How I Learned to Love Business

This post was written by Ally Polla ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Halfway through my junior year in college, the reality of graduating with a business degree planted a pit in my stomach that manifested until I found The Sustainable Innovation MBA. Looking at what others did with a business degree, I could not see myself having any of their career trajectories or lifestyles. At that time, I truly believed that all businesses operated at the bottom line and I dreaded becoming part of that system. Hearing about the vast success of major corporations, I had little interest in their monetary successes, but thought about their carbon footprint, their employees, and how resource intensive they were. I wondered if anyone else in the business world felt the same way and why no one was doing anything more. 

Photo by Green Chameleon on Unsplash

 I was aware of fair trade and individual sustainability practices at the time but still was unaware of the positive impact businesses can  have. A few months before graduation, I desperately began to research fair trade and B corporations to find a career path that I could hopefully see myself in. This research ultimately led me to the University of Vermont and The Sustainable Innovation MBA. It felt like all the tension between what my life was and what I wanted it to be had fallen away and everything finally connected. I started my application, scheduled my GRE, and couldn’t see my future looking any other way. 

I  wanted to attend the University of Vermont for my undergraduate degree for civil engineering but upon getting accepted, I realized I wanted to stay closer to my family and home. This led to me attending Manhattan College, enrolling in civil engineering, switching to the school of business freshman year, transferring to Marist to study human resource management for 1 semester, transferring back to Manhattan College, graduating from Manhattan College with a business degree, only to lead me back to the University of Vermont for my MBA.  I never planned on getting a business degree, let alone an MBA. Being in this program has solidified my business knowledge from my undergraduate studies as well as changing my perspective about the problems in the world and ways to solve them through business. The pit in my stomach about business that I once had, has been shaped into motivation that pushes me to be a positive force in the world through business everyday.

Overcoming Imposter Syndrome

This post was written by Allison Baxter ’20. Connect with Allison on LinkedIn.

The term ‘impostor syndrome’ has been tossed around a bit since we started this program a little over five months ago. In a program that is as committed to sustainability and making the world a better place as The Sustainable Innovation MBA, it is natural to wonder if one is ‘green-enough’ or has the right type of professional experience to merit being in such a lauded, innovative program.

Class of ’20 planting trees during orientation.

I am speaking here from personal experience. I came to this program after five years of working in the energy industry – and not the renewable kind, mind you. An internship recommended by my accounting professor senior year of college brought me to the energy industry and, though I knew it was not something I was passionate about, great bosses, lovely coworkers, and personal success in what I was doing got me stuck in a rut I could not figure out how to get out of. Also, though I have always been passionate about sustainability, I was never sure how to contribute in a meaningful way professionally. When I came across the SI-MBA program, I viewed it as an opportunity to point me in a new direction and help me combine my personal and professional goals and passions.

Coming into this program, after reading the bios of my fellow classmates and meeting them during orientation week, I was extremely intimidated by the 29 people I was surrounded by. I was in awe of their numerous, amazing accomplishments and how many of their backgrounds reflected a strong commitment to sustainability. It felt as though they were so much more deserving than I of being in a program that integrates innovation and sustainability into every facet of its curriculum.

But the problem of sustainability is too big to be solved by any one person. The more people joining the conversation, taking action, and looking to solve the problem the better. Impostor syndrome does not serve anyone in the sustainability space. Regardless of what is on your resume, no one is too inadequate or undeserving to contribute to the cause. Every person here matters. 

Therefore, while I am indeed in remarkable company, I have come to accept that I do deserve my place here. Making the choice to be part of this truly special program was the first step on the path of many towards using my professional toolkit to ensure a more sustainable future. I bring my own unique perspective to this group, which is something I have come to find so valuable in this program. Each of us 30 individuals have wildly different backgrounds and experiences, which enriches our joint learning experience immensely. In a program like this – one that is preparing us to address the most pressing problems of today in sustainable and innovative ways – it is the bringing together of people with diverse voices, backgrounds, and perspectives that we need most.

