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From Humanitarian Work To An MBA: How My Non-Traditional Background Is Helping Me Succeed

Rachel Curtis spent four years working in nonprofits before her MBA at Arizona State University's W. P. Carey

As business schools strive to become more diverse, it’s more important than ever for schools to attract students from non-traditional backgrounds into their MBA programs. 

At Arizona State University’s W. P. Carey School of Business, they’re encouraging students from a wide variety of backgrounds to pursue an MBA through their ‘Forward Focus’ initiative. 

In the Forward Focus MBA, every student receives a scholarship, and the program itself has seven diverse concentrations and four specializations, allowing students to continue their pre-MBA career path or for non-traditional students to learn a wealth of information in a new subject area.

Since starting the Forward Focus initiative in 2016, the MBA program saw an immediate increase in the diversity of the program. Of the 2016 cohort, 25% of admitted students came from non-traditional backgrounds.

From nonprofits to b-school

Rachel Curtis was one of these non-traditional students that started on the MBA in September 2016. 

She had spent the two years prior to starting her MBA working for International Rescue Committee, a global humanitarian aid nonprofit, as an anti-trafficking case manager. During her time there, she helped provide social services to more than 80 victims of labor or sex trafficking. 

In other nonprofit experience, she has led humanitarian trips to Ecuador and Fiji, and volunteered in a neonatal unit in a hospital in Jerusalem. 

In all her nonprofit work, while Rachel found she was making a difference, she knew that having specialized business knowledge could help her go further in the sector.

“I saw a major gap in the efficiency and effectiveness of operations, and wanted to learn technical and tactical skills to improve those inefficiencies,” Rachel explains. 

“I believe that if we don't involve the private sector in international development initiatives, we won't make sustainable progress.”

And it was in the unique Forward Focus program at W. P. Carey School of Business that she felt she could build upon her nonprofit experience.

“I wanted to go to a school that I knew would provide a personal graduate experience,” she says. “My personal values of inclusion, and serving the community in which I live, aligned with the mission of ASU and W. P. Carey.” 

While the preconception might be that non-traditional backgrounds don’t align with a business classroom, Rachel says she’s been able to succeed in her MBA because of her unique background.  

“I remember one specific incidence working with a team on a case study,” she recalls, “and I brought up the human element to the problem.

“This, combined with the technical recommendation, helped us come up with the correct solution to the problem at hand.”

Ultimately, it’s these ‘soft skills,’ developed extensively in the non-business world, can be just as important in an MBA. 

“I've found that the skills necessary when working directly with clients in non-profit work are just as necessary when tackling problems in the business world,” Rachel says.

Thanks to her MBA, Rachel has secured a position at the US Department of State in the Office of Global Partnerships, where she can apply her nonprofit experience in working with public-private partnerships (PPPs). 

“My ability to work in PPPs wouldn't be possible without the knowledge that an MBA has taught me,” Rachel affirms. “I also know that if I return to the nonprofit sector, I hope to do so in a management position. The technical skills learned during my MBA at W. P. Carey School of Business will be crucial to be an effective leader.” 

Student Reviews

W. P. Carey School of Business - Arizona State University





Hands on Experience, labs

I love that that this school is known all over the world and the education is of high quality. It's been recognized by U.S. News & World Report as No. 1 for best online bachelor's in business programs




On Campus

Amazing Start to Your Career in Social Sciences

I had a great experience at ASU as a Political Science student. ASU is one of the biggest universities in the U.S., offering a wide range of studies. The student body was diverse and overall great to study with. ASU is rich in both academics and student life. There are many clubs, student organizations, amenities, and activities you can join. One thing I would recommend is invest in a lot of sunscreen and good walking shoes. Due to it's large campus you'll be doing a lot of walking which is great but can be a bit of a struggle during the very hot summer months.





Great MSW program!

Arizona State University has an amazing online Master of Social Work Program. Even though it was an online program, I feel that I developed great connections with professors, co-instructors, and peers. Finding an internship placement was stress free because of the high level of support the program offered. I would definitely choose to go back to ASU if I decided to further my education in future.




On Campus

Long lasting friendships

I have been able to have incredible experiences and make connections that will live long in my memory. I've had the chance to start my career here in a way I never thought I would. I love how the university lets you choose your major and minor and take classes with a lot of freedom.





Continuous Support

Opinion Arizona State University has many great opportunities available to students. All of the departments are very helpful and really care about student's succeeding. What's there to like? One think I like about ASU is their Education program. They really ensure that students will receive useful information that is directly applicable to their career. One thing I dislike is, nothing! It is a high ranking university but one notable thing is that the school is located in Arizona; where temperatures reach well over 100° throughout the entire Summer. Would I reccomend ASU? I would certainly reccomend Arizona State University for any students who are looking to learn and gain meaningful experiences throughout finishing school.




On Campus

Arizona State University

ASU is a wonderful university with so many educational opportunities. Its professors are friendly and approachable and were always willing to help or give advice to students whenever their help was needed. It also provided students with many opportunities to meet people outside the classroom for example clubs and other social events hosted within the university. ASU offers great education and I loved the campus and faculty





Practical Lecturing

The amazing features about Arizona State University would not allow me to write less when it comes to recommending the second to none university to the public! Life on Arizona State University campus is an intriguing possibility! Here is where dreams are realized due to the immense support from lecturers academically as well as fascinating large lecture halls with modernized appliance that makes learning easier. Goals are realized with ease as students who need support are given chances





University program

The university offers a lot of options for students, particularly in terms of integration and extracurricular activities including involvement in several student organizations. However, I am dissatisfied with the quality of the information offered and the degree of practice skills needed for success in a professional position. Fantastic university location





ASU infrastructures

Without a doubt, I would suggest this university. There is a highly educated personnel with an exceptional commitment toward teaching. The highly developed infrastructure and technology is another significant plus.

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