Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Emily Mathison, University of Washington (Foster)

Emily Mathison

University of Washington, Michael G. Foster School of Business

“At the intersection of “building a better world through cleantech” and “pie enthusiast.”

Hometown: San Diego, CA

Fun Fact About Yourself: I use lab notebooks to track my kitchen experiments…

Undergraduate School and Major: UCLA (Chemistry/Materials Science Major with a Geography Minor)

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: General Atomics, Scientist

What makes Seattle such a great place to earn an MBA? On a professional level, Seattle is home to both global industry leaders and a thriving start-up culture, so for those of us looking to pivot careers or dive into entrepreneurship, this translates to a ton of chances to explore! There are so many creative and forward-thinking initiatives in the city – it’s a fantastic place to work on the leading edge of industries from technology to consumer products.

On a personal level, there is something available for most lifestyles. You can escape for a weekend of skiing and climbing, immerse yourself in a vibrant music scene (@SubPop), hang at craft breweries, discover new cocktail bars, or all of the above. Plus, the coffee situation is unparalleled and high-quality caffeine is a prerequisite!

Aside from your classmates and location, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you? I’m a hands-on learner, so Foster’s “Learn by Doing” philosophy was the big draw. It’s necessary to understand theories and run case studies, but at the end of the day I want to work on tangible problems and see results first-hand. The Applied Strategy Project, where Foster partners each first-year with a project sourced from a range of organizations and functional areas, is the most academically structured opportunity (it has rave reviews). But you can also serve as a non-voting non-profit Board member through the Board Fellows Program, earn startup funding through the Buerk Center for Entrepreneurship, provide business counsel to local startups, or design your own independent study.

Since most of what I’ll learn in the classroom will be completely new to me, every opportunity to apply my book-learning to the real world and gain practical experience is invaluable.

What club or activity excites you most at this school? The activity that excites me most is the Alaska Airlines Environmental Innovation Challenge, where interdisciplinary teams define an environmental problem, build a prototype solution, and then pitch the business plan. It is a hands-on opportunity to work within a cross-disciplinary team, build a business plan from scratch, and immerse myself in the issues of cleantech development? That’s what my dreams are made of.

I have to cheat and list another – when football returns, how cool is it that we can SAILgate?

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: When I was 24, I was asked to step up to manage the analytical lab where I worked. The actual instruments that we were using were key tools in supporting projects throughout the company, but the operational processes and customer experience needed a redesign. Delivering quick turnaround times, collaborative approaches, and relevant results was essential, but I got curious about how I could develop the lab’s potential further.

I took project management classes, studied how to assess opportunities, executed internal and external marketing campaigns, and tied it together with a deep commitment to stakeholder satisfaction. The lab grew to become a go-to source for dealing with all types of technical problems—a place where both internal and external scientists, engineers, and managers could bring ambiguous questions that my team and I would then help solve. I grew a lot professionally. I learned a lot about how it takes much more than a functional set of equipment to deliver results effectively, and I am looking forward to scaling that experience in my future work.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? My target career path involves leveraging science and technology to better society. I loved my four years in the technical arena, but my job came to a point where I had to decide whether to pursue a STEM graduate degree or move to the business side and drive real world application. I went with the latter. I want to be at the interface between invention and market need. I recognized that an MBA would give me three things I see as necessary for success at that interface: business acumen, formal leadership training, and the overall confidence to evaluate new ventures.

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? “Talk about a time when you went out of your way to help someone. What was the outcome for them?

It’s not a challenging question in the traditional sense, but it was unexpected since most of the admissions process is centered on yourself – your goals, accomplishments, and lessons learned. De-centering my narrative felt foreign at first! But I was delighted to see that the Foster admissions committee was intentionally looking for the “We > Me” ethos in their candidates.

How did you determine your fit at various schools? Heavily armed with spreadsheets, I first evaluated programs based on their hands-on learning opportunities, personalized feedback, practical leadership training, and integration into the local industry. I found school websites, open houses, and email and phone conversations with students and alumni to be the most helpful.

Once I narrowed down target schools, I focused on the people. I wanted a culture where authenticity, collaborative ambition, innovation, and inclusion weren’t just buzzwords. Visiting campuses, sitting in on classes, and chatting over drinks with current students were central to feeling out my fit in programs. I’m looking forward to seeing the creative alternatives to those in-person experiences as Foster and other schools bring their programs to life in the current virtual/distanced environment.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? Less one moment, more one experience. I taught sailing during my undergraduate summers and that job built a foundation of skills that I will lean on and continue to develop throughout my MBA. Creating human connections, speaking confidently with groups of strangers, giving graceful feedback, adapting plans on the spot, and distilling complicated concepts to simple explanations are all fundamental to both teaching on the water and leading in the boardroom.

What special ingredient do you see yourself bringing to the Class of 2022? How will that enrich the MBA experience? My preferred mindset, solidified by my time in the nuclear fusion industry: ask for the impossible, counter with the improbable, and then go do it. I thrive on complex challenges that require creativity, deep data insights, and the integration of cross-functional ideas. In my opinion, the upper bound of a solution to those types of challenges sits at the intersection of your team’s imagination and ability to execute. And in terms of a team, I’m super impressed by my classmates. They’re smart and come from unique backgrounds, but they’re also innovative, driven, inclusive, and passionate about making an impact on the world. I hope that my mindset helps to amplify my team’s innate capabilities, so we all push the limits of what we can accomplish during our time at Foster and beyond.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from them? In founder and owner Yvon Chouinard’s own words:“Patagonia exists to challenge conventional wisdom and present a new style of responsible business.”

As our understanding of the connections between seemingly unrelated things (read: the environment, gender and racial equity, global politics, supply chain sourcing, etc), grows, it’s important that business leaders challenge traditional assumptions and change course accordingly. The MBA students of today will be the leaders of tomorrow and I think Patagonia is a great blueprint of how to intentionally build a better future.