A Conversation with Our International Students

EDITOR’S NOTE: Four members of our current cohort are international students, coming to the program from around the globe, attracted to the program’s perspective on the role business can play in addressing global challenges. Esteban Echeverria, Noelle Nyirenda, Bhargavi Montravadi, and Alexa Steiner sat down recently to talk about coming to Vermont and settling into the challenges of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. Their bios (along with the entire Class of 2019) can be found here.

The Sustainable Innovation MBA program has been quite the adventure so far. Between hours of class work, group work, readings, guest speakers, and more, the first few months of the program have challenged and inspired us. For a few of us in the 2019 cohort, the experience leading up to the first day of the orientation was an adventure in itself.

Esteban – Costa Rica

Coming from Costa Rica to this program is one of the best decisions I have ever made. I never thought I was going to encounter such a developed and community-conscious city in Burlington. Its citizens, apart from being some of the nicest people I have known, are very aware of social and environmental issues, as well as politically active and full of insights that will make you think about the status quo. From the community-owned grocery stores, to the amazing Lake Champlain, this city has what it needs to be the best place as the home of The Sustainable Innovation MBA.

“The MBA program itself dives in many of the world challenges we currently face, and most of its solutions lie in empowering entrepreneurial projects in developing countries. I recommend this experience to any international student interested in contributing to the economic growth, as well as the environmental and social prosperity, of their countries. The networking and potential connections you will find at this program will be beneficial to your future projects and endeavors.”

Noelle – Zambia

“Moving to Vermont for the program was not without its challenges, and they included but were not limited to: finding accommodation from another continent, completing a visa application in three weeks and moving two chunky pieces of luggage between four flights. But the most difficult part about the whole move was explaining to friends and family where Vermont was, and what it was (there are still some skeptics who aren’t convinced it is an actual state).

“It was easier to explain the existence of the state to some more than others. For instance my father, being an avid political news reader, was aware that the senator was Bernie Sanders, who was also a candidate for the Democratic nomination for president and that the state has some of the more progressive policies when it came to the environment. He was quite proud that his daughter was going back to engineering school to find a way to solve global warming. Unfortunately, I had to explain that I was actually going to business school for an MBA. He is now rather heartbroken that I am not getting a Ph.D. Here I should note that African parents are always up-selling their children when it comes to education.

“Then there was a friend from high school who said she had heard of Vermont, which was a great relief, until she explained what she meant. “It was mentioned in an episode of Scandal,” said she, “Vermont is in Canada! It’s where scandalous American politicians retire to.”  I was confident enough about Vermont’s membership in the United States of America to correct the former statement, however, I could offer no opinion on the accuracy of the latter.”

Bhargavi – India

“Fortunately, I didn’t have the problem of explaining where Vermont is to my family and friends like Noelle, because I was already living in Vermont. But, when I was moving from Boston, I received  lot of questions on where Vermont was so, I took the easy route and told them that it’s near Boston. So now they must be thinking that Vermont is somewhere in Massachusetts close to Boston.

“I always dreamed of doing an MBA. But whenever I tried to pursue my dream, an enticing job offer drifted me away. After my engineering, a job offer in Infosys and in Boston, it was the job offer at Deloitte. Not sure if I chose the program or the program chose me; I am elated to be in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program and enjoying every moment of it. ‘The amalgamation of my career initiative MBA with my passion of integrating sustainability into the businesses/daily life was a dream come true’- This is a statement from my Statement Of Purpose, a part of the application process. As any middle-class Indian family, mine was delighted and excited that I will be doing MBA in the USA.  Still, I was pretty apprehensive about sitting in an American classroom, but after Module 1, It felt like I knew Kalkin 110* from my previous life.

“My initial thoughts were that the American education system is so different to Indian education system. Yes! They are different, but what brings us together is the quest for knowledge, care for people, and responsibility towards planet. There are odds of living in a different continent – 8,000 miles away from homeland across 2 oceans and keeping fingers crossed, checking Twitter for new immigration policies. But, the global potential for this program, especially its importance in developing countries, makes it appealing to any world citizen.”

Alexa – Canada

“Here are my Top 5 things to know as a Canadian studying in Burlington:

“One. The school helps so much with the process of getting a student visa.

“Two. It’s hard to find a place to live in Burlington — start your search early!

“Three. Be prepared for your American classmates to make fun of your accent and your hockey team.

“Four. Try to tame your politeness — sometimes it’s okay to just talk without raising your hand.

“Five. Everyone in Vermont is friendly and warm — even if you’re far away, it still feels a lot like home.”

