Meet Washington Foster’s MBA Class Of 2024

There is a certain spirit in the Pacific Northwest: Rugged, Inventive, Majestic. Carved out between the ocean and mountains, the region’s variety and openness convey a sense of possibilities that translates to innovation. Imagine snow-capped mountains and turquoise waters, year-round greenery and refreshing rain, long coastlines and deep gorges – even rainforests and deserts…and trees older than Thomas Aquinas or Genghis Khan.

Alas, the Pacific Northwest is where craft beer was started and coffee was perfected. It is home to artists as distinct as Bing Crosby, Jimi Hendrix, Kurt Cobain, and Macklemore. That’s because it nurtures pioneers – people who take the initiative to realize its promises and take the time to conserve its natural beauty.

The Puget Sound is the heart of the Pacific Northwest. Here, you’ll find the headquarters for Amazon, Microsoft, and Starbucks. That doesn’t count Costco, Expedia, Nordstrom, and T-Mobile (or Nike being just three hours down I-5). All that is right on the doorstep of the University of Washington’s Foster School of Business. Talent flocks to where it can make the biggest impact. And Seattle’s vibrant tech and startup ecosystem – and the expertise, resources, and connections it offers – make Foster a destination for MBAs.

Seattle skyline

A PLACE TO PERFORM…IMMEDIATELY

Just ask the Full-Time MBA Class of 2024. For many, Seattle represents the perfect mix of the next big thing and the great outdoors – opportunities galore to work and partner and space to connect with nature. Economically, the Seattle region boasts the country’s 9th-largest GDP – bigger than Atlanta, Philadelphia, Miami, and Detroit. In terms of entrepreneurship, the Emerald City ranks 10th in the world according to Startup Genome. From 2020-2022, it churned out 17 unicorns, while attracting $5.2 billion dollars in early-stage funding over the same period. While tech is Seattle’s calling card, the area also excels in areas ranging from retail to agriculture.

What these companies have in common, says Alex Macintosh, is a passion for engaging with Foster students. A Harvard grad, Macintosh was the former head of US origination for the Natural Capital Exchange before joining the Class of 2024. As an MBA student, he loves how he can ski before class. When classes are done, adds classmate Ni Yang, MBAs can put their lessons to work.

“Seattle offers MBA students the opportunity to take their classroom learnings and apply it to the local business ecosystem, in real-time,” explains the Ivy-trained engineer and product manager. “Between classes, I can quickly train downtown to attend a corporate event or connect with a startup founder. Few MBA programs can offer such an immersive experience.”

“UNLIKE ANYWHERE ELSE”

Foster MBA alumni would agree. Catherine Sandstrom, a ’23 grad who joined Goldman Sachs’ Seattle operation, touts how “deeply connected” that Foster is with Seattle’s business community. For MBAs, the benefits range from access to mentors and industry experts to proximity to high-level guest speakers and partnerships. Sandstrom’s classmate, José Mario Peña, was equally impressed by the school’s connections. A McKinsey associate, Peña describes his daily routine as a morning hike, an afternoon M&A class, and an evening demo at a startup incubator. For him, the Foster difference involves the “cross-pollination” between its academic and commercial sides of the equation.

“I can mention several full-time professors being advisors or involved in projects with the likes of Amazon and Twitter as well as adjunct professors with full-time jobs in these companies and startups alike,” Peña emphasizes.

Alex Macintosh also describes the Puget Sound as an “outdoor playground.” His classmate, Irfan Vengasseri, a JPMorgan Chase software engineer, loves all the hiking trails – not to mention ski resorts being just an hour away. Indeed, the Puget Sound region alone features 18 state parks. Here, you can do anything: kayaking, fishing, boating, hiking, mountain biking, surfing – even beach walking and whale watching. For Brady Lemons, a U.S. Army senior project manager, such activities are a way to find balance and sustain mental and physical health. More than that, adds Hannah Ewing-Kally, the surroundings bring out everyone’s best.  

“Seattle is unlike anywhere else. You are constantly inspired by nature and human talent. Seattle is home to some of the best outdoor activities (I am a big cross-country skier) and innovative tech companies.”

The newly-opened Founders Hall at the Foster School of Business. Credit: Andrew Krueger

A U.S. SPACE FORCE PIONEER

Before business school, Ewing-Kally worked as a nurse and then the assistant director for the Detroit Public School District’s Office of School Health and Wellness. There, she devised COVID-19 initiatives that reduced VOVID-19 related absenteeism for 50,000 students. Ewing-Kally wasn’t alone in pursuing public service. Trent Alsin, a U.S. Air Force veteran, was one of the first people selected to join the U.S. Space Force, where he served as a Flight Commander. Brady Lemons also operated in the aviation space in the U.S. Army. His biggest achievement: graduating from helicopter flight school.

