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”

A Letter to Mother Nature

This post was written by Juan Adorno ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Author’s Note: The recent earthquakes in Puerto Rico inspired me to write this blog post. I felt a blog to be a fitting forum to speak about a serious topic in a fun way. Because, the only thing I know to bring to darkness — to understand it — is light. Secondarily, I hope for this blog post to serve as a promotion for the new, fresh, literary genre: literary nonfiction: true events, displayed as authentic, original, creative forms.

This blog post aims to illuminate Puerto Rico in a way that is as free to me as the Coqui voices that will continue to sing. In other words, to share a literary nonfiction art work: true events, displayed authentically. From this chair in the Bronx, NY to another in Burlington, Vermont, to the forest of El Yunque, to the Castles of San Juan, to the beaches off the coasts of Vega Baja and Manati—Puerto Rico is the subject of this Letter…

We Hear You, Mother Nature, The Time is Now.

From: Juan Adorno

To: Mother Nature

Cc: Motherland (Puerto Rico)

Bcc: JP1—Blue (Pen Name)

Subject: Puerto Rico

Mother Nature, please, be merciful on the Motherland: sway those hips of the Carribean tectonic plates up against the rigid tips of the North Americans, in such a way that the BoricuasThe spirit of the People of Puerto Rico— are sparked, secured and prosperous in the long-run. Puerto Rico. The Enchanted Island. The Boriken Island. La Isla del Encanto.

On Tuesday, January 11, 2020, you rocked the motherland, 6.4 earthquake, sending people across the island to sleep in their patios, the streets and beaches in fear of their houses collapsing on them and their loved ones. The street where my Grandma lives was shut down and folks set up tents to sleep. In Vega Baja, Puerto Rico, half hour away from San Juan.

Grounds shaking, power outages: and, you continue to speak Mother Nature. Tremors. Traumas.

In spirit, I put myself setting up a tent in the Vega Baja Beach while Earthquakes pass, probably not the smartest move, but it’s the same beach that was travelled to by one of my writing heroes, Manuel Adorno. That beach was the setting of his seminal short story, and the hippies came.  Manuel was praised by great writers of his day like Gabriel Marquez.

Mother Nature, may you grace this blog post to serve as a genuine illumination of an interaction with you and may you grace the motherland.

I felt it was just the other day when I was standing in front of my Sustainable Innovation MBA class, in Burlington, Vermont, delivering a business pitch of Puerto Rico Solar Energy Company LLC., a PR-based TBL solar energy company idea that serves to help Puerto Rico toward Energy Freedom. I opened the group presentation with a personal story of the origin of the idea to create the business: A Hurricane Maria Story. The power was out in the neighborhood and it was renewable energy, namely solar energy and electric batteries that save the day. I delivered that presentation several months ago and it was in reference to Hurricane Maria which took place in 2017. Hurricane Maria exposed the island’s infrastructure vulnerabilities. 

It’s been years since Hurricane Maria, the history-bending catastrophe that took thousands of lives, and, yet, the islands energy mix is still not fixed.

The time is now: to be energy rich; to sustainably capitalize and commercialize; to self-sustain; to, then talk of food, economic, and artistic world warping potential contained in the rich port—Puerto Rico.

We Hear You, Mother Nature, The Time is Now!

Sincerely, Concerned Son

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 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.