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 Our Faculty: Rick G. Vanden Bergh

Dr. Vanden Bergh came to UVM in the fall of 2000 after graduating from the University of California at Berkeley with a Ph.D. in Business and Public Policy and an MBA. Prior to academia, he worked in banking in Colorado, Los Angeles and San Francisco. Dr. Vanden Bergh’s areas of research include: firm strategy in the political environment and the effects of political institutions on business investment. For the past several years Dr. Vanden Bergh has been exploring issues in the energy sector including an exploration of how the political environment affects investment in renewable energy. Dr. Vanden Bergh was instrumental in designing the new Sustainable Innovation MBA curriculum. He teaches two courses for the Sustainable Innovation MBA program including a course on Business Sustainability & Public Policy.

What do you enjoy about teaching in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

The diversity of backgrounds of the students really contributes to engaging conversations in class.

What surprises you the most about the students?

Each year, I am surprised again by the student’s level of passion for solving super challenging problems. I think this level passion helps students to manage the intensity of the SI-MBA program and to maintain energy throughout the year.

While there’s a great deal to learn in your course, what’s the single biggest idea or concept you hope students take away to use in their business careers?

Think deeply about choices. Important business and/or public policy decisions involve both benefits and costs, and to fully understand these requires careful analysis.

What’s your media diet like lately? What are you reading, listening to, streaming, or watching?

I just finished reading Becoming Nicole by Amy Nutt and am reading two other books, Deep Work by Cal Newport and The Third Pillar by Raghuram Rajan. These days, two of my favorite podcasts are “Stay Tuned” with Preet Bharara and “After Hours” with Youngme Moon, Mihir Desai and Felix Oberholzer-Gee.

What do you do for fun when you’re not in the classroom?

When the snow flies, I ski (nordic and alpine) and snow shoe. Other times of the year, I like hiking, mountain biking and gravel-road biking. For passive viewing entertainment, I love to watch premier league and champions league soccer.

Anything else?

Be humble about your views/opinions and be open to hearing and understanding alternative perspectives. I find my own thinking is not well developed unless I can explain the argument of a person with a different perspective.

Alumni in Review: Jenny Kalanges ’16

Jenny Kalanges is a member of the Class of 2016. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Jennifer Kalanges

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I am the Director of Sales for Ursa Major, a skin and body care company focused on authentic, healthy products made sustainably.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

Before The Sustainable Innovation MBA, I had worked in management in small, mission-driven businesses. I chose this program because I felt I needed a toolkit to take my career in leadership to the next level and create real impact in the growing world of sustainability. I loved that it was an intensive one-year program where I could really sink my teeth in and then quickly apply those skills to real world experiences.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

The connections I made with other members of the cohort, professors, and alumni — those have proved invaluable since completing the program and certainly buoyed me throughout the year of study.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

I’m currently heading an internal sustainability task force within Ursa Major, which is really exciting. The skills I learned around transformational leadership will always provide an incredible backbone to my career.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

If you are looking for a skillset that will will help develop you as an innovator or “intrapreneur,” this is a great program to consider. The global business world is looking to change agents like our grads, so the opportunities to apply these skills are endless. I’m always happy to share more with prospective students!

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!

Alumni in Review: Bharagavi Mantravadi ’19

Bharagavi Mantravadi is a member of the Class of 2019. Connect with Bharagavi on LinkedIn.

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I am currently a Research Associate in the Indian School of Business in Hyderabad, India.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I was an IT consultant before joining the program and was really interested in how sustainability is ingrained in each and every course.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

Our professors were really accessible, and the classroom experience was amazing.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

Emerging markets is definitely my area of interest. I am applying my knowledge that I gained during The Sustainable Innovation MBA program in the research that I am doing today in “sustainability in family businesses” in India.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

It’s a great program with global outreach. The professors are amazing and very helpful. I would strongly recommend this program anyone who has an interest in solving complex problems of the world.

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 Our Faculty: Dita Sharma

Dr. Pramodita (Dita) Sharma, Ph.D. (University of Calgary) is the Sanders Chair & Professor of Family Business at the Grossman School of Business, University of Vermont. She holds an honorary doctorate from the University of Witten/Herdecke in Germany. Her research on succession processes, governance, innovation, next generation commitment and entrepreneurial leadership in sustainable family enterprises has been honored with several international awards. Editor of the highly ranked Family Business Review, she is amongst the most frequently cited scholars in family business studies. She teaches Entrepreneurial Family Business in the MBA program.

