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!

Getting to Know the Class of 2020: Taran Catania

Prior to coming to The Sustainable Innovation MBA, Taran had been in Washington, D.C. working as a legislative representative for national conservation organizations and later as an environmental staffer in the U.S. Senate. Taran also served two years on the executive board of DC EcoWomen, a nonprofit connecting and empowering women for environmental leadership in the nation’s capital. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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

Coming from the environmental policy world of Washington, D.C., I wanted to use a business degree to find a different way to take on the world’s most pressing environmental challenges that better utilized my strengths. What sold me on The Sustainable Innovation MBA was knowing I did not have to settle for a traditional MBA with one environmental or social justice course relegated to the end of the program. I knew I wanted to break the mold in the work I was doing, and that I wanted to learn conventional skills but apply them in unconventional ways. When I learned that this is what this program is doing, itself, in the breaking the mold of what an MBA has always been, something simply clicked for me.

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

It was my mom who advised me to think twice before going to an MBA with a demoralizingly cutthroat culture in which, when your calculator died during an exam, the student next to you would merely smirk and turn away. I took this advice and evidently ran with it: at The Sustainable Innovation MBA, we embrace and support each other as classmates. Not only do we pump each other up for tests, collaborate on study guides and flashcards, and share pencils when the occasional Scantron bubble answer sheet appears… but I’ll admit that just a few weeks ago when I forgot my calculator during a finance quiz, Chuck (our finance professor and academic director) lent me his.

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

1. You will be drinking through a fire hose. The program moves fast, and you have to move fast with it. There will not be a lot of time to stop and absorb — instead, you have to absorb on the go. This pace might not be for everyone, but if you manage your time well and remember to not let the perfect be the enemy of the good, you’ll do just fine.

2. Your classmates will be some of the best people you have ever met, and they will be a key part of why you feel so at home in this program. The diversity of backgrounds brings significant value into the classroom, and you’ll find you learn just as much from your classmates as you do your professors.

3. Perhaps most importantly, be ready to dive into your own vulnerability. Part of the beauty of The Sustainable Innovation MBA is that this program forces you to really look at yourself, examine what is particular about you and how you see the world, and how all of those things show up and shape how you’re a teammate or a leader. If you’re not ready for or at least open to this level of self-awareness and self-management, the program will be a struggle for you.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

Although some of the concepts are intuitive, the business vocabulary and frameworks we learn are immensely helpful — whether analyzing an entire industry in Business Strategy for a Sustainable World to segmenting a market and deciding on a target audience for a product launch in Sustainable Brand Marketing.

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

I hear this story repeated often: good people that are drawn to meaningful, cause-driven work (who are willing to take a pay cut and still give 110%) end up leaving these progressive movements because of poor management or disingenuous leadership. I am lucky enough to have had both challenging boss experiences and extremely empowering boss experiences. I tried to remember these lessons when I became a boss myself: to be authentic, to embrace vulnerability, and to empower my team to take risks even if it means inevitable, occasional failure. While I’m still figuring out exactly how I want to bring this into the next step of my career, I know what a powerful impact a positive leadership experience can have on employee retention. Especially for these environmentally-driven causes that simply cannot afford to lose good, mission-driven, hard-working people, I want to be a part of the solution.

Anything else?

I cannot say enough good things about the competitive broomball team we formed at the beginning of the year through UVM intramural sports. It was often the highlight of my week, and provided me with (a) a chance to get to know my classmates outside of the classroom, and (b) an opportunity to wear my sloth onesie costume as our goalie. Although we finished #2 in the final playoff standings, I’d like to think we were #1 in everyone’s hearts.

