Connections, community, and clarity in the Foster MBA

For Emily Kwong, her Foster MBA was about connections, community, and clarity. This is how the three of them came together to create a memorable MBA experience.

In short

Emily’s motivations for pursuing an MBA

People decide to pursue an MBA for any number of reasons. They can range from the deeply personal to more career-based motivations. Emily Kwong’s reason for doing an MBA was a simple one – but she ended up getting much more than she bargained for from her experience.

She had been an HR business partner at RealSelf, which at the time was experiencing rapid growth. As the company kept growing, Emily started joining top-level discussions about workforce planning and strategy. But, she started to find that her business knowledge wasn’t allowing her to make the contributions she wanted to these discussions.

“Very early on, I knew that I just didn’t understand the business aspects enough to be making these really big recommendations about what to do with certain business units,” she explains. “I knew that I needed to strengthen my business acumen so that I could become a more effective HR leader one day.” (00:25)

It was then that she decided an MBA could help bridge those gaps in her business knowledge. Yet, as we touched upon, the program she ended up studying gave her so much more than that.

Making connections in the Foster MBA

Emily had a fairly simple checklist for an MBA program. She was looking for a business school that could offer small class sizes as well as plenty of opportunities to develop her leadership skills. Foster School of Business was one of several schools that ticked those boxes.

“I wanted a smaller, more intimate class size. I wanted to be able to get to know my classmates on a one-to-one basis,” she says. “There was also the aspect of whether or not I was going to get a lot of opportunities in a leadership capacity. I loved that Foster offered the opportunity for you to take on whatever leadership position you wanted and shape it for yourself.” (00:58)

Emily had a number of business schools in mind at this point in her decision-making process. So, what made her choose Foster? She says it came down to the connections she made with the Foster students she met. 

“I think the moment that really solidified my decision was that I had visited the campuses of all three universities, met with students, and attended classes,” Emily explains. “But I think when I spoke with the students at Foster, time and time and again I really felt like I could connect with these people on a very human level.” (01:33)

She adds, “For a majority of these students, they were also deeply passionate about something bigger than themselves. Whether it was sustainability or equity, you could tell that their decision to go to school was driven by more than just financial success. That was really important to me.” (01:58)

What makes the Foster community stand out

Before coming into the Foster MBA, Emily felt a connection with both the school and its students. The next question was whether those personal connections could be turned into a community – one that she could rely on for support and feel comfortable discussing important topics with. She pinpoints one moment that really demonstrated to her the value of the Foster community.

“One of the most pivotal moments of community building to me was when Christine Pham, our VP of Diversity, put something together called the People of Color Town Hall. I don’t know if there had been previously a lot of conversations about what it’s like to be a person of color in an MBA program,” she says. “But I think when we all kind of got into that Zoom room and started sharing a lot of our experiences, that was when I finally felt like other people understood where I was coming from and were experiencing similar things and were really able to help me to talk about and think about best paths forward on how to tackle some of these challenges.” (03:03)

Personal connections and a sense of community are both important parts of the MBA experience. Going back to Emily’s original motivations for pursuing an MBA, she also wanted it to help her reach the next level in her career. Once again, Foster provided that.

How Foster provided clarity for Emily’s career

Emily may have been set on an HR leadership role after her MBA, but things don’t always work out the way we plan. So, when Emily’s intended career path didn’t work out, she had to rely on the support of the Foster careers team to provide her with that final ‘C’: clarity. In this case, the advice from the careers team gave her the clarity she needed to pursue a new direction in her career.

She recalls, “When I came into the program, I had a really clear thought of what I was going to do and a very specific company in mind to work for. When those opportunities didn’t work out, it was really the careers team who helped me figure out next steps and different options. They gave me the confidence and clarity I needed to chart a new path.” (04:41)

“After working with Stacy [from the careers team] through the long recruitment process, I’m actually heading to Accenture for strategy consulting at the end of my MBA experience,” she smiles. (05:11)

An MBA can often give you more than you imagine. While many people pursue an MBA to reach the next stage in their career, for many people the biggest takeaway is the opportunity for personal development. Emily found connections and community in the Foster MBA, but she also found clarity in her career. When you combine all three, it makes for a compelling reason to complete an MBA.

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