2020 MBAs To Watch: Nancy Li, University of Washington (Foster)

Nancy Li

Foster School of Business, University of Washington

“I am fun, warm, friendly, fast, risk-taking, competitive, and committed!”

Hometown: Mountain View, California

Fun fact about yourself: I enjoy exploring the world! I have visited 30 countries and my next big milestone is 50 countries by 40!

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of California, Berkeley, International Political Economy (BA)

University of California, San Diego, International Environmental Policy (MA)

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school: King County Metro

Where did you intern during the summer of 2019? Expedia

Where will you be working after graduation? Amazon, Senior Program Manager

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

  • Vice President, Business & Policy Group
  • Vice President, Women in Business
  • Forte Ambassador at Foster
  • Director of Community Engagement, Minds Matter Seattle

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Academically, I am proud of completing the Marketing Analytics specialization at Foster. I learned how firms can act intelligently with extensive databases by using data analytics to optimize their product, pricing, promotion, and placement. Outside of my MBA program, I am proud of my weekly commitment as the Director of Community Engagement of Minds Matter Seattle, a local educational non-profit that provides academic support to low-income students. I lead our communication and fundraising efforts to support the academic pursuits of 27 high school students. This really taught me how to prioritize my time as I juggled between my training as an MBA candidate and my weekly responsibilities at Minds Matter.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Prior to coming to Foster, I worked as a senior transportation planner at King County Metro, where I developed and proposed a roadmap to measure and improve the workplace experience of frontline employees. With a focus on employee career development and well-being, the plan was adopted in 2018 and when fully executed, it could positively impact more than 2,000 bus operators.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? Jennifer Koski. I took Jennifer’s course on Problems in Business Finance. She believes in learning by doing. Therefore, in every class, we put on our corporate finance manager hats and painstakingly applied models and frameworks to examine firms’ valuation, capital structure, and budgeting decisions. While the work was challenging, Jennifer led every discussion with expert handling of the content and with skillful facilitation. She created a learning environment in which everyone was eager to participate! From her class, I gained confidence in my understanding of corporate finance, but more importantly, as a leader and a facilitator.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? Challenge for Charity Sports Weekend! The Foster student body share a collective belief that as business leaders we can do well by doing good. We compete with MBA students from 8 other business schools on the West Coast to support local communities through volunteering and fundraising. The year-long community service effort culminates in a weekend of athletic events at Stanford University, where we celebrate, compete, and renew our lifelong commitment to community involvement and social responsibility.

Why did you choose this business school? Among the many reasons that drew me to the Foster program, my top three factors include Foster’s collaborative culture, our strong alumni network, and local presence, and our faculty’s industry expertise. Foster has surpassed my expectation on all three. In the past two years, I have formed meaningful relationships with my peers and our faculty. Regardless of our backgrounds and training, we challenge each other and learn from one another. That is probably why, as time goes on, a class of strangers become more like a family! As I look forward to graduation, I cannot wait to work with my peers again, whether at the place of our employment or in the community causes we choose to take on. What a wonderful journey to make life-long friendships!

What is your best advice to an applicant hoping to get into your school’s MBA program? Understand your why! In the year leading up to applying for business school, specifically Foster, I took time to reflect on what I hope to get out of the MBA program, including the geographic location I want to be live in post-MBA, specific skill sets I want to gain, and the professional network I hope to build here on campus and in the industry. Taking that time to reflect helped me confirm that Foster was well aligned with my goals. I would encourage others who are considering applying to Foster or any MBA programs to take the time to reflect and prioritize your goals.

What is the biggest myth about your school? In comparison to other national MBA programs, the full-time student body at Foster is smaller. So, does the size of the student body impact your ability to network as an MBA candidate? The answer is No! Having a smaller class size allowed me to get to know all my classmates and even having the opportunities to work with most of them on projects. This kind of close-knit relationship is only possible here at Foster. Our alumni community in Seattle is strong and supportive. It is easy to schedule coffee chats with graduates and business leaders in the area, as our program has an outstanding reputation!

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why?  If I’d had more time, I would love to take on one or two more student-led consulting projects to gain even more experience from working with companies from different sectors. Applied projects offer unparalleled learning opportunities!

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? There are many in the program that I draw inspiration from. If I must name one, I admire Ruchi Singh. Ruchi is tenacious, passionate, and diligent! As the President of the Consulting Society, she leads by example. Every week, she sets aside a lot of hours to help our classmates prepare for their case interviews. She is strategic. Knowing the importance of a robust network for students who are pivoting to the consulting sector, she actively networks and negotiates with local consulting firms to create employment and internship opportunities for our classmates. Her fearlessness is something that I look up to and learn from, every single day!          

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mother! 16 years ago, at the height of her career as a director of a student art group, we moved so that I could receive a liberal education in America. Even though we arrived in our new home with very little understanding of the culture or language, she persevered. During those years, she would teach Chinese at a local daycare. At night, she would take English lessons. Her motto is not to live but to thrive. Her resilience and her determination to thrive in her new home is what pushes me forward every day. It is from her example that I learned to never stop pursuing higher grounds in my growth and professional pursuits.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Build effective and productive public-private partnerships that allow technological advances to improve our public services.
  • Leading a social impact organization as an executive to level the playing fields for all our children.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? I want to be remembered as someone who lives in the moment, fights for causes, and has made a difference!

Hobbies? Travel the world and meet people, taking my puppy on hikes, reading, and binge-watching Downton Abbey!

What made Nancy such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2020?

“If given only three words to describe Nancy Li, they would be equity, access, and community. She demonstrates these words in her work within the walls of Paccar and Seattle. Her leadership roles in clubs such as Women in Business and Business and Policy provide her peers with a platform for women and allies to network and learn from each other. To strengthen the community, her work empowers Foster women to their fullest capacity through advocacy, positivity, and knowledge. Nancy also serves as a Forté Foundation Ambassador, working with the organization to provide MBA student resources and to help shepherd new MBA students. Not only does Nancy demonstrate her commitment to equity and access in her leadership roles at Foster School of Business, but she also demonstrates it in the local Seattle community. Nancy is a board leader for Minds Matter of Seattle, a grass-root volunteer-run education group that provides weekly academic mentoring and ongoing support to high achieving college-bound students from local communities. Most of the students are first-generation college students and many of them are first-generation immigrants. Through an intensive, volunteer-run tutoring and mentoring program, students build their academic resumes and get into college. Nancy provides leadership to volunteers, applies her business knowledge to help with marketing, and serves as a volunteer on her Saturdays. Nancy truly embodies the Foster spirit and making a significant impact on the Foster and Seattle communities.”

Norah Fisher
Director, Full-time MBA Student Affairs


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