MBA candidate Rowena Paz Norman on leveraging ambition to drive social change

Rowena Paz Norman professional headshot

Rowena Paz Norman has held leadership positions with global employers, chaired the board of a regional nonprofit, and now she is adding a rigorous MBA to the mix. In short, she is ambitious.

Her career began at Google in the early days of political advertising services. Paz Norman led the expansion of the South East Asia sales team into Singapore, and she opened new markets and explored untapped potential, leading to over $5M in international sales. “It was exciting to be part of a company that was changing the world,” says Paz Norman.

She also made time to volunteer at a local food bank, learning how to cook for hundreds of people and deepening her passion for addressing food insecurity. Later, she volunteered with the development team, leveraging her communication expertise and ability to match needs to support organizational fundraising. “It was so meaningful and rewarding to know what I did made a difference,” says Paz Norman. The immediate tangible impacts — and seeing women in leadership thriving in nonprofit spaces — helped her recognize it was time for a change.

Paz Norman joined Feeding America as director of new partnerships, developing relationships with Fortune 500 companies to raise over $15M in annual revenue, and leading the initiative for Feeding America to join The Healthy Living Coalition, a group committed to addressing global nutrition and food insecurity. She also pushed for a critical paradigm shift internally: “Hunger is an equity issue,” says Paz Norman. “Communities of Color are two to three times more likely to experience food insecurity. We will never end hunger if we don’t end systemic racial inequities.”

She also leant her national nonprofit expertise locally, serving as board chair for Partners for A Hunger Free Oregon and providing training to nonprofit executives. With leadership roles and ambition to leverage technology and innovation to end hunger, Paz Norman looked for opportunities to take her career, and her impact, to the next level.

A personalized MBA experience

Unlike other graduate business programs Paz Norman considered, The Portland MBA at Portland State was designed to meet the unique needs and goals of each professional in the cohort. When exploring her options, Paz Norman got the same message from the academic director, faculty and support staff at PSU: We will make the program work for you. 

“I wanted the caliber and rigor The Portland MBA professors offer,” says Paz Norman. “And I also needed the flexibility.” As a part-time candidate, Paz Norman balances working full time and excelling in her graduate program. “I have a demanding career, and I take work and school very seriously,” she says. 

Where changemakers thrive

Paz Norman was initially drawn to The Portland MBA because of the focus on innovation and business with purpose. She has been advocating for business as a force for good throughout her career: “There is power there, and innovation that comes from the business space to make a difference,” says Paz Norman. “And I found those values at PSU.”

In addition to the values alignment, teamwork and leadership development, Paz Norman has found great utility in the courses on foundational business analytics, including strategy, accounting and finance principles. She has developed the confidence and skill to immediately apply her learning. Of tools like Porter’s Five Forces, Paz Norman says, “I know how to do the analytical work because of The Portland MBA. I turn around and use it in my job the next day.”

Driving success

Midway through the 2020 fall term, Paz Norman was offered a key position at WW (formerly Weight Watchers). She met one-on-one with a few faculty members to discuss her specific goals and paths for career advancement — conversations that were instrumental in helping her consider the opportunity. “They helped me realize what was most important to me,” says Paz Norman.

Paz Norman accepted the offer to become director of impact partnerships at WW, a role that leverages her passion, leadership and work with The Healthy Living Coalition. Of her career advancement and continued work in The Portland MBA, Paz Norman is proud of how quickly she has developed the new skills to make strategic business decisions. But more importantly, she says “I can see my own value and recognize my potential — my professors see it, and that has helped me see it.”

Paz Norman will continue pushing forward, continuing to engage in challenging and meaningful work while driving social change with “corporations and nonprofits galvanized together to end hunger.”

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