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.

Staying the Course: Coping with MBA Program Bandwidth Overload

This post was written by Chris Bortree ’19

Just about anyone can relate to how complex the human brain is. With nearly 8 billion people on the planet, it is easy to see how the human brain contributes to different values, beliefs, emotions, and actions. The adult human brain weighs somewhere around three pounds, has around 100 billion neurons, and contains roughly 100,000 miles of blood vessels.

Despite these amazing numbers, almost everyone has experienced a time when our brain seems small; incapable of remembering simple things, and incapable of performing simple tasks. This happens to almost everyone, including the brilliant minds of UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA students.

On a surface level, what is happening is actually quite simple. Think of the term bandwidth. Most people associate this with internet and computer power. It is the transmission capacity of a computer network or other telecommunication system. During the Holiday season this year, most of my family and my wife’s family were all staying in the same house for a few days. Of course, our internet seemingly quit on us, allowing only very slow connections and usage. In simple terms, the bandwidth capacity was not great enough to serve the needs of everyone’s devices and the tasks they wished to perform online.

It turns out, the brain works in a very similar way. The human brain has a “bandwidth”; a total capacity being used to deal with different situations. As one needs to remember more and more things, the available bandwidth shrinks, until there is little left to work with. To The Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort, this is known as “the end of module 2”, or the few weeks leading up to winter break.

Students are close to completing over a dozen classes since the end of August, and are trying to tie everything together for final exams, presentations, and papers. This is when abnormal things start happening at home, like putting potato chips in the fridge, forgetting to register your car, and forgetting to set up a dog walker (yes, I did all of that…).

Much like the internet, as my brain was stuffed with more and more it began give less bandwidth to each item to make room. As finals grew nearer, I struggled to remember simple but important things. It is not a new phenomenon, but a fascinating one. Getting caught up in this cycle is easy, but getting back out takes real concentration and effort. Writing down everything you need to do in a calendar, immediately as it comes to mind, is a great start. However, this can still lead to procrastination and bandwidth overload. It had been months since I had last practiced mediation on a regular basis. As I thought about the importance of getting back to meditating, something came to mind that served to be extremely valuable. Our mind is built to think, and that is what it does naturally. This is of course a good thing, until it becomes overwhelming. One of the keys to breathing meditation is to honor the exact moment when you realize your mind is wandering. Anyone who has tried a little breathing meditation will know just how hard it is to purely concentrate on breathing, and not let you mind think about anything else. The most important thing to remember is keeping your concentration on your breath is the goal, but forcing your mind to do it will result in failure. What will help you reach the goal is training yourself to catch your mind wandering, and reward yourself for coming to that realization. In this way, you will train your mind to become conscious of the moment when it begins to wander in direction that is not intended or useful. This practice alone greatly enhanced my ability to stay concentrated on important issues, and allow my mind to realize the moment when it is becoming overwhelmed.

As our program Director Joe Fusco mentions in regard to flying an airplane, the best course of action is small corrections early on. I believe the same is true for our minds. Catching yourself early on will allow you to maintain a better course, and land safely. Otherwise, you may end up realizing you have one week of class left with three papers, three presentations, two exams, and a household to run, without having prepared for any of it. At this point, it’s almost too late, and chances are a rough landing.

I highly recommend the book The Mind Illuminated, by John Yates. Even if meditation is not your style, it will bring forth some valuable skills to help cope with brain bandwidth overload. If nothing else, it may help you keep from having to eat cold, stale potato chips.

Photo by Alexei Scutari on Unsplash

“How Not To Be Stupid”

We’re going to link to this because it’s fascinating and, well, the consequences for business, and business leadership, are significant.

How Not To Be Stupid

Excerpt:

“It took me about a month, and I defined stupidity as overlooking or dismissing conspicuously crucial information. Right? It’s crucial information, like you better pay attention to it. It’s conspicuous, like it’s right in front of your nose and yet you either overlook it or you dismiss it. How not to be stupid, what are the causes of human error—and it took me a couple of months of research just to come up with data points, because most stupidity is ignored or swept under the rug. I studied instances of scientific stupidity and literary stupidity and military stupidity and every other kind of stupidity, as well as two domains that engineer stupidity.”

