2022 Best & Brightest MBA: Christine Pham, University of Washington (Foster)

Christine Pham

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

“SoCal person at heart, loves to keep busy playing volleyball, running or at home cooking.”

Hometown: Orange, California

Fun fact about yourself: I was a hand model for a Microsoft commercial.

Undergraduate School and Degree: B.S. Computer Science, University of California, San Diego

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Software Engineer at VMware

Where did you intern during the summer of 2021? Product Management Intern at Nike

Where will you be working after graduation? Technical Product Manager at Starbucks

Community Work and Leadership Roles in Business School:

Leadership:

MBAA Vice President of Diversity (2021-22)

Co-President, Diversity in Business (2021-22)

VP of Operations, Level Up! (2021-22)

Venture Fellow Chief Operating Officer (2021-22)

MBAA First Year Diversity Representative (2020-21)

Diversity in Business First Year Representative (2020-21)

Level Up! First Year Representative (2020-21)

Fellowships:

UW Board Fellow at Communities in Schools of Seattle (2021-22)

Venture Fellow at M12 (2021)

William H. Gates Fellow in Innovation and Entrepreneurship (2020-21)

Consortium Fellowship Recipient

Forte Fellow

Other:

SheCounts Finance Case Competition Winner (2020)

Student Ambassador

Consortium Liaison (2021-22)

October Leader of the Month (2021)

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? I am most proud of laying a foundation for increasing diversity in education at Foster. Tackling diversity is never easy, which is why buy-in from students, faculty, staff and administration is so important. Over the past year and a half, I have worked on the following:

Students of Color Town Hall

Building a sense of community was challenging, since my class began our program in a virtual environment and especially challenging since domestic students of color are about 20% of the class. Through town halls, we were able to build community amongst the students of color and offer a safe space for them to discuss topics regarding race-related experiences in the program.

Prospective Student Buddy Program

The Buddy Program created a network between prospective students attending Foster’s main diversity recruiting event and current students from different affinity groups: students of color, women, LGBTQIA+, and international students. As with the students of color town halls, the buddy system was a way to intentionally build relationships and welcome prospective students into the Foster community in the absence of in-person events. It is important for incoming students to have a personal connection to comfortably engage with current students about their experiences as minorities in an MBA program. In addition to learning about Foster and the MBA experience, diverse candidates had the opportunity to build their network at Foster early on.

Mentoring Circles for MBA Students of Color

The mentoring circles connected current Foster students to the greater community of business professionals of color, providing a safe space for students to discuss the unique challenges that come with being an underrepresented minority in a corporate setting. Although Foster has an established mentor program, we felt that it focused primarily on general career development and did not adequately address how to navigate and succeed in professional settings where one may not physically fit the traditional mold of a business leader.

Diversity & Dine

This program was created to offer an opportunity for faculty and administrators to converse about diversity topics in a comfortable setting. Food is a universal language and I found this was an easy medium for people to candidly discuss questions such as, “What does your name mean?” The meals enable administrators, faculty, and students to lessen the gap in our understanding of each person’s perspective and build community through sharing personal experiences in a friendly environment.

Affinity Groups

To further create safe spaces for students of color, affinity groups were created so that each community had a means of coming together. This is important because even though students of color may share similar experiences, it is also important to bond with others who understand one’s own specific cultural background.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of starting the Adopt-an-Engineer program while at Cisco. I started this program along with the Community Relations Manager to encourage underrepresented middle school students to pursue a degree in STEM. To do this, I first wanted to break down misconceptions about having to excel at subjects like math or science to be successful. I worked closely with two teachers in separate districts to revamp a project to include four specific roles to which students could be assigned: Program Manager, Operations, Designer and Engineer. This way, each student could experience a different role and utilize skills such as creativity or organization to work at a company such as Cisco. The Adopt-an-Engineer program was successful in getting students excited about the potential careers they could pursue in the future.

