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Cross-disciplinary education key to sustainability leader’s success

by Shelly Strom,

As a sustainability program manager at tech giant HP, Shannon Lee, BA/MBA ‘21, recently received a promotion that’s positioned her to help drive healthy forestry practices. 

Shannon Lee, BA/MBA ‘21
Shannon Lee, BA/MBA ‘21

Lee credits her cross-disciplinary education within Atkinson Graduate School of Management at Willamette University as key to her success in the global sustainability leader.

“My MBA studies definitely prepared me to switch contexts (in terms of business operating units) and still have a strategic view, which is crucial in the work I do,” said Lee. She’s on a company-wide team that leads sustainability at HP.

“At Willamette, there was an emphasis on learning a bit of everything before going in-depth in one field,” Lee said.

And if it weren’t for a connection Lee made as a 12-year-old, she might not be making a difference the way she is today. Lee traces the inspiration to a 2010 documentary about the social structures of crows. “This documentary opened up my mind to the idea that humans are more than intertwined with nature, humans are a part of nature, and with this realization comes the duty to respect nature as we respect other humans and ourselves,” Lee said.

Fast forward to 2016, Lee had graduated high school and headed off to college. She was curious to learn more about biology, ecology and sustainability. “Soon after I got to Willamette, I remembered one of the scientists from that documentary who really inspired me — David Craig — was a professor of biology there,” she said.

“At the time, I was starstruck and really freaking out about the coincidence,” Lee said. She was introduced to Craig, went on group birding outings, and eventually landed on environmental sciences as her undergraduate major.

For her masters of business administration, Lee focused on economics of corporate sustainability, worked as a research assistant on corporate social responsibility research for Professor Emeritus of Marketing Elliot Maltz and began as an intern with HP in 2020.

“Companies have to balance making money with making money the right way, and Willamette University put me in a good position to speak to that. HP is doing a great job with sustainability and I am helping find ways to do it even better,” she said.

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