Alumni in Review: Maggie Robinson ’19

Maggie is a member of the Class of 2019. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I am the Director of Community Outreach for Generator, a business incubator at the intersection of art, science, and technology in Burlington, Vermont.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I felt in my previous role before the program that I was stagnating. It was everything that I needed to be gaining experience, yet at the same time, I didn’t see a clear path into higher management roles.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

Learning more about myself through the process. Being that I switched career paths, I had to look at my experience and decide what problems I wanted to solve, not just deal with. Additionally, this program was ridiculously time-consuming. I probably wouldn’t do it again, but it really sharpened my organizational and prioritizing skills. I also enjoyed the team collaboration and getting to know talented individuals, and some are lifelong friends now.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

I’m finding I’m using the most material and knowledge from organizational behavior, complex systems, and being deliberate and strategic on growth and collaborations.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

No matter what, you’ll get something out of this program that will be life altering.

My Experience as an International Student

This post was written by Melissa Chima ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Where should I start? The university? The classmates? The program? The weather? The town? As an international student, the things I have experienced at the University of Vermont Sustainable Innovation MBA have been completely new. A couple of years ago, while working at a machine dealer for the mining and construction industry in Colombia I felt my life needed a change and a new purpose. I needed to have a positive impact in this world in crisis. Therefore, my search for a better future began and an instant match with The Sustainable Innovation MBA core values happened.

After the decision was made, I had to start a lot of paperwork and countless errands to be here: first, preparing for the TOEFL (The Test of English as a Foreign Language), taking it; approving it; preparing for the GRE (Graduate Record Examination), taking it, approving it; applying for the University; getting the visa, packing my life into two suitcases; and getting the right state of mind to adapt to this new birth. This last part, the “new birth,” has been surprisingly “not abnormal”. After all, it is easy to get used to new things when you are surrounded by an entire community of kind, accepting and lovable people. For me, a person with high score on the personality trait of introversion, speaking of how nice people are around here is quite a big challenge. But I must recognize that the value that I have found in my cohort and the faculty members is incommensurable.

What can I say about the town and consequently about the weather? Burlington, Vermont is…Burlington, Vermont. A quiet and calm environment for people seeking for a quiet and calm environment. The weather has been quite a subject for me. In my couple (or more) decades of life, I have been living in Barranquilla, a city located in the north coast of Colombia, where a word such as “seasons” does not exist. We only have hot, hot with wind, hot and rain, and “hot like hell” weather. Hence, the introduction to this magical experience of having seasons has been kind of unique. About my first encounter with the snow and the “extreme” cold I have to say we are getting to know each other, and so far, I do not hate them. The key is, as someone said at the beginning of my experience, to wear layers. A couple or millions of layers.

Finally, I must talk about the program and my experience. After my first two modules in the program, I am convinced that it is possible to implement business as a source for good. The goal then, is to use the power of business to make a positive impact on the triple bottom line: people, planet, and profit. With courses such as World Challenges, marketing, finance, CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) and Leading for Sustainable Innovation, a-not-so-small-bag of tools have been added to my knowledge and development kit.

Currently, the second half of the experience is waiting for me, but I am completely sure it is going to be as great and rewarding as the first one. So far, I just have to thank the wonderful people that have been part of this experience and my personal journey.

Living Sustainably While in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Program

This post was written by Laura Berguer ’20. Connect with Laura on LinkedIn

Living as a graduate student in Burlington, Vt. has many benefits that, if you’re not from the region, you wouldn’t know about until you’ve spent some time here. As sustainably minded students of this program, we understand the power of consumer choice and voting with your wallet. However, living sustainably can seem like a daunting lifestyle choice.

Photo by Gautam Krishnan on Unsplash

Well, here is your guide to sustainable living in Burlington with some of my favorite places that won’t make your wallet beg for mercy. Support local businesses and do some good while saving some green! First and foremost, get comfy walking shoes and a bicycle (see below) ’cause this place is great for walking and biking!

Clothing & Outdoor Gear

  • Old Gold – Funky spot right of Church Street is great for clothing and Halloween costumes (the good kind, not the plastic ones). You can purchase as well as sell your clothing and costumes. You’ll find cowboy boots galore, 60s inspired coats to make undergrad fashionistas jealous, and much more of the Burlington 90s-meets-the-60s style. 151 Cherry Street, Burlington M-Sat 10am-6pm
  • Style Encore – In need of a new business suit? How about a stylish bag for your upcoming interview? This place has high-quality and designer consignments clothing and accessories for women that are at a fraction of traditional retail prices! Grab a ride on your local bus route or carpool to Williston for this gem! 31 Tafts Corners Shopping Center, Williston M-Sun 10am-8pm
  • Outdoor Gear Exchange – head to downstairs to get to the consignment section and be prepared for many great finds on clothing and gear! Check out their website if you’re looking to sell and make some extra $ for snacks at the Harv (the Harvest Cafe, see below — Ed.). This local business is your one-stop shop for all things outdoors. Stop in at the beginning of the school year for great deals on new bikes and at the end of the year for students selling their used ones. 37 Church Street, Burlington M-Th 10am-7pm, Fr-Sat 10am-8pm, Sun 10am-6pm
Continue reading “Living Sustainably While in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Program”