Why did you choose this business school? I only applied to schools that are members of the Consortium for Graduate Study in Management because it was important to me that the school was committed to increasing diversity. There is an increasing urgency within workforces to be diverse and I wanted the business school I attended to reflect what the new demographic would look like. Not only that, but in comparison to some other schools, Foster covered the cost of my attendance to both Consortium’s Orientation Program and Forte’s Conference. Observing that Foster was investing in applicants from underrepresented backgrounds really showed me that they cared about their students and would do what is necessary to ensure that barriers, including financial ones, are lowered.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? My favorite professor is Mark Forehand who teaches Consumer Marketing and Brand Strategy. Mark would bring in professionals to give us live feedback on our projects, which I think helped solidify our understanding of how our work would be evaluated outside of the classroom. Not only was the classroom experience enjoyable, Mark is also very receptive to feedback from students about his curriculum to ensure that he is constantly growing with his students. I appreciate that he is continually diversifying his curriculum to ensure that it reflects who his students are.

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? TG’s, which are held on select Fridays to celebrate the end of the week. Each TG has a different theme and it’s a great way to listen to the Foster Band, which showcases the talents of the students in the class. I have enjoyed the variety of events that get put on during the TG, but mostly being able to talk to classmates I haven’t seen in a casual environment.

Looking back over your MBA experience, what is the one thing you’d do differently and why? I think this is the piece of advice I heard the most going into business school: the importance of prioritizing and being selective of my commitments. Often times, I got so caught up in the whirlwind of activities that I forgot to take time for myself. I do not regret what I have participated in, but would have loved more opportunities to recharge when I needed it.

What surprised you the most about business school? The relationships I built beyond networking. Business school is inherently about making professional connections. Whether or not I was talking to classmates or alumni, I really felt that they wanted to know me beyond my past work experience. I know that I have had friends who have helped me beyond what I was expecting. For that, I am really grateful because I know they want me to succeed as much as they do themselves.

What is one thing you did during the application process that gave you an edge at the school you chose? This is cliché, but I felt that I was really authentic in my responses about why business school and why I was ready. Business schools will always say that they do not want a cookie cutter response and I truly believe that. As a result, I tried my best to explain my situation and where I saw myself growing in the program during the interview. I think this gave me an edge because it showed personality beyond what I had written in my essays.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Christopher Elliott. We worked closely together as First Year Diversity Reps and are currently Consortium Liaisons for Foster. Chris has been a driving force in getting a number of major diversity related projects completed. In the face of adversity and problems, he has been one of the people I can always count on. He never lets negative comments or remarks get in the way of him supporting others. Chris has been a constant advocate for Black students at Foster, in the class as well as the greater Seattle community, which I truly admire. On top of that, he has held several leadership roles which I know is extremely time-consuming — but he always puts all of his effort into them.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? My mom influenced me the most to pursue higher education. She immigrated from Vietnam. While she wasn’t fluent in English, she still pursued her Bachelor’s in Engineering while working full time. I admired her determination, which is a trait that has been instilled in me. I knew that getting my MBA would be the best route to advancing my career the way I wanted. I am glad to see that her perseverance is a trait that I inherited.

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

  • Speak at a conference about a feature I launched
  • Work abroad for a project

What made Christine such an invaluable addition to the Class of 2022?

“Since Christine began at Foster, she has really emerged as a strong voice, particularly for students of color. An amazing student leader, partner, and collaborator, she has built strong relationships with students and administrators and has been incredibly effective in driving change at the Foster School. The amount that she has accomplished in 1.5 years is staggering!

Christine is a true Energizer bunny! She has instigated so many positive changes, programs and initiatives at Foster. Here’s a non-exhaustive list of initiatives that Christine has led:

  • Establishing and organizing regular Town Halls for MBA students of color
  • Helping to design and create the Mentoring Circles for MBA students of color
  • Launching a Diversity and Dine series in which faculty invite small groups of students to dinner to discuss DEI-related issues
  • Piloting and creating affinity clubs for Black MBA students, Latinx MBA students and AAPI students
  • Planning a supplier fair to highlight diverse suppliers for the business school
  • Serving on the Graduate Student Diversity Committee

….and I could go on! Christine has boundless energy, passion, and commitment to the community!”

Christina T. Fong
Associate Dean for Inclusion and Diversity
William D. Bradford Endowed Professor of Management

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