Getting to Know the Class of 2020: Jared Alvord

Jared graduated from the University of Vermont in 2010 with a degree in Environmental Studies. He has been in the solar industry since then, working on projects ranging from residential to utility scale. In 2017, Jared founded Mad River Solar, a small utility scale solar and battery storage development company. Jared lives in the Mad River Valley of Vermont with his wife Emma, and dog Maggie. He is an officer on the local volunteer fire department, and a member of the towns Development Review Board. Jared is an avid outdoorsman, and loves to hike, ski, fish and hunt. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

The Sustainable Innovation MBA fit directly into my vision for the type of business leader I wanted to be. I needed a program that would teach me the invaluable MBA skills needed to scale my solar business, while bringing along with it an innovative new way of thinking about the future of business.

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

The program is tailored to bring you the skills of tomorrow, while giving you the base that every business leader needs to succeed.

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

1) The program is intense being focused into one year, so plan for this. 2) While the program brings you innovative and disruptive skills surrounding sustainability, you still gain those base MBA skills needed to succeed. 3) Burlington, Vermont is cold and snowy in the winter, so bring your skis!

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

I have already taken some of the skills learned in the program back to the solar company that I own. This program has direct real world value.

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

The energy industry through the deployment of renewable energy.

Anything else?

One of the best parts of the program is the diverse and ambitious class. Our class has become very close friends in a short period of time.

Julie Keck, Class of 2019 Class Speaker

EDITOR’S NOTE: The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2019 was celebrated at their program-end Inauguration ceremony on August 17, 2019 at the Royall Tyler Theater on the campus of the University of Vermont. Julie Keck ’19 was chosen by her cohort to deliver the Class Speaker address. The text of her remarks is below.

Before I get started, it’s important to point out that this event is taking place on traditional Abenaki and Wabanaki land, and it is a privilege to have been educated on – and to now graduate within – the land that they have stewarded.

Julie Keck

I have the honor of speaking to you today because my peers voted for me. I suspect those who clicked on my name either thought I would say something funny, say something touching, or politely ‘stick it to the man.’ Those hoping for any of these three things will be satisfied. 

If you have gone through this Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the University of Vermont – or if you love us, teach us, or support us in any way – you’ll know that we completed many, many, many presentations in this program. While public speaking can be stressful for some, it was no secret in our classroom that I love a good microphone. For me, the only problem was that I had to share my presentation time with my lovely classmates.

But now – finally – the microphone’s all mine. And I Have Some Things to Say.

But first more about me: when I was little, and I was super cute when I was little, my dad would sometimes ask me a question, and I’d respond with: “Let me sing you about it.” Those who’ve come to live-band karaoke with me at Sweet Melissa’s over the past year will be relieved to know I’m not actually going to do that.

Another response I sometimes had to questions was: “I can’t know that yet.” 

I like that better than “I don’t know,” don’t you? It conveys that one might not *currently* have the knowledge to answer a question, but that the knowledge is surely on the horizon. Four-year-old ME had some insights that adult ME had lost in the ensuing years. I like to think I regained some of that intellectual optimism this past year. 

However, to be totally honest, and I consider you all my best friends, so I will always be honest with you, my pessimistic side almost kept me from applying to business school at all…

Because I’m not supposed to be here. For a few reasons.

Julie Keck, right, and partner Jess King

First, I am a woman. 

This year, there were more women on the Fortune 500 list of CEOs than ever before. Sounds like progress, right? Wanna know what the number was? 33. 33 out of 500. Let me make that clearer. Out of 500 CEOs on that list, 467 were men, and 33 were women. That’s 6.6%. That’s appalling.

An Invisible Problem and Unrealized Opportunity

This post was written by Andre Paul ’19

The “Pains” of a Sustainable Innovation MBA Student

Capacities of time and energy fill up rather quickly for Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) students, especially during finals week (and there are roughly eight finals weeks, or two per module, by my count). During the busiest weeks of SI-MBA, workload quickly outpaces recovery, mental health declines, and so does learning, in my estimation.

Photo by Aaron Burden on Unsplash

Such are the challenges of an accelerated program. If you want to earn a Master’s degree in a year, then you ought to make the requisite sacrifices. You have to “pay your dues” so to speak. Most nights call for hours of reading, most of which a student cannot complete because he or she simply lacks the reserves of either time, energy, or attention span (or all three).

