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Willamette MBAs Go to Washington

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In the iconic final moments of Jefferson Smith’s (played by Jimmy Stewart) impassioned filibuster before congress in the film Mr. Smith Goes to Washington (1939), he reminds his colleagues of why it is important to fight for what is right, even the “lost causes.”

“… Because of just one, plain, simple rule: Love thy neighbor. And in this world today, full of hatred, a man who knows that one rule has a great trust. You know that rule, Mr. Paine, and I loved you for it, just as my father did. And you know that you fight for the lost causes harder than for any others …”

In many ways, the Willamette University motto, Not unto ourselves alone are we born, reflects Smith’s sentiment. Willamette graduates are encouraged to pursue meaningful work that positively impacts the world. They do well for themselves while doing good for others.

The Willamette MBA program’s tri sector emphasis, applying concepts that transcend the business, government and not-for-profit sectors, supports this overarching motto. Throughout the program and after graduation, Willamette MBA graduates seek opportunities where they can give back to the community while finding personal and professional success.

Two recent MBA graduates, Jessica Balsam and Joshua Beatty (both MBA’09), are doing just that. Their professional lives have brought them to Washington, DC, where they are taking on two of the world’s biggest issues — education and the environment.

Creating Access to International Education

It’s no secret that we live in an increasingly global society. However, the Institute of International Education (IIE) has been fostering international exchange for more than 90 years through the provision of education services, assisting threatened students and scholars, as well as managing fellowships and scholarships. In fact, in 1921, IIE worked with the U.S. government to create the student visa category. Today, IIE helps more than 20,000 people access higher education and study abroad each year.

Building on more than six years studying and working in Asia, the Middle East and South America, Joshua Beatty now oversees IIE’s six offices in Asia.

“My job allows me to work across cultures to improve the ability of the organization to further the mission of our program sponsors while simultaneously increasing access to higher and international education,” he explains.

The description of his newly created position at IIE “read like an MBA class list,” but required him to utilize his previous experience working in not-for-profit management. 

As a manager, he’s tapped into knowledge from his finance and accounting classes at Willamette to not only understand the numbers, but effectively present them to executives in his organization.

“My MBA taught me to look at problems and to find solutions in a more process-oriented and data-driven fashion,” he explains.

Renewing the Nation through Renewable Energy

After graduating with a degree in sociology, Jessica Balsam planned to continue on to earn her PhD However, her life took her in a different direction — to Willamette to earn her MBA.

“I was (and still am) interested in making a difference in the world and Willamette gave me the tools to understand problems facing organizations today, the framework to work effectively with organizations and the ability to create high-quality results,” she explains.

Balsam is now the marketing and communications lead for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Weatherization and Intergovernmental Program. In 2009, her office received $11.9 billion from the American Reinvestment and Recovery Act to support clean energy across the country. In her work she “gets to tell the success stories of this investment in clean energy technology.”

Like Beatty, Balsam’s position provides her with the opportunity to use her MBA skills learned at Willamette.

“I couldn’t do my job without my MBA,” she asserts. “Although the current focus of my job is on marketing and communications, I need to understand data sets to communicate messages to the public, know how to appropriately budget money to achieve program goals, work in teams, effectively lead groups of people to achieve measurable results and think strategically to maximize the impact of funds invested in the public sector.”

Living “The D.C.” Life

In recent years, Willamette graduates have expressed a renewed interest in living and working in Washington, D.C. post-MBA. Jobs in both the public and not-for-profit sectors require a broader understanding of management where recent graduates can flex their MBA muscles across functional and departmental lines.

It is an opportunity both Beatty and Balsam say contributes to the overall good.

“Come to D.C. to apply your MBA skills at improving the operations and efficiency of organizations,” Beatty explains. “You will help make donor and tax-payer dollars go further and make an impact on a national or even global level!”

“The District,” as it is often referred to, also offers a quality of life that supports its reputation as an international and cultural community.

“At its heart, D.C. is a political city and that vibe permeates much of its culture,” Balsam notes. “There is never a dull moment with the museums, restaurants and sports teams and there are truly people from every walk of life on the streets every day.”

Beatty agrees that in the city “you have the chance to meet and interact with people from everywhere in the world.”

Though Beatty lived in D.C. before he started his MBA, it was a new experience for Balsam. “Being from Western Montana and then spending eight years in Oregon, D.C. is the largest city in which I’ve lived and I feel extraordinarily lucky to call it home,” she explains.

For students interested in pursuing their passions in the nation’s capital, both Balsam and Beatty offer advice drawn from personal experience.

“Washington, D.C. has a high concentration of national and global not-for-profits, and is of course the seat of the federal government,” Beatty explains.  “There are organizations and government departments that focus on just about every issue a person could be interested in.”

Balsam agrees, “Find something to get you to D.C. My first job was not ideal but it got me to the city and allowed me to make connections. Within a year, I was working in a job I loved and I have now moved into new positions two additional times.”

Looking to the Future

Just a few years after completing their degrees, these two Willamette MBAs are taking Washington — and the world — by storm. Even with this success, they are continually thinking about the future.

“Whether it is with the federal government, a not-for-profit organization or a private company, I plan to stay in the clean energy sector,” Balsam explains. “The deployment of clean energy technologies stands to serve as a model of generating long-term value for organizations while still achieving short-term results. My goal is to institutionalize this concept in the organizations with which I work and make a sustained impact on the future of energy in the United States.”

Beatty adds:  “I look forward to using what I learned in Willamette’s MBA program to improve my organization’s ability to make sponsor dollars go farther; simultaneously increasing access to international and higher education globally.” 

No matter where these two MBA graduates ultimately end up, the work they are doing now is making a tremendous impact on their organizations, and society in general. It’s a great example of living Willamette’s motto and representing the ideals that Mr. Smith would be proud of.

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