How Washington University’s Olin Business School Propels Alums Forward

Joe Fox, associate dean and director of graduate programs at Washington University’s Olin Business School, has seen students take a wide variety of career paths upon completing a graduate business degree. “Students who pursue graduate programs in business have many different goals, but they are all undertaking a course of study to directly benefit their careers—whether they’re just starting out or trying to advance, change, or swerve.”

There are many potential roadblocks for students to overcome when pursuing a fulfilling career path: starting out without knowing the right course to take, leveling out mid-career and seeing little potential for growth, or needing to develop a new skill set for a career change, to name a few. Many Olin alums say they have been able to navigate career roadblocks because of their Olin experience, through things like the program’s small class sizes, personal relationships with professors and classmates, and the active alumni network.

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“As an Olin student, you’ve gotten to know every single person in your class by the first couple of weeks,” explains Fox. “In fact, you have a high likelihood of being friends and colleagues long-term, with Olin as your go-to network. That, in and of itself, is unique.” Fox, who abides by the principle that the better you know students, the better you can help them, says even 10 or 15 years after graduating, alums often return to the school with a list of faculty members to visit people with whom they’ve kept in touch since their days at Olin.

Fox recently spoke with alum Valerie Toothman (MBA ’08), who now works for Anheuser-Busch InBev as vice president of innovation. Fox reflected on how Toothman remembered all of her professors and talked about her personal link to the school almost a decade after graduation. “As graduates continue on into the professional world, they can ask former professors, ‘Do you have thoughts about this? Can you point me in the direction of some effective research?’ They can do that because they knew their professors well, and the professors know them as well. That’s a significant asset for graduate business students to have in their back pocket: highly qualified faculty members who they know well enough to tap,” says Fox.

Alum Allison Campbell (MBA ’16) currently works as an associate marketing manager for Walmart at the retail giant’s corporate headquarters in Bentonville, Arkansas. As an Olin student, Campbell had interned at Walmart with the responsibility of crafting an in-store strategy to elevate the customer experience through events and supplying a corresponding execution plan for store managers. After Campbell presented her plan to senior marketing executives at the conclusion of her internship, they decided to roll out the plan across 4,500 stores and offered her a full-time position the next day.

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“One thing that really interested me at Olin was the opportunity to work with the Center for Experiential Learning (CEL), which was a huge plus for me. While I was in school, I was able to gain business experience and have an internship while I was studying,” says Campbell. During her time at Olin, she participated in four CEL projects, including a global management study of businesses across the globe. The experience culminated in trips to Japan and Colombia. “Nothing can top experiential learning; it teaches you how to face real-world business challenges. Ultimately, Olin did a great job of including soft skills in our education. A lot of my work is not just about crafting a marketing plan and coming up with ideas. It also about managing my relationships with my partners,” she says.

Alum Kinni Shah (MSF ’14), who is currently working in Kolkata, India, echoes a similar sentiment. She completed the one-year Master of Science in Finance program in the Corporate Finance and Investments track, which included a six-month internship at the United Nations as a financial analyst. “The great thing about Olin is that it’s small. I had 26 people in my cohort. You get to know each person personally. You get to know their story, and you talk to them on a daily basis,” says Shah. “Everyone is so encouraging of your ideas. They help you explore different career options and suggest courses to help you explore those ideas.”

Shah was also impressed with the school’s robust career center, which she cites as a determining factor in her decision to attend Olin over other graduate business programs. “I spoke with someone at Olin’s Weston Career Center before I made the decision to attend. They were really encouraging and helped guide me towards what to do after the program.” That ability to help students take the right career path goes back to Olin’s smaller program size, which Fox notes both fosters a sense of community for current students and allows professors to get to know prospective students. “The philosophical underpinning of all of our programs is that they are student-centric. They’re for the benefit of our students first and foremost,” he says, emphatically.

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