Keeping PACE with Larry Ettner

by Lindsay Lennon,

One of the signature programs at Willamette University MBA celebrates milestone.

By the end of the 2016–17 academic year, Larry Ettner will have guided his 100th PACE team through their consulting project.

Ettner, professor of management practice at Atkinson, has been leading the experiential Practical Application for Careers and Enterprises (PACE) program for nearly a decade. Throughout that time, significant evolution has occurred both in terms of the organization and operation of PACE, as well as the MBA candidates who have passed through.


A more intimate and efficient PACE program

Larry-Ettner-with-students

Ettner recalls when he first joined Atkinson, PACE teams were larger — so he decided that paring them down to 12 groups of six or seven, as opposed to eight larger groups, would be more productive, “more intimate” and more reflective of the size of real-world project teams.

This increased the complexity of managing these teams, leading Ettner to make the case for assigning a specially selected teaching assistant (TA) who has already been through the PACE program to each group. With international students comprising around 35 percent of the student population, says Ettner, he also arranged for the hiring of an international TA to offer expertise not just in the dynamics of working with clients, but also in the often challenging process of assimilating to U.S. management culture.

Impact with international reach

The PACE program provides its participants with concrete experiential learning opportunities, while also providing an expanding list of public and nonprofit clients with valuable consulting services over the years — many of them several times over.

Since the Early Career and Career Change MBA program at Atkinson covers for-profit, not-for-profit and government/public organizations, PACE covers all bases. The first semester consulting project serves as many candidates’ “first entrée into the not-for-profit and public organization area,” says Ettner, while the second semester crosses into the for-profit arena as students formulate and present plans for new business ventures.

“I try to find projects that really add value to the client, but have very strong learning objectives for the students that they feel a sense of contribution,” says Ettner, who frequently taps into his nationwide connections to link students with meaningful projects both domestic and abroad.

Several PACE teams have completed projects for the not-for-profit Chicago Children’s Advocacy Center for child abuse prevention. Closer to home, students have worked on economic modeling projects for renewable energy systems with Emerald People’s Utility District in Eugene.

Other memorable projects include:

  • Working with the Cherokee Nation on various business proposals, which is “a valuable learning experience because you’re dealing with a sovereign nation,” says Ettner;
  • Consulting with the Imani Project in rural Kenya to develop HIV/AIDS health education programs; and,
  • Collaborating with Mercy Corps, one of the largest humanitarian relief agencies in the world, on a project based in Afghanistan.

On Ettner’s office walls hang posters commemorating the successful projects completed with PACE, and another one goes up each year. He enjoys giving students a visual representation of the many achievements of past PACE participants, and perhaps reinforcing their sense of purpose in the program.

“It’s a nice, gentle reminder that they’re part of something bigger in terms of their contribution,” says Ettner.

Lindsay Lennon is a freelance writer and content marketing specialist.