Read the whole thing, as they say…

Photo by Jack Hamilton on Unsplash

Gender Diversity in MBA Programs: Ahead of the Curve

This post was written by Julie Keck ’19

As part of the 2018-2019 cohort of University of Vermont’s Sustainable Innovation MBA program, I’m proud to sit in a classroom that has an abundance of women. Since its inception, the program has been ahead of the curve in this area. In Years 1- 3, the program busted through the revered 50-50 gender barrier in MBA programs. As the program has grown, the percentage of women in the program has decreased: last year’s graduating class had 47% female attendance, and as I mentioned before, my cohort has 41%.

Percent of Women in The Sustainable Innovation MBA Cohorts

2015 –  55%

2016 – 56%

2017 – 52%

2018 –  47%

2019 – 41%

Important Note: I do not have information on what gender identities alumni and my current co-hort self-report: my numbers are based on my visual identification of candidates based on their pictures on The Sustainable Innovation MBA website. My apologies to anyone I have misidentified.

Although the overall percentage of female candidates has decreased, The Sustainable Innovation MBA program is still over the national average for MBA programs. As reported in Financial Times earlier this year, the Graduate Management Admission Council found in 2016 that only 37% of applications to full-time two-year MBA programs were submitted by women globally. The number is better in the US (42%) than in Europe (36%) and Asia (32%.) The primary barrier to accepting MBA school offers reported by women globally was financial concerns; for men, the primary barrier reported was that they were waiting for other offers. (Financial Times, 2018).

If you take a look at who’s actually attending MBA programs currently, things are looking up, and The Sustainable Innovation MBA is definitely ahead of the curve. As of 2018, no MBA programs report achieving gender parity, but all of the top 10 schools they surveyed had at least 40% female attendance, with only four schools in the top 25 ranked schools dropping below 30% (Poets & Quants, 2018)

While the presence of women in an MBA program is a good start, whether or not they’re being given all of the tools they need to succeed after graduation is another thing. Research shows (The Wall Street Journal, 2018) that women in the workplace are judged more harshly for their mistakes than men, and they often have to choose between being liked and being respected, and business culture shifts in response to the #MeToo movement (Bloomberg, 2018) may make it even more difficult for business women to get the mentors and opportunities afforded to their male counterparts.

In order to adequately serve female students, forward-thinking MBA programs should include not only instruction and mentorship for female students to help them when they encounter bias and misogyny in the workplace, but make a concentrated effort to move away from male-majority teaching staffs and leadership. Also helpful: having open and honest in-class conversations about what it’s like to be a woman in the workplace; this isn’t only beneficial for women: it’s also useful for the men in the program looking to become great leaders to all they work with.

In order to better support each other and supplement ongoing conversations about gender and leadership, the women in the current Sustainable Innovation MBA cohort have banded together to share experience and resources during extracurricular meetings. They’ve also found support from female alumni, female Advisory Board Members, and female members of the program’s leadership. While we have had several female professors in the first semester, none are currently on the schedule for the second. Seeing reflections of yourself in the mentors you are exposed to is important in the development of ourselves as people and professionals – hopefully as the program grows, so will the numbers of its non-male professors and leaders.

