Willamette MBA program sets stage for promising career

by Tom Morlan,

Emily Anderson MBA’20 used her educational experience as a springboard to a job with one of the nation’s top accounting firms.

  • emily anderson on campus

She’s evaluated the investment potential of startups, consulted for businesses and nonprofits, and served as a staff writer for the Atkinson Graduate School of Management — all before earning her MBA. Meet Emily Anderson, who’s graduating on Sunday.

When Anderson moves on to her new job with CliftonLarsonAllen, the eighth-largest accounting firm in the country, she’ll look back on her time at Willamette as a pivotal moment in her professional development.

“Sometimes you can get an education that doesn't quite match the job market, but the education I got in the MBA program was spot on,” Anderson said. “All those experiences added up to securing a job where I can do the kind of work I enjoy.”

Getting down to business

Anderson got her first taste of the business world at Gonzaga University. While she was earning a bachelor’s degree in international/global studies, she minored in French and business and had an opportunity to intern for some local nonprofits.

After graduating in 2017, she set her sights on an MBA with a focus on human resources. She wanted to gain some professional experience first, so she took a year off from her educational pursuits and landed a job with Foster Pepper PLLC (now Foster Garvey PC), a law firm based in her hometown of Seattle.

She explored business schools while she was honing her skills as an HR coordinator, and she appreciated the sense of community at Willamette from the moment she set foot on campus. “When I went on a tour, I noticed there were a lot of personal connections,” Anderson said. “I liked the people in the admission office, and I liked the students I met.”

She fully intended to pursue a career in human resources when she arrived at the Atkinson Graduate School of Management in the fall of 2018. But her professional goals changed when she took her first accounting class.

“The wonderful thing about the MBA program at Willamette is that people will tell you what you’re good at and what you’re not good at,” Anderson said. “I quickly learned that accounting is what I’m good at and what I like to do, so it seemed like a natural fit.”

Making the most of her talents

Anderson would go on to serve as president of the Atkinson Accounting Association and a member of the Atkinson Consulting Association, but she’s not just a number cruncher. As a staff writer for the MBA program, she’s featured students and alumni in monthly newsletters and on the university website. She’s also written numerous blog posts and crafted content for Atkinson’s social channels.

Along the way, she’s gained incredibly valuable real-world experience in two of Willamette’s signature programs: the Angel Fund and PACE (Practical Application for Careers and Enterprises).

The Angel Fund, the nation’s first student-run investment program, gives students a chance to evaluate the investment potential of startups as members of regional angel groups. The Angel Fund typically invests $50,000 in one or two startups annually.

Two Willamette students are assigned to one of 10 to 12 angel groups on the West Coast. Sitting alongside business leaders, executives and investors, they listen to pitches from representatives of emerging companies. After a series of monthly meetings, the students return to class to share their findings, perform due diligence and decide as a group which startup to fund.

Anderson attended monthly meetings at Element 8, an angel investing group that funds emerging cleantech enterprises. Although the class ultimately decided to invest in a medtech company, Anderson said the experience was eye-opening.

“Before I took that class, I didn’t realize the upside of startups,” she said. “In the future, I might want to start a fund so people can invest in a portfolio of startups to spread the risk.”

In PACE, Anderson served as a consultant for Ride Connection, a Portland-based nonprofit that provides transportation for seniors, people with disabilities and others with limited options. Focusing on operational efficiency, Anderson examined the process for onboarding volunteers and reduced the number of steps from 36 to 24.

“There are so many people who need those rides, and Ride Connection is the only organization in the area that provides that service,” she said. “I think it's so good that Willamette doesn't just focus on for-profit businesses, because not-for-profits are so important to the community.”

Launching a new career

Anderson can’t wait to start her new job. She’ll be based in CliftonLarsonAllen’s Bellevue office, and she’ll be working as an auditor for hospitals and other nonprofits. She’ll also serve clients who need help with their taxes.

Anderson said Willamette was the ideal training ground for her new position. “I gained so much not-for-profit experience through PACE, and then I learned a variety of skills through my accounting courses that I was able to combine into this new focus,” Anderson said. 

And because Willamette’s MBA program emphasizes cooperation instead of competition, Anderson was able to make the most of her potential as a student and young professional.

“Reducing that level of competition makes learning a lot easier, because you’re not so worried about what the person next to you is doing,” she said. “Instead, you can learn from them — and Willamette really facilitates that level of teamwork.”

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