Want to change the world? Start by getting your MBA

 Alix Womack

A couple of years ago when I first started to consider graduate school, I imagined all people with MBAs as Jack Donaghy from 30 Rock. I, like many people, assumed MBA students fit that mold – ambitious and self-serving, concerned primarily with earning money and beating everyone else to the top of the corporate ladder. As a result, I assumed that MBA programs focused on the hard skills needed to reach those goals, and little else. Well, I’m sure you can guess that my MBA experience at PSU has turned out to be nothing like those initial expectations. My classmates are ambitious, but supportive, with diverse backgrounds and even more diverse future goals.

The majority of us are pursuing MBAs because we see the value of sustainability, and believe that businesses drive positive social and environmental change.

My first year at Portland State University has completely transformed my perception of what an MBA program can and should be, and so far, has well exceeded all of my expectations.

Culture and Core Values

The PSU graduate business school lists sustainability and social innovation as its core values, and is even targeting LEED Platinum certification for the new business school building that is currently under construction and set to open in the fall.

Orientation was carefully orchestrated to make it clear that my classmates and I are expected to support each other, and do our part to help each other grow and develop. Similarly, it was made clear that we are responsible for the conduct of our teammates, and that it’s up to us to work through conflicts and hold each other to high standards of academic integrity. These expectations, combined with the cohort model and the rigor of the program, created an almost immediate feeling of community amongst all of us, which has greatly enhanced my MBA experience.


I knew that the Portland MBA was the right program for me when I learned about the Social Innovation Certificate program. PSU knows that the business world is evolving and students no longer have to work in nonprofit or public policy in order to make a difference – there are opportunities to have significant positive impact at social enterprises, B-Corps, and even traditional companies. Out of all the schools that I looked at, PSU was the only school with a focus in social innovation, rather than the limiting impact related focuses of other schools that were designated by business type (non-profit management, etc.).

Since starting at PSU, it has become clear that sustainability is embedded in every aspect of the MBA curriculum. The most significant example of this is Brian Bolton’s Microeconomics class – a class so focused on sustainability that Professor Bolton decided to write his own textbook (Sustainable Financial Investments) to more effectively teach the class.


PSU has been designated as an Ashoka U Changemaker Campus, meaning that social innovation is a proven and embedded core value of the university.

The Portland MBA was recently ranked as the no. 9 best Green MBA by the Princeton Review – a ranking based on students’ assessments of how well their school is preparing them in environmental sustainability and social responsibility issues.

The Portland MBA is also ranked no. 25 in Environmental Sustainability and no. 40 in Social Impact by Net Impact, which uses a similar survey based ranking system.

Opportunities to Engage

  1. Reach out to PSU’s Institute of Sustainable Solutions for paid summer internships in professional fields that focus on resilience, funding for attending sustainability conferences, and funding for participating in otherwise unpaid internships related to sustainability.
  2. Connect with PSU’s Net Impact chapter for impact-related opportunities, like their program that provides local businesses with student consultants to help them become B-Corp certified.
  3. Apply for an internship with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation. Portland State is one of only 10 universities partnered with the foundation for identifying intern candidates.

I constantly find myself defending my decision to pursue an MBA.  When I ran into a family friend in my hometown earlier this year, he said, “Wow, I never would have expected you to go into business!” When I went to a PSU Institute of Sustainable Solutions social hour last week, another student learned my major and said with surprise and confusion, “Oh! What are you doing in our neck of the woods?!” as if sustainable solutions were completely incompatible with business administration. This incompatibility exists in many people’s minds, and I for one am proud that my school is on the forefront of redefining what business school is, and who it is for.

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