Esteban, Noelle, Bhargavi, and Alexa: If you are a prospective international student reading this blog post, please reach out to us. We would love to discuss our experiences so far, what it took to get here and why choosing UVM and The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is a great decision.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Torsten Dworshak

Torsten — or, Tor — comes to The Sustainable Innovation MBA with a background in digital marketing and strategic management. While at the University of Rhode Island, Tor was a member of the varsity track and field team. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

If ever there has been an MBA program designed with disruption and creative destruction in mind, it’s this one. This MBA isn’t a fast track to Wall Street, it’s a fast track to learning how to be a serial industry disruptor.

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

Not a single day goes by when I don’t learn something new.

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

1. This is a fast moving program. Don’t forget to breathe.

2. Always be ready for opportunity.

3. After you remember to breathe, breathe again.

While you are taking time to breathe, make time to reflect. Material comes at you so fast that if you don’t actively make time for reflection, it’ll be difficult to create long lasting takeaways.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

We meet a ton of professionals who are incredibly passionate about what they do. The opportunity to learn from their successes and failures is a gift.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

All of the speakers from Ben and Jerry’s bring ice cream with them!

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Esteban Echeverria

Esteban, born and raised in San José, Costa Rica, returned to his native country after living for six years in the United States and obtaining BSc. and MSc. degrees in Mechanical Engineering from the University of Maryland.  He comes to the program from Ad Astra in Costa Rica, where he was a project engineer for its renewable energy and environmental sciences division. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

As a mechanical engineer working in the renewable energy and hydrogen fuel sector for six years, I started to notice that the development of these disruptive technologies will not reach full commercialization out of pure environmental enthusiasm. I understood that the creation of new business models based on sustainable practices that serve the vested interests of not just some, but all of the stakeholders, should be the objective to be pursued. It was then that I realized it was time to go back to school. I chose to attend an MBA program because I saw business as a tool to complement my engineering background. However, I specifically chose this program because it has an primary objective that I did not find in any other MBA program ― to make the world a better place.

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

Every classmate of the cohort has a similar story and reason to be in the program. We are all deeply passionate about sustainability issues and finding ways to solve them. This makes us create strong bonds as well as a respectful and caring environment to share our ideas and learn from each other.

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

1. If you are not into sustainability and contributing to solve the global environmental and social issues, this might not be the program for you.

2. The program is only one year, which makes it really intensive. It is really hard for anyone to attend while having an unrelated side project or job.

3. The city of Burlington is a beautiful developed rural area, unlike anything I have seen before. It has a very strong sense of community, and their citizens are very much interested in being active participants and helping each other.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

Before starting this program, I had only worked with engineers and I was used to their particular way of thinking, solving problems, debating. It has been quite useful to be exposed to such a diverse group of people, with such different backgrounds, ranging from international development to finance, art, and even fashion. This has taught me that there are many ways of solving the same problem, and its always better to bring different fresh ideas to the table.

Anything else you’d like people to know?

I am an international student, from Costa Rica, and I strongly recommend this experience to anybody who lives outside of the United States. Since I came, everybody has been very friendly and helpful to me. You will feel just like home.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Alyssa Schuetz

A recent graduate of Drexel University, Alyssa brings a passion for apparel, textiles, and product development to the The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?
As the #1 Green MBA program in the country, I knew the program could give me the skills, tools, and knowledge that I would need to in order to further my career in sustainability and the fashion industry.
What has been your favorite part/element of the program so far?
My favorite element of the program is the diversity of my cohort — it makes for lively class discussions that have taught me so much more than a textbook ever could.
What are three things someone considering the program should be aware of?
1) There is a huge focus on leadership and teamwork to make you the best leader and team player that you could be, 2) The group work bonds you to your cohort, and 3) Your cohort will become your extended family.
How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?
I have learned that there are so many ways to implement sustainability in a business model that is both ethical and cost-effective.
Anything else you’d like people to know?
The program’s location in Burlington, Vermont is inspirational as the culture here lives and breathes sustainability and the great outdoors.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Kevin Hoskins

Kevin Hoskins  brings management and leadership experience in the music business and creative industries to The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. He was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

I came back to Vermont because I craved the community and the spirit of entrepreneurship that seems to be part of the state’s DNA. I chose this program because I wanted to learn frameworks and strategies to better integrate my leadership, management, and entrepreneurial experience with the program’s sustainability and innovation focus. The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at UVM speaks to my goals and values: resisting business-as-usual, having the optimism to see challenges as opportunities, and needing to develop new business models (and market-based solutions) that incorporate sustainability and future-oriented thinking.

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

My favorite part of the program is the people: my cohort, the professors, and the greater community that surrounds this program. Every day, I’m grateful for the opportunity to spend eight hours in a room learning from people that want to get creative about solving challenging problems.

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

First, be willing to listen…and embrace collaboration. You’ll be put in situations where teamwork is essential to achieving your goals. Remember to listen to your teammates and be willing to collaborate to achieve something greater.