“I had a lot of people in my career tell me that I couldn’t do certain things. I was told I couldn’t be an officer and wasn’t smart enough or strong enough to get into aviation. So, overcoming that doubt, pursuing, and achieving that goal meant a lot to me. It’s something that I try to remember as I keep going forward in my career.”

Now, Lemons can also lay claim to flying a helicopter across the United States. By the same token, Ni Yang says she has a large mural dedicated to her in Philadelphia. She comes to Seattle with a background in robotics and life sciences, previously managing a $15 million dollar portfolio in lab research products. Divya Gambhir worked as a research analyst for McKinsey & Company, while Liza Sankar-Gorton’s client list included American Airlines when she worked as a strategist. Similarly, Shriti Singh holds a CPA and spent five years at Ernst & Young, eventually becoming a senior consultant.

In true Foster style, Alex Macintosh focused his energies on conservation. “In my most recent role prior to school, I was responsible for implementing a nationwide program that pays American forest landowners to reduce their harvesting to store more carbon,” he writes. “Under my leadership, we grew from zero to over 10,000 landowners representing 4.5M acres in only 16 months. My biggest accomplishment in this capacity was constantly learning at a rapid pace about forest management and forest economics so we could ensure our program was being adopted by key stakeholders. I was a regular speaker at state and national forestry conferences. I loved building partnerships with the many landowners and foresters that we worked with.”

GRAVITATING TO FINANCE CLASS

What has Macintosh been up to since arriving at Foster? For him, keeping pace with the academic demands has been his biggest accomplishment. “My classmates are thoughtful and hard-working, and this motivates me to bring my A-game to class discussions, group projects, and assignments. Foster’s rigorous academic program was a major draw for me, and I have enjoyed working hard toward building new skills and expertise.”

That includes Corporate Finance and Financial Accounting – two core courses where Macintosh says he learned so much in just a quarter. Kenta Keleher, who sold million-dollar software projects before returning to UW, echoes these sentiments – even though he’d majored in Finance as an undergrad. That said, the path was thornier for Hannah Ewing-Kally – who also came out far better than she started.

“As a nurse and scientist, I had never taken a finance or accounting course,” she admits. “However, in just the first quarter I have developed a skillset, vocabulary, and presence that has given me the confidence to thrive in the business arena. Foster is an academically intensive program and I think the first quarter core classes, coupled with the case competition, provide a solid foundation unmatched by most MBA programs.”

UWFoster_Dean Frank Hodge with Catie Griggs, President of Business Operations for the Seattle Mariners. Credit: Andrew Krueger

WE>ME

The Class of 2024 also indulged in many Foster traditions during their first year. There is “Frosters” – a fancy winter gala where MBAs dress to the hilt. There is also the Half-Baked Pitch Night, a comedic event filled with “hare-brained” startup ideas – all on PowerPoint! More popular still – besides case competitions – is the annual Challenge For Charity competition (C4C). Here, rival West Coast MBA programs compete in both volunteer hours and charitable donations. To conclude, the school participants join together for a sports weekend competition. In Foster’s case, the money raised in C4C supports organizations like the Special Olympics and the area food back.

The best part? Foster has consistently hoisted the trophy in recent years. “In the end, the school that’s done the most wins the golden briefcase,” adds Liza Sankar-Gorton. “I’m really happy to have the chance to go out into the community and make impact locally.”

The Challenge for Charity effort also symbolizes a central tenet of the Foster MBA experience: We>Me. By that, MBAs say their classmates are supportive. They don’t undercut their peers when they are pursuing the same internships; pick up the slack when classmates face adversity; and tap into each other’s strengths to bring out the best solutions. Shriti Singh, an “influencer” with 130,000 followers on Linkedin, appreciates how classmates act as “sounding boards”, despite their crazy schedules. She calls it the “Husky Spirit” that fosters a sense of belonging.

“This spirit is what has helped create an inclusive community where everyone feels heard,” explains Pranoy Chatterjee, a product manager from Mumbai. “Right from people acknowledging the class as a safe space to talk about their opinions to people cheering each other on when the going gets tough, my classmates have done a fantastic job in creating a galvanizing environment. During exam preparations, people voluntarily come forward to help each other out during the last-minute cram sessions. Balancing recruiting, leadership activities, and academics within a quarter can get really overwhelming at times. Knowing that one has a support system in a country far away from home really helps one push through during times of self-doubt.”

