By Melanie D.G. Kaplan

Practice makes perfect for students and the D.C. community

When Becca Brown (MBA ’12) offered her time during Carbon War Room’s Creating Climate Wealth Summit at Nationals Park in May 2011, she saw it as simply another piece of the career and education puzzle. Always looking for ways to further her education and build her network, Brown volunteered as a note-taker. It ended up being a much more important piece of the puzzle than she could have imagined.

At the conference, the Norwich, Vt., native met and spoke at length to the CEO of Applegate, one of the few food companies that she felt was doing the right thing in terms of sustainability. She ended up interning at the company part time during her final year at Georgetown and was hired full time as Applegate’s public affairs specialist this summer, after graduation.

“You feel so busy at school, it’s overwhelming,” says Brown, who will return to campus this fall to speak to a new class of MBA students about sustainability. “But making time for volunteering and networking is worth it. People think being active in the community means working at a soup kitchen. That’s great to do, but it’s also good to think outside the box and think about what interests you for your career.”

Washington has much to offer as a learning laboratory for business school students. There are opportunities in both the public and private sectors, it’s diverse in terms of people and businesses, and it features a vibrant community of entrepreneurs.

“Washington serves as a perfect location,” says Dean David A. Thomas, “given our emphasis on entrepreneurship, service to business and society, and focus on being a global business school. Washington is teeming with young entrepreneurial ventures, and there is no city that’s more global.”

Thanks to a number of clinics, volunteer organizations, campus consulting projects, and competitions, students at the McDonough School of Business have a unique opportunity to put their skills to the test while being of service in the nation’s capital.
“You start with very bright students who have been educated and influenced by some of the leading thinkers on issues confronting public- and private-sector organizations,” Thomas says. “You couple that with the energy that students often bring to these projects. And the organizations they work with receive a lot of value, because students bring these tremendous assets.” Students offering pro bono consulting services propose ideas for supply chain, finance, or marketing strategies that have ultimately made a difference in how participating companies operate.

Practicing in Washington as a lab also provides students a good way to see how the professional world operates. “The students get real-world experience and exposure,” Thomas says. “It allows them at low risk to test-drive whether a particular career path will be the right one for them.”

Opening Doors, One Bus at a Time
Earlier this year, students worked on solutions to a real business problem, through the inaugural MBA Innovation Case Competition, hosted by the Georgetown Technology, Innovation, and Design Graduate Association. The competition focused on how the Metrobus system could attract new riders and help them overcome their fears about routes, arrival times, and travel times.

The winning team found that more than half of Metrobus’ costs came from the time when the buses are idling (when passengers are getting on and off), so the team proposed adding back-door boarding. Using two doors would cut the idle time and allow the system to run the busiest routes with fewer buses. Further, they proposed using barcodes at the bus stops and on the bus; tech-savvy passengers could scan these bar codes with their smartphones to retrieve information on the location of the next bus or upcoming stops. These innovations would help quash the stigma of the bus being a primitive mode of transportation. In addition to speeding up service and increasing ridership ­exponentially, the team’s proposal — presented to Washington Metropolitan Area Transit Authority (WMATA) — included an annual savings of more than $40 million.

“It’s great for us to say that we made a difference,” says team captain Oz Tolon (MBA-EP ’14), who grew up in Istanbul and works in finance. (His teammates included a portfolio analyst, a consultant, and a transportation engineer.) “It’s good that Georgetown’s servicing the community, but it’s also positive that WMATA would like to work with Georgetown to get some new ideas for their systems.”

Alison Simon, WMATA’s director of customer research, says she was surprised that the student teams had really done their homework. “They had investigated us and thoroughly vetted us,” she says. “In a short amount of time, they came up with some ideas that were really very creative and innovative and got to the heart of what we were looking for.” Her previous perception of MBA students was that they were only stockbrokers and investment bankers, so she was also surprised that they were able to apply their skills to a real-world problem in the transportation industry. She says WMATA is looking at ways to pilot some of the suggestions from the winning team.

WMATA saved the heavy fees it would have paid for a professional consultant, and team members each received a $100 SmarTrip card. Of course, they were not in it for the reward, Tolon says. “Our goal was to change the world, have fun doing it, and save money for WMATA, in that order.”

