2023 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Emma Willoughby, University of Washington (Foster)

Emma Willoughby

University of Washington, Foster School of Business

“A travel industry professional sharing and celebrating the beauty of our fragile, interconnected world.”

Age: 34

Hometown: Los Angeles, CA

Fun fact about yourself: In 2017 I took a very unusual work trip to the Chernobyl Exclusion Zone, where I was developing an itinerary that explored the resurgence of wildlife in the region after the 1986 nuclear disaster.

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of California, Berkeley. BA in International Development Studies

Where are you currently working? Partnerships Manager – U.S. Cruise at National Geographic Expeditions

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Contributing to the experiences people remember for a lifetime. Whether it’s seeing the unique wildlife of the remote Galápagos or awe-inspiring ice formations in Antarctica, bringing people to remote destinations while teaching them about the complex and fragile ecosystems there is something I’m proud to be a part of.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? It was a conversation with Jodey Farwell, Director of the Hybrid MBA, that really convinced me. Her sincere enthusiasm for the program and care for the students came through loud and clear. She displayed the kind of growth mindset that we’ve since learned about in various classes—seeking to improve the program and tailor it to best fit the needs of students who, generally speaking, already have a lot going on. She also emphasized the school’s mission—with a focus on community impact and giving back—that I hadn’t expected from a business school.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? The flexibility to layer it into other parts of my life. Without the flexibility of the Hybrid MBA program, I don’t believe I would have been able to pursue an MBA at all. Not only was I able to continue working and immediately apply what I was learning at work, but I was able to move across the country at the same time. It’s been busy, but it has been worth it!

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? The most surprising thing was how engaging the program has been. Teams are a key element. At the beginning of the program, we’re each placed in a 5-6 person team, and we stay with that team throughout the two years. Many of our assignments are group projects, and managing team dynamics is critical. As someone who used to dread group assignments, I can honestly say this is the best team I have been a part. We’ve benefited from each other’s professional backgrounds—my teammates’ backgrounds include consulting, engineering, and law—and the ability to help each other through weeks that are tougher because of assignments, or work, or life.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? I’ve been more engaged and connected to my cohort in this program than I ever was as an undergraduate. I loved my time at UC Berkeley, but I didn’t take advantage of all the campus resources and it was easy to feel like a small fish in a very big pond. As a result, I didn’t have much connection to other students in my major by the time I graduated. Here, the team format and small class size make me feel like I know something about nearly everyone in our program. The Hybrid MBA staff, the Foster faculty, and the excellent Foster Career Management Team work hard to make Hybrid MBA students feel as connected to the school as those in the full-time program.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? If you think something could be better, speak up! I’ve never seen a group of people so eager to hear constructive feedback.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? I can tell you one thing I wouldn’t change. Even though the format for the online parts of the course are skillfully managed, the days we come to campus in person each quarter, called Immersion, have been a key part of the overall experience. Immersion gives us the benefits of experiencing the campus in person and fosters (forgive the pun) a sense of connectedness with our cohort and the faculty, which we can carry with us into the rest of the quarter.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? There were immediately course concepts I could apply at work. It’s given me the tools to ask better questions, look at the big picture, and not be intimidated when terms like “EBITDA” are tossed around.

Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? N/A (Haven’t yet graduated)

Why did you pursue an online MBA program instead of a full-time residential program? I wanted to develop my “toolbox” of skills and be able to apply them in my current role, without needing to pause my career trajectory.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on an Online MBA: 20-25 hours.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Executive/leadership role in the experiential travel industry.


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