Second, follow the threads that interest you. The year goes by quickly and there’s a lot of information coming your way. It’s easy to fall behind if you don’t stay on top of the work. But don’t forget that you can always dive deeper on the subjects that you’re passionate about. Adopt a learning mindset. And stay curious.

Lastly, be prepared to challenge yourself. Be willing to re-frame your mental models. Ask questions. Be flexible. And get comfortable with uncertainty. It’ll serve you well in the program, but also in your future work.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has helped me learn analytical tools and financial models to help improve and thus transform businesses. This program is a great reminder that people are not only the greatest asset of any business, they’re our greatest tool for innovation and our greatest opportunity to build a better world.

Anything else?

Vermont is a unique place. And this is a unique program. Embrace the magic. And if you’d like to know more about the program, I’m happy to talk. I can be reached via www.kevinhoskins.net

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Ariella Pasackow

Ariella Pasackow ’18 left her previous position as Program Officer for RefugePoint to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.  She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

I grew up in Vermont, but built my career out-of-state and overseas, so The Sustainable Innovation MBA was the perfect bridge to return home and grow my professional network in Burlington. With a background in nonprofit administration and international development, I wanted to gain business tools and frameworks for growing sustainable enterprises and inclusive company cultures. I am passionate about social justice issues, gender equity, and refugee resettlement in Vermont, and plan to work in greater Burlington for the foreseeable future.

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

I have learned just as much from my peers as I have from my professors, and am so grateful for my cohort community. Unlike more traditional MBAs, we have cultivated an incredibly supportive learning environment, where all different types of learners can thrive. By building trust, respect, and strong interpersonal relationships, we have been able to communicate effectively through periods of stress, confusion, and anxiety. We cheered each other on before tests and presentations, and made sure to keep the the classroom energy high despite too many hours indoors.

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

REST. Do whatever you need to do to take time off before the program starts, and allow yourself the time and space to transition. Classes start Day 1, and orientation is no breeze! Whether you are coming from undergrad or a career, moving across the country, or commuting from down the street, take time to rest and rejuvenate before the program starts. You will be nonstop for twelve months.

REFLECT. Taking one year out of your career to be a full-time student is an incredible privilege and opportunity. Don’t let the weeks slip away bogged down in the daily grind without reminding yourself why you are here, what you want to learn, and where you want to put your energy. You can’t do everything, but you can commit to prioritize, plan, and proactively work towards your personal and professional goals. The Sustainable Innovation MBA students have shared values, but often very different expectations for during and after the program. Celebrate this, and learn from each other.

PRIORITIZE TEAMS. Every module, you will be assigned a small group to work with for eight weeks on every class assignment and deliverable. Teamwork is both the most challenging and most rewarding part of The Sustainable Innovation MBA experience. It will be fun, frustrating, time consuming, and hilarious. You will design and create products you would never think of alone, and test processes and procedures on how to best work together, designate roles, delegate, and download. You will learn how to brainstorm without judgement, make decisions under stress, and maximize the quantity and quality of your work despite minimal time and resources. Individual assignments are few and far between, and readings can always wait until later. Your grad school success is dependent upon the success of your team. Cherish them.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has introduced me to more people, ideas, and resources in the last eight months than I could have ever imagined. I have gained a vocabulary and confidence to ask questions and solve problems I had only thought about through a nonprofit lens. It has shown me the immense value of my previous work experience, and the endless possibilities for leadership, growth, and opportunities in sustainable business with a triple bottom line approach (people, profit, planet).  The Sustainable Innovation MBA could have not come at a better time in my life as I seek to pivot into for profit ventures and social entrepreneurship. I am immensely grateful for my peers, professors, and alumni network that has grown to create a true community.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Julia Lyon

Julia Lyon left her previous position as an Internal Communications Manager  for Enel Green Power to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

When I was an undergraduate student at UVM and took my first course on corporate social responsibility (CSR), I had an epiphany. I knew that I wanted to create environmental and social good using the power of business and that earning an MBA was likely in my future. I chose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA for several reasons. I was drawn to the one-year accelerated program, the program’s holistic approach to incorporating sustainability in all coursework, and the opportunity to return to beautiful Vermont.

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

My favorite part of the program has been getting to know my peers. We’re a group with a diverse set of backgrounds and interests and I find that I’m continuously learning from my classmates. With the amount of team assignments required throughout the coursework (there are a lot!), you get to know your classmates very quickly.