Global Social Studies
Shilpa Chandran (BSBA ’15), from Sioux Falls, S.D., had a chance to get creative with a real nonprofit in her First Year Seminar last year. The class partnered with One Global Economy, a Washington-based organization that sets up Internet hubs in impoverished areas. The challenge was for each team to come up with ideas to improve the organization’s media plan. Chandran’s team, which won the challenge, suggested the client use more visuals and create a Web presence that looked less corporate.

“We looked at TOMS Shoes, which has one of the coolest Facebook pages I’ve ever seen,” Chandran says. TOMS is a California-based casual footwear company; for every pair it sells, a pair is donated. “It’s engaging, fun, and catchy. It is not a nonprofit, but it has a nonprofit persona that makes people want to get involved.”

Having grown up with social media, Chandran had ideas on how to use it effectively. The team recommended cutting the jargon and technical wording and replacing that with a narrative about a man, living in poverty in Chicago, who used the organization’s services to get a job. “We wanted them to capitalize on the stories to launch a more passionate campaign, which we felt they were lacking,” she says. Over the summer, while interning for a mortgage banking firm that has since hired her as a marketing and social media consultant, Chandran looked at One Global Economy’s Facebook page and found they had implemented some of her suggestions.

“It was cool that they actually listened to us,” she says about her recommendations being put to use. “It made me feel like I had the ability to really impact something, even though I’m only in college.”

Development in the District
Dmitry Terekhov (MBA ’13, C ’06) arrived at Georgetown McDonough to pursue his MBA as a career-switcher — he grew up in New York City and had been teaching middle school math in the South Bronx. “I envisioned consulting as a way I could use my interpersonal social skills and my quantitative skills,” he says. “I wanted to be involved with both the numbers and the people.” But he also believes you don’t really know how a job feels until you try it out.

Terekhov was selected this spring to work on a five-year economic development strategy for the District of Columbia. The mayor’s office asked deans of the local business schools to participate, in part because of the wealth of knowledge in D.C. and in part because of the cost savings. The initiative involves graduate business students from Georgetown, as well as from American, Howard, and George Washington universities, and is being led by Dean Thomas and the deans of the other schools, who are on the project’s Strategy Advisory Group. This effort represents an opportunity for Georgetown to be engaged with the city in a way that benefits the school as well.

“Given that I’m new to the D.C. area, this is a great introduction for me to the challenges in the city,” Thomas says. “It’s already allowed me to identify joint interests and think of ways that the school and the city can maximize the mutual benefits of working in the ‘D.C. laboratory.’ In addition to working together on this defined project, the next level of contribution is where we can work across schools to better our city.”

The project also includes leaders in several industry sectors — federal government, education and health care, hospitality, professional services, real estate and construction, retail, technology, and the public sector. This summer, students collected data from each of the sectors, focusing on their potential to drive economic and job development. The data students collected helped them create a proposed blueprint for the mayor’s economic development efforts.

Terekhov is one of 16 MBAs participating, five of whom are from Georgetown. He was assigned to the real estate sector and spent several weeks this summer interviewing dozens of construction and development company executives, looking at trends like the influx of young professionals into the city, and the movement out of the city once these same residents have kids. “I’ve never gone through a process where I had to interview people. I’ve been learning how to do that, and I’m able to leverage my skills now,” he says.

He says at first he didn’t realize how intensely he and his peers would be involved, especially in going out and meeting with the “big cheeses” of these real estate companies. He said it also was tricky to balance a “50,000-foot bird’s-eye view” of the situation — such as the status of Washington real estate today — with the nitty-gritty details he and other students collected. “Trying to navigate through both of these extremes was challenging,” he says. “You meet people who tell you about the big picture and where it should be going, but then you have to look at the numbers and what’s really going on in the sector.”

For example, Terekhov often heard that underused office buildings could be turned into mixed-use developments, maybe with a hotel and retail. Then the original tenant — for example, a federal agency — could move to a part of town that would benefit from having the new neighbor. “While this sounds good in theory, we need to look at the potential tax revenue stream that would arise from such a venture,” he says, “and whether it is worth the District using public money to incentivize such a development.”
Terekhov feels confident that the recommendations will make a difference for the city and that consulting is the right career path for him.

Collective Collaboration
Thomas says there are countless resources and skill sets among students at Georgetown, and the school plans to expand their role in Washington.

“We’re looking at new ways to marshal significant resources of the university and work across schools to better our city,” he says. “It could be a collaboration between the business school, medical school, nursing school, and Georgetown Public Policy Institute to consult with the city on issues, such as those around HIV-AIDS.” He sees this as the natural evolution of a program that benefits both the city and the students.