Might we be able to reduce a SI-MBA student’s sacrifices while improving his or her learning outcomes?

A Possible Solution

Hypothetically, let’s replace three hours of reading per week (across all classes) by three hours of listening to some form of audio media (primarily podcasts) that covers the same (or similar) material.

SI-MBA students undergo 33 weeks of full-time course work. This simple intervention could therefore save roughly one hundred hours over the course of the program, doing the quick math. SI-MBA students could then apply those hundred hours toward networking, proactive planning, and restorative activities (sleep, perhaps!).

A few professors of the 2019 cohort assigned podcasts for homework, though only as supplemental materials. Multiple professors assigned occasional TED Talks as mandatory material, but while videos may require less mental effort for students to digest, I argue that they involve most of the same trade-offs as reading.

To explore this possible “solution”, I’ll walk through three of the main advantages of audio media over reading and video:

Why Podcasts are More Effective Media than Books or E-Readings

  1. Podcasts Allow You to Multi-Task

People have busy lives, which is why very few will read this blog post and even fewer will actually read every word.

Hundreds of pages of reading (assigned on most nights in the SI-MBA program) become quickly exhausting. This is probably why I did not hear a single student claim that he or she read every assigned reading – not even for a single class. Students therefore head into class discussions having absorbed varying breadths and depths of the pre-assigned material, which leads to disparities in discussion.

Podcasts, by allowing students to multi-task (thereby preserving time and energy), could ameliorate such challenges. To illustrate without belaboring this obvious point, here is just a short list of activities that one might perform while listening to a podcast:

  • Driving
  • Walking
  • Cleaning
  • Exercising
  • [Literally anything that consumes time, but leaves mental capacity idle]

In short, by listening to a podcast instead of reading, a student could complete homework while completing housework, commuting to school, or doing a favorite activity.

Continue reading “An Invisible Problem and Unrealized Opportunity”

Advice for the Class of 2020: Live Nearby

This post was written by Adam Figuieredo ’19. See a wonderful offer at the bottom of the article

A lot of people will be talking about time management. You know how the game is played. Be efficient and don’t overlook the low-hanging fruit. Your commute is the best place to start. I recommend searching for a place near the business school ASAP.

Photo by Gianluca Baron on Unsplash

My 5-minute walk is not something I think about often at this point in the program. I have to remind myself of my deliberate/proactive approach, as well as my good fortune, or else I’d take it for granted. I’m confident the value-add in convenience is worth any additional cost.

I can relax as I prepare for morning classes and get ready for the day, knowing I can “turn-up”… eat, shower, dress, go… at a rapid fire pace. It’s also easier to meet with your team(s) before morning classes in preparation for presentations.

If I’m having trouble studying, I can quickly escape the funk with a brisk walk to school. It’s probably not surprising that the ability to focus on academic problems is easier in academic environments. This is especially true for the occasional late-night grind. There’s something mystical about burning the midnight oil in Kalkin 110.

You could even diversify your income through charging your classmates for parking pass privileges (or just rack up the IOU-coffees). Yet the best perk may simply be the ability go home for lunch, make a homemade meal, and rest for a few minutes. Finally, I extend an invitation… I plan on moving out of my apartment by the end of the summer. For those interested in living on Fletcher Place, please reach out and I’ll be happy to provide more information. I’ve spoken with my landlord about this potential arrangement and he’s all for it. This is a wonderful program and I’d love to help anybody in the next generation transition to life on campus. I feel like I’m achieving my goal of becoming a more sophisticated entrepreneur. Now it’s your turn to pursue whatever it is you’re pursuing.

Women for Change: A Lesson in Determination and Perseverance

This post was written by Lauren Masters, Emily Klein, Meryl Schneider, Caitlyn Kenney, Maggie Robinson, and Alyssa Schuetz of the Class of 2019

What started as an idea in September turned into the first formal public event hosted by The Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program’s Women for Change group. Seven months ago, Lauren Masters, a current student of the SI-MBA program said, “I think Holly Dowling would be a great speaker to catalyze and legitimize our group within UVM’s Grossman School of Business and the greater Burlington community.”

