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.

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.

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Elissa Eggers

Elissa is a Connecticut native who received her undergraduate degree in Art History and Dance from Washington University in St. Louis. After graduating, Elissa attended the Ailey School in NYC before embarking on her professional dance career. Elissa comes to The Sustainable Innovation MBA from Lululemon where she channeled her natural curiosity and knack for visual storytelling into management and visual merchandising roles. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

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

I chose this program for its welcoming, collaborative environment and because I wanted learn the questions to ask and tools to use to make business better. I also love knowing that I will be back out in the world in less than a year, better equipped to make a difference!

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

So far my favorite element of the program has been the quality and array of guest speakers. There is an incredible network of sustainability and business professionals around this program, and being able to connect with them has been extremely valuable to all of us.

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

1) This program fosters an intimate and collaborative environment to learn and work in

2) Days fill up quickly and there are numerous opportunities to take advantage of outside of the classroom so you need to prioritize what you are most interested in and curious about

3) This program is situated in an amazing city so no matter how much work you have, make sure to make time to get out of the classroom and explore!

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

I feel so fortunate to be surrounded by my amazing cohort everyday. I know the relationships I am building will be lasting and I cannot wait to see what we all get up to after the program.

A Conversation with Our International Students

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

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

Esteban – Costa Rica

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

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

Noelle – Zambia

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

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

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

Bhargavi – India

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

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

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

Alexa – Canada

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Torsten Dworshak

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

2. Always be ready for opportunity.

3. After you remember to breathe, breathe again.

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

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

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

Anything else you’d like people to know?

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

Getting to Know the Class of 2019: Esteban Echeverria

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

How has The Sustainable Innovation MBA benefitted you so far?

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

Anything else you’d like people to know?

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