One MBA, three very different paths: Jessica Ferrell

A tenacious hospitality manager ready for a change, an introspective nonprofit professional looking to advance, and an evolutionary biologist turned entrepreneur. 

Jessica Ferrell (‘16), Carolyn Niehaus (‘17) and Molly Radany (‘18) are all graduates of The Portland MBA, but their backgrounds and goals couldn’t be more different.

In a series of three stories, each alum will share how The Portland MBA fit their career aspirations, interests, and perspectives and catalyzed their next steps.

The digital marketing consultant: pursuing goals with single-minded focus

Growing up in the restaurant industry, Jessica Ferrell was trained to be highly customer-oriented. Later, she was managing high-end luxury hotels. Ferrell knew she was good at her job, but she agreed with her father — a veteran of the hospitality industry — that she would have difficulty leaving if she stayed too long. 

She set her sights on business school but was selective. As a gay woman, Ferrell wanted to be in a city and at a school where she felt she could be authentic. Her ideal program was integrated with the community, which led her to Portland State’s School of Business. “Even top-tier schools like Wharton are not obsessed with their city. Portland State is obsessed with being Portland,” she explains.

As an MBA candidate, Ferrell was purposeful and focused. She excelled in her courses and sought out opportunities for experiential learning. While attending the annual ROMBA conference, the world’s largest gathering of LGBT+ business students and alumni, Ferrell wondered at Portland State’s lack of a resource group for queer students. She founded Open for Business to close that gap.

What started as a casual networking group grew into an active committee with regular meetings, panel events and connections to local businesses. After making the case to School of Business leadership that investing in queer students would make the business programs more appealing and valuable for diverse candidates, Ferrell pushed the administration to use undergraduate and graduate scholarship funds for business students who show leadership making advancements for the LGBTQ+ community. Ferrell describes Open for Business as “one of the best things I did at PSU.”

In her final year of The Portland MBA, Ferrell was intent on leveraging her Capstone experience to land a job after graduation. She chose two of her hardest working classmates as teammates, appealing to their complementary skill sets. All three were eager to work with a distinguished senior-level executive who spoke in their Integrated Strategy course. To reassure Professor Dave Garten that they were worthy of his high-level connection, the team conducted an immersive study of her brand and business before pitching a Capstone consulting project to her. Ferrell was initially intimidated by the client, but the team’s hard work paid off, and Ferrell landed a job working directly for the client after graduation. She stayed on for three years.

“You get what you put into the program,” says Ferrell. “If you want an internship, a great Capstone, you have to interact with professors and the administration in a close way. You must feel empowered to ask.” 

Ferrell is now an experienced consultant at Slalom Consulting specializing in tailored customer experiences. She views her job as “the perfect combination of brand management and customer-centric thinking.” She loves the world of consulting, which gives her plenty of opportunities to learn and develop personally. 

Ferrell’s biggest takeaway from her graduate program is the need to redefine how we think about our relationships with customers. She says, “the customer experience is a really long one; it starts way before the customer even thinks about purchasing anything from you. We need to make business like a very long-term, serious relationship with someone that you love.”

If your career path looks like Ferrell’s, she recommends checking out Archetypes in Branding: A Toolkit for Creatives and Strategists, The Experience Economy, and a membership with the American Marketing Association.


Karen Lowe is a 2020 graduate of The Portland MBA. She manages marketing and strategic partnerships for The Give Bin and writes regularly for Portland State’s Graduate Business Blog.

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