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

  1. The leadership component of The Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum. If developing strong leadership capabilities is of interest to a potential student – I recommend this program. We have multiple leadership-focused courses, a year-long leadership seminar, and many opportunities to connect with local business leaders to learn from their experiences.
  2. The amount of team collaboration that’s involved. At various points in the program you’ll have as many of three different teams that you complete projects and coursework with. This is a great opportunity to learn from one another that really develops your time management, communication, and collaboration skills.
  3. Practicum projects. These summer consulting projects are a way to apply the skills you’ve developed over the year, so it’s important to explore early on what you’re looking to gain from your practicum experience.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

The Sustainable Innovation MBA has helped me explore my quantitative skills in finance and accounting and made me realize that I do really enjoy finance. The leadership component of the program has also helped me understand the importance of leadership of any business and think more about my future impact as a leader.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Kathrin Kaiser

Kathrin Kaiser ’18 left her previous position as EU Associate Category Manager – Business Manager for Wayfair to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.  She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

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

I always knew I wanted to get an MBA in the U.S. to learn all the necessary skills it takes to be an entrepreneur, but after working in an exclusively profit-driven environment, I wanted to make a career change and use my resources to do “something good.” I felt that The Sustainable Innovation MBA would teach me fundamental business skills and combine them with a sustainable perspective to create profitable businesses that benefit the environment and society — plus Vermont seemed like the perfect environment for a green MBA program.

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

I really enjoyed the quant classes of the program – we were lucky to have had amazing finance and economics teachers who made learning about numbers really fun. I would say in general, the teachers are the greatest part of the program – they are so enthusiastic, caring, patient and knowledgeable.

The class discussions are also one of my favorite parts – sometimes we completely lost track of time because we had such engaging and interesting discussions and its amazing how much you learn from hearing all the different perspectives from your class mates and their large variety of backgrounds. The level of engagement in our cohort is just amazing!

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

  1. You might not notice the amazing development you and your classmates make throughout the year – suddenly, it will be March and you will look back and compare yourself and your cohort to last summer and realize what amazing progress you all have made together.
  2. Your cohort will be more than just your classmates — your classmates will become a big family that supports, encourages, and empowers each other.
  3. You will become very confident with public speaking.

How has the Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

One of the greatest things is the broad network we’ve been building in the program and all the different perspectives we get to hear about — numerous guest speakers, events with the Advisory Board, or just engaging in discussions with my classmates have tremendously broadened my horizon and changed the way I look at things.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Julia Barnes

Julia Barnes ’18 joined The Sustainable Innovation MBA program after spending the past decade working in progressive politics to further access to affordable healthcare, combat income inequality and take on the growing threat of climate change.

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

I chose The Sustainable Innovation MBA because I wanted a different MBA experience that approached business and startups from a disruptive, innovative perspective. I don’t feel invested in historical takes on economic growth and was more connected with designing a MBA that connected with my progressive values.

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

For me, my favorite part is the challenge. We are capturing all of the content and value of traditional business school, but are always pushed to think about with a sustainable, triple-bottom-line approach. In this way, I find our experience is more inline with the reality of what we will face in applying our MBA and less in simple academic recall.

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

1.  The commitment is serious. 7 hours a day of class with double the work load of a normal program means you have to take this seriously.

2.  Value your time with your classmates and lean on them to help you get through. You get to know people really well in our module learning teams and those friendships can really help you succeed.

3.  Explore things you never knew would be important to you. I found a significant draw to marketing and impact investing, which was definitely not what I had expected, but The Sustainable Innovation MBA affords you that exposure instead of tracking you into something that may not be your passion.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

So far, it’s helped me set aside time in my life to clarify my purpose, to make some great new friends and connections, and to find an environment to have a rigorous business education while staying true to my values.

Anything else?

Burlington is the best place to live in the country. Seriously. There really isn’t a place where you can get whatever you could want in a big city in the most beautiful part of the country with all the attraction of a small town. I love it.

Getting to Know the Class of 2018: Arielle Tatar

Arielle Tatar ’18  left her previous position as Aquatics Director at the YMCA Southcoast to join The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.  She was interviewed by Isabel Russell, an undergraduate at UVM.

Image result for Arielle Tatar Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

I studied business in college and found it extremely interesting and applicable in daily life. I grew up in a sustainable household where the values of The Sustainable Innovation MBA were lived every day, so it’s always been important to me. Attending this program was a way to bring these two passions together!

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

Although brief, our “Marketing Under Uncertainty” class was extremely interesting to me as I am very interested in marketing. Also, the field trips we have taken to Ben & Jerry’s and Rhino Foods, among other places, offer a real opportunity to see what we learn in action.

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

1. Be aware of the weekly time commitment. You’re fitting a lot of information into a short period of time, so you’re going to work a lot of hours every week.

2. The faculty are experts in their fields and really want you to succeed. Realize that this program is top notch and take advantage of the opportunities that it gives you.

3. The relationships you build here are strong and with amazing people. I get to go to class every day with some of the smartest and most influential people I’ve ever met and I get to learn and grow from them. We are not a traditional MBA where we compete with each other to survive. We are a family that helps and raises each other up.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA helped you?

It has given me so many opportunities to connect with influential business people, as well as learn from top professors. It has also helped me to better understand the issues we face in the sustainability sector and how I can create change.