Whether it’s a schoolwide collaboration or an individual pursuit, there is no shortage of ways for students to affect their community. During school, Becca Brown made time to serve as vice president of community and sustainability for the Student Government Association and serve as a Board Fellow (through Net Impact) of the Sustainable Business Network of Washington, as well as Empower Generation, a position she still holds. She also volunteered at a GreenBiz conference that she heard about through the Energy Club and at the Dupont Circle Farmers Market. She says everything she did when she was in Washington positively affected her job search and enriched her education, all while strengthening her sense of community.

“In Washington, when people see you’re taking the time to volunteer for a cause they care about, they’ll introduce you to people,” Brown says. “It’s a great mentorship vibe, and it’s something special about D.C. I feel really lucky I got to go to school where those opportunities exist.”

Entrepreneurial Ed
In Jim Hunt’s Small Business Clinic, one of the biggest challenges for students is keeping their projects on track. As they help local businesses and nonprofits with issues ranging from marketing to financial to legal, they quickly grasp what professional consultants know all too well.

“A big thing they have to learn is how to control the direction of the project,” says Jim Hunt, an adjunct professor who runs the clinic. “A company might say, ‘We want you to solve world peace,’ and they say, ‘OK, we can’t do that, but let’s identify how we can be successful.’ Every consultant has to work to control scope. This is particularly true with the short duration of the course.”

Hunt, who has been teaching the clinic for six years, says many MBA students are interested in getting into consulting, and these projects allow them to test the waters. The students split into teams and take on five projects, providing tens of thousands of dollars’ worth of free consulting to D.C.-area organizations. Each course lasts only six weeks, so the problems tend to be small in scope. Last year, for example, one team worked with Washington Middle School for Girls, helping them create a plan using social media to develop a community of young donors. The school has since adopted practices proposed by the students. Other clients have included District CrossFit, The Washingtonian, and Capitol Deal, a Washington Post service.

This year, the program, renamed the Entrepreneurial Business Clinic, will triple in size to include three sections. Hunt, who has worked at Ernst & Young and PricewaterhouseCoopers, says this consulting experience gives students a leg up when they head out for interviews. “A lot of them want to get into consulting,” he says, “and these projects are a good precursor to what they might find at a big firm.”

To learn about the Small Business Clinic, contact Jim Hunt at (202) 687-8219 or

An Education for Educators
Shortly before D.C. Public Schools Chancellor Kaya Henderson (SFS ’92, EML ’07) was hired as deputy chancellor, she thought about options for furthering her education.

“I had long since stopped teaching, so a master’s in teaching didn’t make sense, and neither an MBA or a policy degree would meet my needs as an education professional,” she says. Her search for a degree that fit her career trajectory came up empty.
Her luck changed in 2007 when she began Georgetown’s Executive Master’s in Leadership, a yearlong program founded by management Professor Robert Bies in 2005. “The concept of leadership appealed to me,” she says. “The executive nature of the program fit my insane schedule, and I ended up in a cohort of amazing colleagues.”

The program so impressed Henderson that she has since worked with Bies to replicate it for some of the city’s top principals. A new partnership will offer a similar program to 25 elementary, middle, and high school principals.

“It’s a very complex world, being a principal,” Bies says. “And this school district is the most visible in the country.” He says the leadership training will help principals in a variety of ways, from sharpening persuasion skills to learning how to communicate with various stakeholders. “It will also help them deal with the issues of innovation and change happening in the city — issues that everyone faces, but not usually under the glare of annual test scores.”

Paul Almeida, senior associate dean of executive education, lauds the program’s efforts. “The office of Executive Education is proud to work with Chancellor Henderson and the D.C. Public Schools to offer the new Executive Master’s of Leadership for D.C. Public School principals,” he says. “This is an innovative program, and we know the principals will enjoy the experience and find it useful for their goal of making important changes to move the school system in the right direction.”

The program is scheduled to begin in January and will consist of meetings every other weekend — some on the Georgetown campus, some at D.C. schools — and three retreats. Henderson is confident that even shortly after the program begins, the participants will be able to lead their schools more effectively. “To reach the goals we’ve set for our students, we need to have leaders who are effective, are outcome-oriented, and can deliver on some pretty ambitious goals,” she says. “Unless my principals know how to be excellent leaders, we’re not going to be able to turn the school system around.”

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