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MBA-P students learn how to advocate for issues with elected officials

by Linda Lenhoff,

Legislative testimonies group

Students in the MBA for Professionals program learn that forming a relationship between business and government is key to a successful career — and they get a chance to practice doing just that at Willamette.

In the course Politics and Public Policy for Managers, MBA students prepare mock legislative testimonials, arguing for a business concern that interests them in front of elected legislators. Practice, the program believes, makes perfect.

Contributing Assistant Professor Brad Avakian leads the students in refining this relationship. “As politics has become increasingly divisive, businesses have found it more difficult to navigate the environments where policy decisions are made,” says Avakian. “It comes right down to testifying, to making sure you know what protocols are involved, what’s persuasive and what isn’t."

Students work on several projects throughout the semester, then testify in front of a committee of elected officials in Salem at the capitol, the city council or a county commission. Though Avakian says that the process can be challenging, it gives them a chance to practice in a safe learning environment, “so that someday, when it’s real, they’ll have done it,” he adds.  

MBA student Corban Riley MBA’23 highly values the experience he got presenting before a legislative body — and learning the tricks of the trade.

“It is not just a person getting up and talking off the cuff,” Riley said, adding that the testifier must choose his words carefully. “The committee can ask just about anything, so you really need to understand your issue from multiple angles." 

On more than one occasion, a legislator has been intrigued by a student’s testimony and adopted the issue, writing legislation on it. One student was even invited by a legislator to testify formally.

Avakian says he’s delighted to see a bridge built between Willamette and “the world of real elected officials. It’s been a good thing for both of us.”

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