With this goal in mind, a group of six women combined their skills, experiences, and minimal free time to jumpstart a new endeavor. The event planning committee included current MBA students Emily Klein, Lauren Masters, Caitlyn Kenney, Alyssa Schuetz, Meryl Schneider, and Maggie Robinson. Little did they know the amount of grit, determination, and perseverance that would be needed to legitimize the Women for Change’s first event held for the Greater Burlington community.

Throughout this process, students learned valuable lessons on how to navigate the world of fundraising, legitimize a club on campus, and overcome challenges that arose in unexpected places. As time passed and checklists seemed to grow, the planning proved to be difficult as students juggled their full-time schedules. There were even moments when they questioned whether, or not they would be able to pull-off the event.  Ultimately, the cumulative shared values of the planning committee proved to be enough as the group banned together until the very end.

On March 21st, over 50 young professionals, business leaders, and SI-MBA students alike were able to see this event come to fruition. Henry Vogt, a SI-MBA student said, “I found the Holly Dowling event to be fun, exciting and inspiring. Not only was it a great networking opportunity, but it was also exciting and thought-provoking. When Holly presented it felt like she was speaking directly to members of the audience. She offered perspective and inspiration on how to be successful, depicted personal stories of how she persevered through adversity, and gave tips on how to live a more fulfilling life. Additionally, it was very impressive that this event was organized by a passionate group of women MBA students, who put in a massive amount of work to successfully fundraise and organize an excellent event.”

As the adrenaline wore off, this small group of women looked at this event as one of the many highs of their overall SI-MBA experience.  Grad student Lauren Masters adds, “We knew we were all working towards a bigger picture of empowering female leaders not only within our cohort but also the greater Burlington community area and beyond. We hope that some of the key insights gained from this event will stick with attendees throughout their careers.”

For more information on the specifics of this event, please check out the following article: Leaning In

MBA Women for Change Hosts Holly Dowling

This post was written by John Turner, Marketing & Media Relations Specialist at the Grossman School of Business.

In a recent study of women in the workplace by McKinsey & Company, the consulting group reported that while for the last four years, companies have reported that they are highly committed to gender diversity, that commitment has not translated into meaningful progress. Women continue to be vastly underrepresented at every level, and only about one in five senior leaders is a woman.

With that as the backdrop, the role and empowerment of women in the workplace was addressed by globally renowned leadership speaker Holly Dowling recently at a special event in Burlington.

Hosted by the MBA Women for Change, a student group of The Sustainable Innovation MBA program at the Grossman School of Business, and Westport Hospitality, guest speaker and change management and leadership expert Holly Dowling led a spirited conversation about women in leadership at the Courtyard Marriott in Burlington.

The event was the brainchild of the MBA Women for Change, a group started in the fall of 2018 to promote and advocate for gender issues in the workplace within The Sustainable Innovation MBA program.

The idea for the event gelled when a personal connection to Holly Dowling surfaced, and the group saw the opportunity to host an event that not only started a conversation around these issues, but was an appropriate way to widen the discussion out into the community, strengthen relationships with other organizations such as the Vermont Women’s Fund, as well as raise the profile and awareness of the program itself.

“Holly was a perfect speaker for us, having an aligned focus and goals of getting women into leadership as a conversation and she gave us this gift with her time and energy to be able to come here,” said organizing committee member Emily Klein ’19.

Meryl Schneider ’19, another committee member said,“it was great to be able to invite other women from all over the community, friends and family, and men, to this event to take part in something like this.”

The event also provided a platform to build bridges, extending the network and encouraging collaboration. Alyssa Schuetz ’19 noted, “it was great being able to establish relationships with other community groups like the Vermont Women’s Fund, the Burton’s women’s group as well as with our donors, to further connect and establish lines of communication.”