On Motherhood and the Importance of “Balance” for Success in the Program

This post was written by Sara Farnsworth ’20. Connect with Sara on LinkedIn

As the only mother in the Class of 2020, I’d like to take this opportunity to reflect on a key skill needed to achieve holistic success throughout the program —”Balance.” I came to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program after some 20 years in the work force, where I have worn many hats, from catering to property damage repair and managing a business. But, my most important job is that of Mom. What is it like to be a single mother and dedicate myself to earning my MBA?  It’s about Balance. 

Sara Farnsworth ’20 (Photo by John Turner)

The program has taught me that balance is about setting healthy boundaries and managing time effectively. A challenge that arose for me was making choices between desiring to be out socializing and networking with classmates vs. spending time with my two boys. While, instinctively, the choice is easy for me — Mom duties always come first — I have come to learn that it is also important to build rapport and develop relationships with teammates as a way to cultivate team cohesion. 

One of the important skills I’ve practiced in the program is simply being present. When I am at school, I am in MBA work mode; when I am home, I am in Mama mode — and, so forth. After riding the bus into town with my kids and dropping them off at their campus, I make my way to Kalkin Hall.  These moments of walking up College Street are full of reflection, peace and planning. These “quiet” moments are scarce so I really cherish the morning light and walking to the Grossman School at UVM. I arrive to school a few hours before class to work while my mind is fresh.  I find my time in the morning prior to the start of classes, getting assignments completed and focusing on readings, has been incredibly helpful in achieving balance.  

Furthermore, I generally work through the 90-minute lunch break we are allotted each day, and sometimes stay until 5:30 or 6pm, to ensure I am getting my schoolwork done.  My goal has been to ensure that when I leave the building for the day and scoop my children from their afterschool activities, I’m ready to be Mom –- fully. I find that through my life experiences, I can contribute meaningfully to others’ learning, while I also am learning from others. Through all of this, I find time to be at home to make dinner with my kids each day, to help them with their homework and reflect on their day. When I am at home, my job is Mom. 

When it comes to social activities among the cohort, I pick and choose wisely, generally participating in group potlucks that enable me to bring my kids.  My kids have also been learning through this program and have watched me to ensure I am maintaining our life and home, while pursuing my dream of achieving an MBA. My children have met my fellow classmates and have learned and grown through their interactions. This program is positively affecting our lives. 

I won’t say that it’s easy to create balance, but it is so important to my mental health and well-being to recognize when things are not in balance and making changes so that I am able to feel at ease with the pace.  This program has been wonderful for my two sons and I, and I have the utmost confidence that I have made the right decision in joining this program, and it will positively affect their lives in addition to my own.  They see me working hard and dedicating myself to my studies, while enjoying the benefits of the Mom they have always counted on.  The balance is what will get me to the day of graduation and will propel me toward all the goals and dreams I have following the completion of this program. I hope that my sharing of my experience of being a part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program may influence people of all walks of life, from all circumstances, to consider the program, as with diligent balance and a positive “can-do” attitude, one can be successful in the SI-MBA program. 

I’m so happy to be a part of the SI-MBA class of 2020, and I look forward to what is to come, with a full heart and hands ready to change the world. 

Getting to Know Our Faculty: Rick G. Vanden Bergh

Dr. Vanden Bergh came to UVM in the fall of 2000 after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a Ph.D. in Business and Public Policy and an MBA. Prior to academia, he worked in banking in Colorado, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dr. Vanden Bergh’s areas of research include: firm strategy in the political environment and the effects of political institutions on business investment. For the past several years Dr. Vanden Bergh has been exploring issues in the energy sector including an exploration of how the political environment affects investment in renewable energy. Dr. Vanden Bergh was instrumental in designing the new Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum. He teaches two courses for the Sustainable Innovation MBA program including a course on Business Sustainability & Public Policy.

What do you enjoy about teaching in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

The diversity of backgrounds of the students really contributes to engaging conversations in class.

