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MBA Students Are Exploring Careers With A Social Impact

At Fisher College of Business, social impact is built into the new MBA curriculum, with students given the opportunity to work with local nonprofits—inspiring careers in social impact


Fri Feb 15 2019

The nonprofit sphere is becoming an increasingly popular option for MBAs—according to QS, 7.3% of MBA applicants hoped to start a career in nonprofit or charity work, higher than those aiming for the pharmaceutical industry (4.2%) or real estate (5.5%).

The Full-Time MBA at The Ohio State University Max M. Fisher College of Business prioritizes a tight-knit, supportive community that gives students the chance to explore a variety of post-graduation career options, including in social impact. 

In Fisher's newly redesigned MBA curriculum, social impact has been given a core place in the program. Students are given the opportunity to experience working on the board of a nonprofit through the Fisher Board Fellows, and to apply their strategy skills to the nonprofit space in the Social Impact Challenge, a semester-long project where students get to assess a problem in a local nonprofit institution and present their solutions to the organization. 

And, whether you’re already working in the nonprofit sphere, or simply aspire to influence positive change, the MBA at Fisher provides the crucial skills needed to make a difference through integrated experiential learning opportunities. 

Just ask Erika Meschkat (pictured below). She graduated from the Full-Time MBA program at Fisher in 2016, and now works as a sustainability manager for the Office of Sustainability in Cleveland, Ohio.

“A lot of the projects I’ve worked on in Cleveland in the past year and a half have really been guided by my strategic skills,” Erika explains. “My MBA honed those skills and made me confident that I am a good strategy-setting person.”

Championing sustainability with an MBA

Erika completed her undergraduate degree in Sustainability in 2010, and before her MBA put her knowledge to work in a variety of causes including urban agriculture and vacant land reuse.

“After so many years doing that kind of work and trying to understand things like the food system, I realized that I was lacking kind of a cross-sector competency in business in the private sector,” she says. It was this realization that prompted her to pursue the Full-Time MBA at Fisher College of Business.

Thanks to the flexibility of the MBA program, Erika was able to pursue a customized major in sustainable and social enterprises, which allowed her to focus on what really mattered to her—social impact—while still pursuing traditional business classes.

“Being a newcomer to business and not understanding basic business concepts, I wanted breadth not depth in a program,” Erika explains. “But I also wanted to pivot and make the case that social enterprises are viable and inherently sustainable.”

As part of the MBA program at Fisher, Erika had the opportunity to consult for a local nonprofit in Columbus called Star House, a drop-in centre for homeless youth. "That was my first social enterprise deep dive,” she recalls.

Ultimately, it was Erika’s MBA from Ohio State's Fisher College of Business that made her stand out when applying for jobs in the sustainability space after graduating. “400 people applied for the position I ended up getting!” Erika admits. “An MBA does give you a certain level of credibility—I think it’s incredibly precious.”

While steps are being taken to introduce more business graduates to the world of nonprofit—and employment reports from Fisher show more students each year are entering the industry—Erika believes business schools do have the responsibility of initiating that change.

“If business schools don’t rise up and start attracting students interested in social impact, they’re going to be seen as institutions that can't age into the future,” Erika asserts.

“The Fisher MBA allows people to innovate a little bit, and I was able to thrive despite feeling a little uncomfortable in the business space.”

Leading educational change

Astrid Arca is “classically trained as an economist,” she says, and before her MBA had worked at the World Health Organization and the Ohio Office of Budget and Management. Ultimately, it was a passion for social change that led her to the MBA.

“Fisher and the State of Ohio wanted to create an MBA program that gave leaders from government offices a different set of tools and skills to go into schools that were underperforming in Ohio and help turn them around,” Astrid explains.

The initiative, BRIGHT, gave Astrid the chance to study an MBA over 12 months instead of the traditional two years, and gain the skills necessary to work in the local school system.

Since graduating, Astrid has applied these skills to start her own social impact consulting group, Cogent, which aims to help local organizations, schools, and local government in the Columbus area with strategy and analytic solutions. It was the MBA, she says, that made this possible.

“I thought I already had enough business sense from my economics background, but it was only after the MBA that I found that it was so easy to set up the consulting group,” she explains. “I’m definitely counting on the MBA education I got to grow my company.”

While in perhaps a different boat to other MBA students on the program, Astrid says in her experience she found Fisher to be an ideal place for students with an interest in social impact.

“Several of the faculty at Fisher College of Business are extremely passionate about using what they know to really make a difference, both locally in Columbus and more generally in the country,” Astrid says.  “They really instilled an urgency in us to go out and make a difference with the skills that we’ve got.”

Ultimately, Astrid agrees with Erika that formal experience in the social impact space, like that offered in the Full-Time MBA at Fisher College of Business, can make a big difference to nonprofits. “Social enterprises need your typical strategic direction and business plans, but also something more—they need a lot more leadership direction,” Astrid explains.

“At the start, I wouldn’t necessarily have thought that there was value in an MBA, but by the time I came out, I realized my toolbox was brimming with tools that I could use to make a difference."