She continued, “We deliberately invited men and asked Holly to tailor the conversation so that it was inclusive to all genders, so everyone could get the benefit. Because we know that it’s not just the women who have to make a change, men are a huge part in this. We wanted to make it as open and accessible to as many people as possible.”

Emily continued, “I liked Holly’s message that companies are letting go of diversity and inclusion and are now only talking about inclusion. Because how far are we going to get if there’s all these separate interest groups with all these separate conversations? Acknowledging diversity and creating pockets within an organization is not fully solving the issue.”

Meg Smith, Director of the Vermont Women’s Fund, a nonprofit organization that provides support for women’s economic self-sufficiency, entrepreneurship and an event sponsor said, “this event that brings people together to have a conversation is important as everyone gains strength from one another. The realization that by collaborating, the sum is greater than the parts. There is an ongoing need for women in the workforce, and to create an inclusive, friendly workplace. My organization is focused on positive change for women, but it cannot happen in a vacuum, you cannot do it alone.”

With the success of this initial event, the group hope to continue their work including hosting guest speakers from the Women’s Center and an International Women’s Forum dinner with PhD students and the dean from UVM’s Rubenstein School. The group also realize that with The Sustainable Innovation MBA program being just one year, it’s a challenge to maintain momentum from cohort to cohort.

They plan to stay involved after graduation and provide assistance wherever possible, as some from previous cohorts have done, and hope that future cohorts will continue to build out the work of the group, and keep advocating and pushing for gender issues and equality.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Jeffrey Lue

Hailing from the Washington D.C. area, Jeff graduated from the University of Maryland in 2011 with BS degrees in Operations Management and Finance. Jeff joined Accenture in 2012 as a management consultant. During his six-year tenure with the company, he worked with several clients on a variety of projects ranging from enhancement valuations to change management. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

I’ve been searching for an MBA program for quite some time, but was having difficulty finding one I was excited about until I cam across The Sustainable Innovation MBA program. I knew that I wanted to incorporate sustainability components into my career, so this program felt like the perfect fit for me.

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

I think the access to amazing people doing inspiring things in their career. It’s been great learning about all the potential routes my career can take.

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

1. Be prepared to work. This program is no joke. 2. Be prepared to have your mind opened to new possibilities of how the world can work. 3. Be comfortable with seeing the same people. In the same building. In the same room. Every day. Hopefully they’re great like ours are.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA program benefitted you so far?

It’s opened my eyes to the way business can and should be done. I see even more opportunities to utilize business as a means to change the world, more so than I did when I started the program just a few short months ago.

Anything else?

Vermont is also awesome, so if you’re not familiar, you should make a visit.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Keil Corey

Originally from Bristol, Vermont, Keil studied Government and  Environmental Studies at Skidmore College. He comes to us from work at the Vermont Natural Resources Council and, most recently, Smith & McClain as their Solar Sales and Marketing Consultant. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

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

I wanted to continue working in a field that made a positive impact in our communities and on the world in general and felt the the private sector was the right place to move into, but I wanted — and needed — to expand my professional toolkit first.

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

Exposure to and interaction with some of the leading thinkers and doers in the business world who are solving some of our major societal challenges. Also, developing competencies in business management and applying these foundations to developing the new sustainable business paradigm has provided me with a newfound sense of agency and purpose. It’s been an incredibly inspiring learning environment so far.

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

Squeezing two years into one is no joke. Be prepared for a full-time commitment to this program. Also, if you’re looking to better know yourself, face hard truths, and grow personally and professionally, this program may be for you. Lastly, be prepared to question your thinking and live in ambiguity a lot — essential skills for business leaders in my opinion.

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA program benefitted you so far?

I feel I have already developed a solid foundation on the fundamentals I wanted to learn: finance, microeconomics, and business strategy, among others. I’ve also benefitted from professors and the student cohort that are especially gifted at taking big picture challenges and bringing them into a context that can be manageable and inspirational.

Anything else?

The future is here, it’s good, and it’s The Sustainable Innovation MBA.