What surprises you the most about the students?

Each year, I am surprised again by the student’s level of passion for solving super challenging problems. I think this level passion helps students to manage the intensity of the SI-MBA program and to maintain energy throughout the year.

While there’s a great deal to learn in your course, what’s the single biggest idea or concept you hope students take away to use in their business careers?

Think deeply about choices. Important business and/or public policy decisions involve both benefits and costs, and to fully understand these requires careful analysis.

What’s your media diet like lately? What are you reading, listening to, streaming, or watching?

I just finished reading Becoming Nicole by Amy Nutt and am reading two other books, Deep Work by Cal Newport and The Third Pillar by Raghuram Rajan. These days, two of my favorite podcasts are “Stay Tuned” with Preet Bharara and “After Hours” with Youngme Moon, Mihir Desai and Felix Oberholzer-Gee.

What do you do for fun when you’re not in the classroom?

When the snow flies, I ski (nordic and alpine) and snow shoe. Other times of the year, I like hiking, mountain biking and gravel-road biking. For passive viewing entertainment, I love to watch premier league and champions league soccer.

Anything else?

Be humble about your views/opinions and be open to hearing and understanding alternative perspectives. I find my own thinking is not well developed unless I can explain the argument of a person with a different perspective.

Alumni in Review: Jenny Kalanges ’16

Jenny Kalanges is a member of the Class of 2016. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Jennifer Kalanges

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I am the Director of Sales for Ursa Major, a skin and body care company focused on authentic, healthy products made sustainably.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

Before The Sustainable Innovation MBA, I had worked in management in small, mission-driven businesses. I chose this program because I felt I needed a toolkit to take my career in leadership to the next level and create real impact in the growing world of sustainability. I loved that it was an intensive one-year program where I could really sink my teeth in and then quickly apply those skills to real world experiences.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

The connections I made with other members of the cohort, professors, and alumni — those have proved invaluable since completing the program and certainly buoyed me throughout the year of study.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

I’m currently heading an internal sustainability task force within Ursa Major, which is really exciting. The skills I learned around transformational leadership will always provide an incredible backbone to my career.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

If you are looking for a skillset that will will help develop you as an innovator or “intrapreneur,” this is a great program to consider. The global business world is looking to change agents like our grads, so the opportunities to apply these skills are endless. I’m always happy to share more with prospective students!

Getting to Know the Class of 2020: Dan Versace

Dan is a native of the small fishing town of Scituate, Massachusetts where his passion for the natural world began.  Dan graduated from Saint Anselm College in 2017 with a degree in Environmental Science and a minor in Politics. During his time there, he founded the Saint Anselm Environmentalists Club. He also started a divestment campaign with the goal of fully divesting the schools endowment from fossil fuels, a battle that he is still fighting today. Upon graduation Dan moved to rural Tennessee where he worked in the National Parks to research and mediate the invasive plant populations that are taking over hundreds of square miles in the south. Connect with Dan on LinkedIn.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

For me, this program is the perfect cross-section of business and environmentalism. As someone who came out of undergrad with a degree in environmental science and no formal business experience, this program allows me to leverage my prior knowledge of the problems facing our world into creative solutions that utilize the world of business. Not to mention the faculty here is comprised of some of the most influential people in the field of sustainable business which made the decision to apply and attend easy.

What has been your favorite part/element of the program?

Personally, my favorite element of the program is the people who comprise it. All of the students in my cohort are supportive and genuinely great people. Having the opportunity to discuss issues with intelligent and like-minded people is invaluable. Not to mention, the professors are all extremely supportive and really want everyone to succeed.

What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?

1. When they say this program is intense, they’re not lying, but it is all manageable and the people around you always have your back and are there to help.
2. If you’re someone like me who had no previous business education, this program will supply you with the skills you need to understand and internalize all of the “hard business” aspects while also offering unique, disruptive skills that are so uncommon in other MBA programs.
3. Vermont is incredibly beautiful at all times of year, but the winters can be a little dark and snowy. Pack your skis and get ready for a fun winter.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

This program has opened my eyes to opportunities that I had never thought of before.

What business, sector, or issue would you like to have an impact on after the program?

I would like to have an impact on the beer brewing industry, as a consultant to larger firms or by starting my own brewery here in Vermont.

Anything else?

This is an amazing program that I think anybody who has any interest in creating impact change on the world should definitely check out!