; kayaking through Lake Washington; snowboarding down the Silver King; or backpacking through The Enchantments. The best part, writes Mukund Rajasekhar, is that students can escape the “hustle and bustle” of Seattle without traveling far.

Exhibit A: Mountain climbing. Each year, Foster’s Outdoor and Sports Industry Club (OSIC) organizes a climb to the summit of Mount Rainier, which towers over the region at 14,410 feet. “This year the summit was successfully attempted by 10 students from the class of 2018 and 2019,” writes Rajasekhar in his blog. “The climb was the culmination of a year of intense training and preparation…Not many men and women can boast of walking on land higher than the clouds, and these students earned it!”


Entrepreneurship is the natural extension of the region’s bohemian ethos – and Foster maintains a surplus of resources for students looking to explore the startup scene. It starts with the Arthur Burke Center for Entrepreneurship. Nearly 30 years old, the Buerk Center offers an array of coursework and coaching to sharpen students’ entrepreneurial instincts. Aside from hosting competitions in environmental and health innovation, the center sponsors the Dempsey Startup Competition, which has awarded over $1.4 million dollars to 167 student companies over the past two decades. In addition, the school houses the Jones + Foster Accelerator, which provides mentoring, workshops, and even funding to student-led companies.

Shobhit Gupta, a self-described “Adventurer – Seeker – Artist,” has already leveraged the Buerk Center to make inroads. “Seattle has a burgeoning ecosystem for young startups like Flyhomes, Elfbox, etc and I am stoked to be in touch with a couple of them,” he says.

Similarly, Marc Pujol, a Berkeley native whose passion is transportation infrastructure, is looking forward to the center’s Environmental Innovation Challenge. “With my background in energy and a special interest in clean energy-powered infrastructure, I’m looking forward to getting on a team with other Washington students to advance ideas that help make communities more sustainable,” he says.


Alas, the biggest ideas often originate from the smallest corners. For the Class of 2020, Foster’s small class size offers a decided advantage over larger counterparts. Maggie Polachek was drawn to the “Foster Fit,” which is epitomized by the school’s “We > Me” philosophy. “Foster students live and breathe that mentality – that we are always stronger together than we are on our own,” she observes. “I knew that I wanted to pursue my MBA at Foster because I believe Foster’s ethos of collaboration is critical for future leaders to embrace.”

Ciro Eduardo González Peña witnessed the power of this philosophy first-hand as an applicant. During his campus visit, he saw a degree of closeness and trust between faculty and students – one that deepened engagement and learning. That’s an outgrowth of class size, says Alexis Goodrich, a marketing manager who believes Foster’s smaller community demands greater accountability from students.

“Everyone knows each other, helps each other, and learns from each other on a more meaningful level,” she writes. “I didn’t want to be another face in the crowd at a larger school and knew that joining a small class would mean more opportunities to step up and grow during my two years.”

The intimate size also fosters deeper relationships, says Kirsten L. B. Franko, a transportation engineer from Wisconsin. For her, the real benefit lies in how the Foster community truly simulates what they need to do after graduation to be successful.

“Our future careers will necessitate that we work successfully with our colleagues and clients. Having this opportunity to work with diverse groups, throughout the next two years, is a bonus.”

What led these professionals to enter business schools? Which programs did they also consider? What strategies did they use to choose their MBA program? What was the major event that defined them? Find the answers to these questions and many more in the in-depth profiles of these incoming MBA candidates.

Student Hometown Alma Mater Previous Employer
Matt Bishop Snohomish, WA University of Washington Hey Marseilles
Kirsten L. B. Franko Madison, WI University of Wisconsin HNTB
Ciro Eduardo González Peña Monterrey, Mexico University of Texas Monex Corporate Banking
Alexis Goodrich Mercer Island, WA University of Southern California Creative Market
Shobhit Gupta Lucknow, India Thapar Institute of Engineering and Technology Poletalks
Nathan Haley Houston, TX Princeton University McDermott International
Maggie Polachek San Anselmo, CA Wellesley College Center for American Progress
Marc Pujol Berkeley, CA University of California, Berkeley Edison Energy
Aaron Sachs East Brunswick, NJ Boston University ThoughtWorks
Bryan Robert Salvador Smith Jacksonville, FL University of Miami PGA Tour
Barbara Sujin Lee Los Angeles, CA UC San Diego UCLA Health
Natalie Sullivan Santa Cruz, CA Smith College Figgins Family Wine Estates

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