MBA students trade classroom for boardroom

Introducing the Olin United Way Board Fellows Program

MBA students at Olin Business School will be spending less time in the classroom this fall and more time in the boardroom as part of an innovative new program geared to involve students with nonprofit agencies supported by the United Way of Greater St. Louis.

The Olin United Way Board Fellows Program is the result of a brainstorming session between Gary Dollar, president and CEO of the United Way of Greater St. Louis and Mahendra Gupta, PhD, dean and the Geraldine J. and Robert L. Virgil professor of management and accounting. The two were eager to find a mutually beneficial way for students and community groups to work together.

The program recruits second-year MBA students to serve as full-fledged board members at different agencies serving children and families in the St. Louis region.

Students are expected to participate and contribute as official members of the nonprofit boards. Cheryl D. Polk (EMBA ’09), executive vice president and chief strategy and engagement officer of United Way of Greater St. Louis is managing the program.

“This is not an internship,” Polk says. “The students are real working board members. They will bring new ideas to help advance each agency’s agenda and work on strengthening their strategic plans.”

The students had to apply for the board positions and underwent a vetting and interview process just like any candidate for a board seat. The candidates were elected and approved by their respective boards and will serve a one-year term that began in May 2010.

“Despite summer jobs or internships in other cities, many of the Olin Board Fellows have already started working on projects this summer,” Polk says. “One fellow even attended a board meeting on SKYPE (a video conferencing service via Internet).”

That was Meha Deve (MBA/MSW ’11) “SKYPE-ing” from Houston where she is interning at a nonprofit children’s center. Via e-mail, she writes, “I am also completing my Master of Social Work degree at Washington University, and I plan to get into nonprofit management and/or nonprofit consulting in the future. (The Board Fellows Program) has been a great opportunity so far, and I know it will provide invaluable experience that I can take into my professional life.”

Deve is serving on the board of Kids In The Middle, a support group and counseling service for children experiencing divorce.

Aaron Davidson (MBA ’11) is on the board of MindsEye Information Services, a radio service for the blind, and serves as a member of the board’s marketing committee. “I’ve put together a marketing strategy that will further develop the ‘brand’ of the service in an attempt to connect with the healthcare community in St. Louis,” Davidson says.

Steven Pedro (MBA ’11) is on the board of Almost Home, a transitional home for homeless teenage mothers and their children.

“I wanted an opportunity to assist the St. Louis community and to play a role in the first year of this program,” Pedro says. “The experience I get through the Board Fellow Program will give me skills and experiences that will help me serve in similar roles after graduation from Washington University.”

Pedro is on the strategic planning committee of the Almost Home board and working on a plan to develop Almost Home’s connection with the Missouri Department of Social Services.

United Way’s Polk says the agencies are enthusiastic about their new board members. “It’s a win-win situation,” she says. “The agency boards will benefit from the students’ business skills, and the students will get actual experience by participating at the executive level of an organization with the business leaders who help steer the course for these agencies.”

Student board fellows will present a final project to Olin faculty and agency leaders and receive course credit. Davidson already is convinced the experience will go far beyond the final grade.

“It has expanded my network beyond the companies that are recruiting MBAs, which I think is invaluable,” Davidson says. “Also, the entrepreneurial setting of a nonprofit has provided the opportunity to take strategies directly from the classroom and put them to use in the real world.

“As I go into interviews and future jobs, I can take that experience with me and have confidence in what I’ve learned and how I will apply it,” Davidson says.

Polk says the Board Fellows program will be evaluated after one year, and is hopeful it will expand and continue to strengthen ties between Olin business students and the community.

2010-2011 Olin United Way Board Fellows (all students are members of the MBA class of 2011)
Agency Student
Almost Home, Steven Pedro
Delta Gamma Center for Children with Visual Impairment, Marianne Frapwell
Good Shepherd Children & Family Services, Jonathan Kaufman
Jewish Family and Children’s Service, Carol Young
Kids In The Middle, Meha Dave
MindsEye Information Services, Aaron Davidson
Nursery Foundation of St. Louis, Jeff Burd
Center for Hearing and Speech, Francie Wasser