Angela Yen, MBA ’19, is one of 44 MBA students volunteering their skills and insights on behalf of nonprofit organizations in Austin. Over the course of a year, she and other students serve as non-voting board members and develop projects at the organization’s direction. They are matched with these organizations by Board Fellows, a student-run McCombs group that has placed MBAs on local nonprofit boards since 2010.
“Our mission is to provide MBA students with leadership opportunities and support local nonprofits with our business expertise,” says president Jaclyn Le, MBA ’19. “Our goals are to create opportunities for MBA students to become community leaders by helping nonprofits, and to build strong ties between McCombs and the Austin nonprofit sector.”
The students work in a variety of areas, including conservation, the arts, and youth mentoring, tackling projects that involve organizational marketing, funding, and strategic planning.
Here are a few of the nonprofits where Board Fellows — a pair of MBAs at each organization — are lending their efforts.
Angela Yen, MBA ‘19
Placement: VSA Texas, which promotes art among people with differing abilities, including a special program for veterans.
Project: Coming up with a new name for the organization (its acronym used to stand for “very special arts”) by conducting interviews with current and former board members, as well as participants, artists, staff, and other constituents.
Business education in action: “In my spring practicum class Innovation Through Design Thinking, taught by Management Lecturer Bonnie Reese, we served as consultants and learned about human-centered design — what it means, how to conduct user interviews, and drawing insights. When speaking to board members about their experiences, by asking open-ended questions and being a great listener, I was able to draw out more responses. Listening with empathy was a useful skill that we practiced in class, and it was nice to do it in real life with an organization that really could use that insight.”
Ming Liu, MBA ‘19
Placement: Westcave Outdoor Discovery Center, which collaborates with other nonprofits on nature conservation and youth education.
Project: Measuring and communicating the organization’s programming impact, such as health outcomes for kids playing outside, and considering what public data can support that narrative.
Business education in action: “The overall focus on how you derive meaning and insight from numbers and then what tools — whether it’s statistics or finance — you use to better understand an organization.”
Jaclyn Le, MBA ‘19
Placement: The Texas Tribune, a nonprofit digital news organization covering Lone Star State politics.
Project: Looking for ways to diversify funding for the Tribune beyond philanthropic donations.
Business education in action: “We’re trying to be creative about bringing in income while also making sure that they’re still delivering on their mission of quality news and open access for readers. The Tribune said, ‘We now have this new events space. Maybe it’s a way for us to also make money?’ We looked at the event space market in Austin: What types of events come to town? What is the Texas Tribune’s competitive advantage? We developed a more concrete marketing plan including potential pricing, the benefits of the space, and advertising and promotion.”
Kelsey Lee, MBA ‘19
Placement: The African Leadership Bridge, which builds leaders for the continent by sponsoring and supporting entrepreneurial students who are studying in the U.S. and Africa.
Project: Collecting information on different options for a new business model, putting it in digestible form, and then presenting it to the board.
Business education in action: “The organization has these big goals which are really incredible. They are more entrepreneurial right now — like a startup, even though they are 10 years old — since they’re still growing and moving into their next phase. We are helping them figure out how they’re going to attack that. That mimics everything in my Intro to Entrepreneurship class with Associate Professor of Management Melissa Graebner.”
Stephanie Garau Bolivar, MBA ‘19
Placement: The Hispanic Alliance supports Latino entrepreneurs through business education and mentorship, brings music education to underserved youth, and provides personal and entrepreneurial development for Latinas.
Project: Identifying different funding options, building an alumni database for programs, and creating a survey to measure the organization’s impact on entrepreneurs.
Business education in action: “The MBA program makes you think differently. You’re able to take a step back and say, ‘This is what we want to accomplish. What strategy do we want to implement in order to achieve our end goal?’ That’s a valuable learning experience we’ve applied to the board.”
This article appeared in the fall 2018 issue of McCombs magazine. Click on the link to see the full issue.