My Goals, and Life, After The Sustainable Innovation MBA

This post was written by Ruchi Nadkarni ’20. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

I remember I was 10, when I watched the cartoon network show ‘Captain Planet’ for the first time. It was a show about teenagers who would team up with Captain Planet to keep the spirit of the earth (‘Gaia’) safe. Eerily, little did I imagine that I would live to see the destruction that was only imagined in a cartoon show, come to life. I started my journey at 21, with a nonprofit for animals. It was the most pristine love I could have ever imagined. As life went on, I pondered being another version of ‘Captain Planet’ and 10 years, and millions of happy animals later I hope to expand the course of this odyssey.

The influential driving forces of everything I do in my life stem from uplifting the distanced and forgotten in our world. To me, at this juncture, the environment including waterbodies, land and air combined with the quickly disappearing animals of today are of immediate concern. I am especially passionate about aiding frontier markets with sustainable business solutions addressing their immediate environmental problems using environmental business and sciences. I am passionate about effective solutions that are about more than band-aid remedies, a panacea for most difficulties if you will. This includes creating business solutions for developing countries that especially address their environmental strains.

This is especially important as developing countries struggle as their environmental degradation is a result of the last priority given to it. Countries like India place such a high importance on the development of their economies, that this often comes at the cost of environmental disregard. The lack of facilities for waste processing, soil health, water health and air quality are quandaries we are all too familiar with. The existing large corporations do very well on empathetic marketing to get their products in these markets – however rarely ponder the consequences of their products. The lack of knowledge, education and concern for the immediate environment and the widespread effects of an impaired ecosystem cause relentless practices, that destroy the planet far more rapidly in these places.

Since economy and survival is at the center of these communities, I plan to permeate through these issues, in ways that are coveted. To introduce a way that is sustainable and utilizes environmental gains as well is a triumph in my eyes. From environmental impact measurement, strategy, finance and restoration; I hope to beget measures that will gradually change the way business is done. More specifically I intend to do this by working within consulting companies before venturing out with my own consultancy, as well as business incubator a few years down the line. In this way I plan to start working with corporations, businesses and entrepreneurs to introduce business in these markets. The intentions of these businesses while economy driven of course, will not be to create new markets, but instead disrupt current markets and gain existing market share. Additionally, authentic intentions and shared value creation will be at the core of these solutions.

Whether with renewable energy, soil sequestration or pollution control practices – the businesses I will work with will combine environmental engineering, science and business. The merit of being able to affect all three facets of environmental well being in this way not only widens the scope of my practice but also satisfies my altruistic tendencies. I was often told growing up, that I need to hone my focus on one thing, and that I cannot fix everything in the world. While adult life has made me utterly aware of the fallacies of my childish fantasies, I think I have found a way to address this dilemma.

At the core of it all, I believe that we are transient beings in a home that we stay in for a little while. Our gracious host is currently sick and needs more from us. I am hoping I can influence enough businesses and people across the world to join this movement and that one day my aspiration to be ‘Captain Planet’ will be redundant.

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.

Embracing Plastic(ity)

This post was written by Cody Semmelrock ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Plastic.

Understandably, this word has been vilified as it becomes more and more apparent how its mismanagement may define our generation. It is painfully clear how damaging this resource can be in the natural ecosystem. As such, I won’t spend much time on that discussion. Instead, I would like to offer up a different take – one that embraces the word. These synthetic materials boast a tremendously impressive and valuable quality; they all are plastic in nature because they are easily shaped or molded. From a manufacturing standpoint, they are highly adaptive and can be purposed and repurposed to serve different needs under different conditions. Although some promising programs are beginning to emerge, on the whole, the industry’s management of recapturing the value of their product has not looked for inspiration in the product’s defining adaptable nature, and has instead practiced the status quo for far too long.

Photo by Jonathan Chng on Unsplash

As I reflect on the first few months in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program, it is hard for me to shake the word. Initially, I felt like I shouldn’t acknowledge my work history that I shouldn’t talk about plastic production in a sustainability program unless I had to. I quickly realized this was the wrong approach. My work background includes project development, management and sales of plastic packaging. My job was to develop and create products that don’t have adequate or appropriate disposal methods. Many single-use medical device packages inevitably would end up thrown away and/or incinerated. The “Take, Make, Waste” model was, and still is, being practiced. Movement away from this model is on the rise and conversations centered on a circular economy are materializing. When I think of the greatest take away of this program so far, I can’t help but think to the adaptability I have been forced to hone, how essential it is for my own career and how this level of adaptability will need to be utilized for a successful transition within the plastics industry.

These past few months have been truly transformative. Like many, I decided to pursue an MBA for a variety of reasons. I was looking to outfit myself with a “toolkit” comprised of a variety of skills that would help bolster my career while simultaneously setting a foundation for using business as a vehicle for substantive social change. Ultimately, I was seeking to better understand financial statements, canvass business strategy and evaluate the feasibility of my own crazy business ideas. For the purpose of strengthening my resume and making myself more marketable, I understood these skills to be most critical. It has become apparent, however that my ability to adapt, to be reshaped according to new conditions and embrace plasticity in my career approach and personal development has been my greatest take away of the program thus far.