One final note: gender diversity is far from the the only metric of diversity, and I would hope that all forward-thinking, sustainably-minded program are looking for ways to make their programs more accessible to and welcoming of students of color, queer students, non-binary, trans and other gender nonconforming students, students with differing abilities, and other effective minorities, especially since embracing diversity boosts performance (Forbes, 2018.) Here’s to the future cohorts of The Sustainable Innovation MBA that more accurately reflect the world that we live in and seek to lead.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Workin’ Nine to Five: Managing Your Schedule and Your Productivity

This post was written by Lauren Masters ’19

On Friday, November 30th it finally clicked. I need to stick to a standard 9-to-5 work schedule in order properly manage my time. Steve Gagner, the co-founder of 14th Star Brewery spoke to our Family Business class and told us there’s no such thing as not enough time in the day, just poor time management skills. Even though we have over 20 credits of classes, that’s only 20 hours a week spent in class. The rest of the 40 hours allocated for a standard work schedule can be spent studying, reading and completing assignments. Since the majority of our classes take place between 9 a.m. and 5 p.m., the time not spent in class can be used for completing classwork. That still allows me before 9 a.m. and after 5 p.m. to accomplish my personal daily goals. It wasn’t until Steve framed it in this way that it finally clicked.

It seems simple and cliché, which it is, but keeping a schedule and routine will make a world of difference and dramatically increase one’s productivity.

It has been almost two weeks since then and I can already see the difference of thinking in the 9-to-5 mentality. Even if we don’t have class until afternoon I open my computer or books at 9 and begin the workday. Or, if we only have morning classes I keep working until 5 in the evening. This alleviates so much stress and allows me to feel accomplished before dinner time. Before, I would feel so unproductive during the day because I would sleep in or hang out with my cat during prime work hours. When 7 pm rolled around I would be a stressed-out mess, not eat a proper dinner and cram until I was falling asleep over my computer. That routine is simply not sustainable. It seems simple and cliché, which it is, but keeping a schedule and routine will make a world of difference and dramatically increase one’s productivity.

With the semester coming to an end and reflecting back on the last few months I wish I figured this “routine thing” out earlier. Since this program is so accelerated it is hard to maintain any consistency, but keeping yourself on a schedule that works for you amongst all the chaos is critical. I am excited for some time off where I don’t need to keep a strict schedule, but now I know what I need to do when we return in January to hit the ground running.

Photo by Seth Macey on Unsplash

The Twelve Days of SIMBA*

Okay! Now that finals are over for Module 2, and the Class of 2019 has reached (almost!) the halfway point, it’s time to begin celebrating many things, including the upcoming holidays. Enjoy this lighthearted take on “The Twelve Days of Christmas” by Maggie Robinson ’19.  *Oh — by the way — SIMBA stands for The Sustainable Innovation MBA. We guess we’ll allow it…

On the first day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, Classmates that become family.

On the second day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me,
2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the third day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me,Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the fourth day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the fifth day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, Porter’s 5 Forces, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the sixth day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, 6 toolkit workshops, Porter’s 5 Forces, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the seventh day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, 7th gen speakers, 6 toolkit workshops, Porter’s 5 Forces, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the eighth day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, 8 weeks a module, 7th gen speakers, 6 toolkit workshops, Porter’s 5 Forces, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the ninth day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, 9 daily coffees, 8 weeks a module, 7th gen speakers, 6 toolkit workshops, Porter’s 5 Forces, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the tenth day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, 10 module teams, 9 daily coffees, 8 weeks a module, 7th gen speakers, 6 toolkit workshops, Porter’s 5 Forces, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the eleventh day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, 11 Office references, 10 module teams, 9 daily coffees, 8 weeks a module, 7th gen speakers, 6 toolkit workshops, Porter’s 5 Forces, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

On the twelfth day of SIMBA, my professors gave to me, 12 rewarding months, 11 Office references, 10 module teams, 9 daily coffees, 8 weeks a module, 7th gen speakers, 6 toolkit workshops, Porter’s 5 Forces, 4 intense modules, Fusco’s 3 part test, 2 Vermont Weddings, and Classmates that become family.

Photo by erin walker on Unsplash

How Business Can Support Refugees

This post was written by Ryan Forman ’19

All around the world, refugees are being demonized for various political reasons. There is overwhelming academic and professional research into how much value refugees are to society. Therefore, civil society cannot help them adjust to their new country alone, but business plays a role in supporting them as well. There are multiple ways in which business can help the current refugee situation, but this article is going to focus on two key methods.