What do you enjoy about teaching in The Sustainable Innovation MBA program?

The passion of students to launch and work in a mission-focused company, making our world a better place to live in.

What surprises you the most about the students?

Because of the nature of student who gets attracted to this program, their responses to family business dilemmas are uniquely different from what I hear from other students at UVM or beyond.

While there’s a great deal to learn in your course, what’s the single biggest idea or concept you hope students take away to use in their business careers?

What’s my “A” (assumption)? Everything we write, say or think has at least one underlying assumption. Making it a habit to ask and answer this question, shortens the pathway to have an impact in life and career.

For any organization, look for its founding mission, evolution, and who controls the ownership — management/governance now (that is, in whose hands is the remote control). That clarity can help to connect with them as humans and having an influence without authority.

What’s your media diet like lately? What are you reading, listening to, streaming, or watching?

The Origin of Species.

What do you do for fun when you’re not in the classroom?

Walk, hike, yoga.

Alumni in Review: Kaitlin Sampson ’18

Kaitlin Sampson is a member of the Class of 2018. Connect with her on LinkedIn.

Where are you currently working, and what is your role?

I’m a Communications & Programs Associate at the Sustainable Food Lab.

Why did you choose to attend The Sustainable Innovation MBA program? What were you doing before?

I worked in the hospitality industry and was looking for a career pivot that focused on sustainability and allowed me to use my skills for a good cause.

What was your favorite part about the MBA program experience?

The curriculum and the vast network that The Sustainable Innovation MBA provides.

How are you applying the tools/skills you learned in the program, post-MBA?

The Food Lab was created by systems thinkers so I feel very fortunate to work with others to think about agricultural production in a system everyday. One of my recent projects has been collaborating with cocoa farmers to increase incomes through women-led diversification. Having base-of-the-pyramid experience from The Sustainable Innovation MBA has been very helpful.

What would you tell someone who is considering The Sustainable Innovation MBA?

That the program has a lot of diversity and a wide network which will allow you to explore different interests. Within just a year you’ll learn a lot about yourself and you’ll come away with concrete skills.

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.

Sustainable Innovation MBA Students Strike for Climate Change

This post was written by Jackson Berman ‘20

On Friday, September 20, 2019, MBA students from UVM’s Sustainable Innovation MBA Class of 2020 joined forces with youth activists, students, and workers around the world to demand a just future free from fossil fuels. These global strikes are happening before the UN Climate Action Summit next week – our goal is to put pressure not just on politicians, but people from all generations. Climate change is a moral issue, it’s happening now, and we have an opportunity to take action.

Students from the Class of 2020 at the Burlington, VT Climate Strike on September 20, 2019.

Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Amazon will all be participating in strikes across the country. Locally in Burlington, SI-MBA students followed in the footsteps of Burton Snowboards, Ben & Jerry’s, Seventh Generation, and environmentally focused non-profits such as 350 Burlington, VPIRG, Climate Disobedience Center, and Sunrise Movement.

Students from the Class of 2020 at the Burlington, VT Climate Strike on September 20, 2019.

We as the Sustainable-Innovation MBA Class of 2020 have also teamed up with some inspiring alumni to march for climate justice! I talked with Brodie O’Brien ’14 and now Digital Marketing Manager at Ben & Jerry’s.

“Here at Ben & Jerry’s, we see our opportunity as providing people with an onramp first-step into engaging in large-scale issues that may feel insurmountable. Climate change is a big, scary topic that’s too big for one person to address alone: we think that the power of collective action can change the system. That’s why we’re here at the Burlington Climate Strike scooping today – we want to celebrate our fans who are already involved with Climate Action, and provide a fun way for new people to get excited about creating real collective positive change.” Brodie also noted that “we use our digital channels to raise awareness of movements amongst fans, it goes beyond just showing up physically at events.”

Brodie O’Brien ’15 (right), Digital Marketing Manager at Ben & Jerry’s

Climate change is truly a world crisis: we have an obligation to create sustainable business solutions that meet the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.