My education in adaptation started the first day of orientation. Transitioning back to life as a full-time student after a five-year academic reprieve did not occur overnight. It was difficult and it was exhausting, but innate in the program’s structure were lessons I can reflect on as defining moments which have made me a more adaptable student, employee and citizen.

Prior to starting in the program, I would have incorrectly identified myself as being adaptable. I would have cited some lesson learned on the mini-tour golf circuit about how important it is to approach novel problems (like sitting 40 yards off the fairway with the pin nowhere in sight) with calm, optimism and creativity. The primary distinction between this example and the adaptability required in SI-MBA and moving forward toward a more sustainable future is the notion of playing with others.

Within an intimately sized cohort of 30, we are assigned to module learning teams. Groups of 3-4 students are hand selected to build diverse groups in an effort to reflect real world working environments and prove that highly diverse groups are more likely to solve increasingly complex problems than their more uniform counterparts. We then tackle assignments in every class together. This team experience inevitably differs for everyone but illustrated to me areas where I should improve, be more flexible and help encourage others development.

Without a thorough understanding and appreciation of this soft skill, hope for a more sustainable future seems bleak. Across every industry and profession, a need for highly adaptable individuals will exist and SI-MBA has uniquely outfitted myself and my fellow cohort members with a distinct ability to roll up our sleeves and roll with the punches. I am confident this lesson in adaptability will serve us well as we venture beyond the classroom and face many of the same problems that drew us to the program a few short months ago.

In-“Vesting” in Sustainability and Innovation

Than Moore ’20 (kneeling, third from right) is well-known among The Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2020 for his preference for wearing vests — a lot. In honor of his birthday (January 30), the entire cohort clad themselves in, well, vests. Happy Birthday, Than!

A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex

This post was written by Than Moore ’20. Connect with him on LinkedIn.

Before matriculating to business school, I worked full time as an emergency medicine physician assistant at the University of Vermont Medical Center. I, along with my colleagues, was solely focused on maximizing patient care. My responsibilities included diagnosing and treating patients of all ages and acuity levels. The clinical world became my home. Putting on scrubs every day to go into the hospital, I join the hundreds of other employees working towards a similar mission of delivering the highest level of patient care. The ability to practice and treat members in my community is a privilege. It is one of the greatest accomplishments with which I can relate. However, it can also monopolize your life, and is forever demanding. It becomes nearly impossible to pause and observe the system in which we operate. The pursuit of my MBA disrupted the traditional linear trajectory of my medical career and provided the time and space to refocus the lens in which I viewed the world.       

Photo by JC Gellidon on Unsplash

Medicine is a vortex. To become a doctor, one must dedicate years of commitment to the craft. You must first complete prerequisite coursework before donating countless years toward schooling, residency, and fellowship. By demonstrating academic and clinical excellence and passing more tests than one could imagine, it then becomes time to start your clinical practice. The journey is arduous, but the reward to grant another breath to a gasping loved one is worth all the effort. Medicine becomes an addiction. We are slaves to the system to glean all the knowledge we can to optimize our performance. It monopolizes our lives with long days, demanding call schedules, and tragic cases that keep us up at night. However, I was granted the opportunity to take a sabbatical from my clinical responsibilities and observe the field from the outside. 

I first learned of The Sustainable Innovation MBA (SI-MBA) program at UVM from a friend who knew of my love of academia and solving problems. Sustainable business became the perfect blend of my undergraduate analytical mathematical degree, my medical background, and my passion for the environment and society as a whole. Embedded in the curriculum are quantitative business skills such as finance, accounting, and economics, but there are also fundamental organizational skills taught through courses on corporate social responsibility, sustainable leadership, and teamwork. The focus of the coursework is to optimize a sustainable enterprise by maximizing the triple bottom line: people, profit and the planet. 

The beauty of the SI-MBA program is that one can personalize their education to incorporate individual interests. For example, I am fortunate to tailor my business research and projects towards medicine. Subsequently, I wish to highlight ways in which the triple bottom line educational model has broadened my perspective to incorporate sustainability into fundamental daily operations in both the medical community and greater society. 

People:

To begin, people are at the core of all operating systems. Our world revolves around successful human interactions. The ability to collaborate with one another stems from leadership and teamwork skills. Group work is a fundamental component in the SI-MBA curriculum. During each of the module terms, every student is designated a team. The team is responsible to execute all projects, presentations, and assignments together. Rarely, do you see employees working alone, so why should academics reflect that?

Medicine, in particular, revolves around team collaboration. With the blending of specialties and skills to navigate different disease processes, we are constantly reliant on our colleagues for their expertise. If a trauma victim presents requiring extensive resources, multiple hands are needed to gain IV access, deliver medications, perform diagnostic studies, and make life altering decisions. One could not operate alone in such a high stress environment. By maximizing team collaboration, executing impeccable leadership qualities, and maximizing the potential of all skilled team members, a team can perform at its highest capability. Medical schools are paying more attention to these traits by focusing efforts on team based learning; however, the ability to acquire these skills outside of medicine through my coursework and integrate them back into the clinic will become a critical asset in my performance as a provider. 

Continue reading “A Sustainable Innovation MBA Disrupts The Medicine Vortex”

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.