The first way that business can help refugees is by investing in refugee-owned/founded businesses. Research shows that refugees are more likely to hire fellow refugees. Because of this investment, businesses can support more than just one refugee; they can help many others get hired as well. One example of an impact investment organization that specializes in investing in refugee-founded businesses is the Refugee Investment Network (RIN). The RIN works to help move private capital to investment in financing of companies that benefit both refugees and their host communities.

An additional way that business can help refugees is by advocating for them in the workforce. Advocating for refugees could be businesses partnering with both governmental and non-governmental organizations that will help individuals get the skills that they need to be more competitive in their local job market. Ernst & Young (EY) in Germany have gone above and beyond in how to support refugees. EY Germany states, “Through EY Cares, the team got funding for a language-learning app, developed by an employee of EY Germany. The team has also supported Kiron, a social start-up providing higher education to refugees, and it has launched a pilot internship program for 10 refugees across EY Germany.” There aren’t many examples of this in the United States, but there is a similar situation here in Burlington at Rhino Foods. Advocating for refugees could be looking at leveraging their past skills to hire them for similar roles in a business that they did in their former country. According to Rhino Foods, “The cultural diversity at Rhino exposes us to each other’s favorite foods, traditions, and life experiences.” Currently, refugees make up 37% of Rhino Food’s workforce.

In our Entrepreneurship class, my group has proposed creating an incubator that would help address both of these methods to help refugees. We think that an incubator, that supports both investment in refugee-owned businesses and partnerships to help refugees get the skills they need to become competitive in their local markets, is a needed organization. I would certainly like to see more organizations place such an emphasis on, as RIN has described, “the greatest social challenge of our time.” Refugees are a boon to the local economy, and it is time for business to empower them.

Photo by Perry Grone on Unsplash

Finding the Program’s Delicate Work-Life Harmony

EDITOR’S NOTE: As we approach the halfway point in the program’s intensive one-year experience, we’re publishing a number of student reflections on how found professional and personal balance over the last few months. This post was written by Tor Dworshak ’19

You can manage extracurriculars while in this program; just be sure you’ve got tact, a willingness to work at odd hours, and a vision of productivity.

While most incoming Sustainable Innovation MBA students were worried about academics or moving to a new city, my biggest concern was whether or not I would have the time for bike races. Maybe my priorities weren’t totally in order, but the drive to ensure that I made time to train and race my bike brought me some success in the program. On the first day of orientation, I had convinced myself I would be too busy to race, and that my focus needed to be on nothing but school. Being a bike racer though, I can be competitive at times, and decided that I would compete with myself to race as many times as I could between August and December. The thing standing in my way was fourteen courses. My only option was to create productivity strategies that forced me to stay far in advance of deadlines and deliverables.

There is no denying that this program keeps even the most astute students incredibly busy for the larger part of their waking hours. Case studies for breakfast, problem sets for lunch, research paper for dinner, and studying for dessert. The workload is predictable though. With some proper planning and forward thinking, assignments can be done far in advance, which offers the ability to take a day off for extracurricular activities.

Have a paper due on October 23? Why not force yourself ahead on it by scheduling a meeting with the teacher on October 2nd, at which point you’ll need to have some outline in progress. Two cases due on Wednesday plus a handful of readings on Thursday?  Forget about sleeping in on Sunday, get through as many of those as possible. Weekdays are busy no matter what, so the more you can lighten the load Monday to Friday, the more you can focus on larger deliverables during the week and get ahead on them. The ultimate goal is to avoid ever doing an assignment the night before it is due. This gives insulation in case something takes longer than expected, or you need a night to yourself. And just like that, you just freed up enough time to enjoy an extracurricular activity of your choosing!

And since I have been counting, I have raced nine times so far since the program started…

Photo by Angel Santos on Unsplash

Shake it Up

This post was written by Elissa Eggers ’19

“In a gentle way, you can shake the world.”