That support system also includes second-years, alumni, and faculty, Chatterjee adds. “The MBA community is extremely student-driven. Talking to a few alumni made me realize how second-years conscientiously work toward creating an engaging community where students share their knowledge, experiences, and professional network. Alumni give back to the community by judging case competitions held by the school, meeting with students during coffee chats, and demystifying the recruitment process for prospective candidates. The faculty and the management committee are equally collaborative, as they are focused on constant growth when it comes to improving the MBA experience for the students.”

Founders Hall Exterior. Credit: Andrew Krueger

APPLIED STRATEGY PROJECTS

That experience is enriched by a bevy of experiential learning programs. That starts with Foster’s acclaimed Applied Strategy Projects. Held during the second quarter of first year, the project acts as an audition, where students can show their abilities to prospective employers. In the past, Foster MBA teams have partnered with Google, Amazon, Paccar, and Kaiser Permanente. In the process, their projects have included conducting international expansion planning, cutting supply chain costs, and establishing performance metrics.

“I am someone who “learns by doing”, and the emphasis on Experiential Learning at Foster is something that I found really appealing during the admissions process,” says Alex Macintosh. “I think it’s fantastic that we get to do this so early-on in our MBA timeline. It’s great to have an opportunity to apply classroom learning to real business problems and apply the content in a practical way. I am looking forward to taking additional Applied Strategy electives in future quarters for the same reasons.”

Another advantage of a Foster MBA: The small class size. “I went to a small undergraduate university and wanted to duplicate the intimate class size for my MBA,” explains Hannah Ewing-Kally. “Foster intentionally chooses to keep its class size small, which creates community alongside a safe learning environment to ask big questions. The small class size allows faculty and staff to get to know you (our marketing professor knew all of our names on the first day) and connect you with students, alumni, and community members who may be beneficial along your career journey.”

Even with deeper connections among classmates, “small” generally comes with a negative connotation – at least when it comes to employment opportunities. Don’t tell that to employers. When it comes to starting pay in 2022, grads pulled in $147,340 in base – higher than three business schools ranked above it. In addition, the class’s $40,657 average signing bonus was higher than 17 programs in P&Q’s Top 20. Oh – and pay rose by nearly $17,000 over the previous year for the Class of 2022.

“Foster has high academic standards, and I didn’t find the small size class to be a limitation at all,” explains Cynthia Vargas-Hernandez, a ’23 grad and P&Q Best & Brightest MBA. “In fact, Foster has a great regional network, and UW as a whole is a tremendous academic powerhouse. I put my trust in it and it did not disappoint. My dream was to work for Microsoft, and that’s where I’ll be going. It was my Foster network that helped me achieve this goal.”

A CLASS PROFILE

This year, 96 students comprise the Class of 2024. Not only did the school see a 16.2% increase in applications, , but its acceptance dropped from 35% to 28% making Foster a far more selective option. The class’s GMT scores ranged from 630-780, with the average being 703 – an 11-point improvement over the previous year. 26% of the class also took the GRE, the average score being 319 and 300 being the low. At the same time, Foster became more international during the 2021-2022 application cycle. International students make up 43% of the class, up 19 points from the previous year. As a whole, women account for a 42% share of the class.

Academically, the Class of 2024 averaged a 3.32 undergraduate GPA. The largest segment – 28% – majored in Engineering. Business and Humanities majors represent 18% and 17% of the class respectively. The remainder includes Economics (10%), Math and Science (10%), Computer Science (9%), and Social Sciences (8%).  In terms of professional experience, 29% of the class last worked in the Tech sector, followed by Consulting (21%), Military Service (11%), Finance and Insurance (9%), Manufacturing (7%), Consumer and Packaged Goods (7%), and Healthcare (5%).

In the most recent P&Q ranking, Washington Foster had climbed to 20th, while gaining 6 spots in the fall Bloomberg Businessweek ranking. When it comes to student and alumni satisfaction, the Foster MBA has also earned high marks. In the 2023 Princeton Review survey, Foster produced top 10 scores for Classroom Experience, Administration. At the same time, it achieved the best score for Resources for Women and the second-best one for its Marketing programming.

Next Page: Profiles of 12 Foster MBA students and an interview with Dr. Wendy Guild, assistant dean for the MBA programs.

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