I first encountered this quote by Gandhi on Pinterest last fall, when I was beginning the grad school application process. I found it to be a comforting reminder that although my aspirations were large (telling people you want to save the planet can result in a lot of blank stares), I could find a way to make an impact on my own terms. While, I’ve never been a particularly loud or forceful person, I’ve never lacked conviction. Ultimately, I knew that because I would probably never be the person leading a protest or going door-to-door, I needed to find the avenue that best allowed me to use my interests and abilities to bring about change. This is what drew me to The Sustainable Innovation MBA. I knew it would hone my current skill-sets, provide me with the tools needed to make an impact, and expose me to avenues for change I didn’t yet know existed. In this regard, the program has most certainly not disappointed.

All of our choices have an impact. The key is figuring out in what ways, whether big or small, you can make an impact that is authentic to you.

In the mere 3 months (could it really have only be 3 months?) I’ve been in the program, I’ve met an incredible collection of human beings and been exposed to a plethora of new ideas and viewpoints. The real trick though, I’m learning, is remembering to look up and maintain perspective while trying to take in all this new information coming at you. This program is, without question, fast moving and its relentless pace can cause you to become stuck in the weeds as you focus on checking off the ever-growing collection of deliverables on your to-do list. I’ll admit, this has been me for the past few weeks. I’ve fallen down the rabbit-hole of cost models, business plans, and organizational behavior. However, my drive home from Burlington for the holidays mixed with the magic of Pinterest in periodically resurrecting old, previously viewed pins, provided me with some much-needed perspective.

My background is in retail management and I came into this program to learn more about how the product life cycle (specifically related to clothing) can become more circular as well as how to shift consumer behavior. With Black Friday and the holiday shopping season soundly upon us, I can’t think of better time to reground in why I started along this journey in the first place. What we buy matters, and how we use it can matter even more. All of our choices have an impact. The key is figuring out in what ways, whether big or small, you can make an impact that is authentic to you.

So, my question for you this holiday season and beyond, is how will you shake the world?

Photo by Fancycrave on Unsplash

The Role of Business in Combatting Homelessness

This post was written by Chris Hynes ’19

Homelessness is a topic that is rarely talked about as a major issue in the realm of business, but in the light of sustainable innovators, there is a major opportunity to make a difference in improving the homeless issue that is rising in America.

With the increasing gap in the distribution of economic wealth in the United State along with the increased cost of living, the poverty line is growing, which is putting the former lower middle-class families in extreme risk of becoming impoverished and economically unstable. If intervention is not taken soon, then there is a huge likelihood that the homeless population in America will increase.

Business has a unique opportunity to aid families and individuals that are suffering from homelessness and empower them in so many ways to move out of their current situation and into a more stable environment. In order to do this, businesses need to take a more social approach and become more socially conscious.

There needs to be more than simply non-profits helping marginalized individuals and families. Non-profits combat homelessness as much as they can, but finding employment opportunities for individuals whose barriers to entry into the workforce are much more skewed than the “normal person” who is applying for a job, is not only difficult, but in most areas, almost impossible. This is due to the fact that a lot of businesses are focused on economic success (which is needed), but lack a genuine social mission.

People generally think that public policy can fix this, but in reality, most government aid is focused on getting people suffering from homelessness off the streets and into housing as fast as possible. Think about it for a second — once a person leaves a homeless shelter and is gifted an apartment, bills begin to pile up. Without a job that is constant enough to provide economic stability, the individual has an extreme risk of falling right back out onto the street. This, in short, is an example of how cruel the poverty cycle is in America.

Now, if there were businesses that were focused on social well-being and provided an empowering job opportunity, then this cycle could be closer to being broken. Having a core competency around inclusive hiring will engage new stakeholders, as well as boost the overall impact that a business can have on a community.  I challenge everyone who is reading this to think more critically about the true impact that their business could be having on a social impact level.