April 16, 2018

Dear Lauren: Advice to Incoming Students

Lauren Nelson is a candidate in Weatherhead's MBA program.

My advice to incoming Weatherhead students? Set your post-graduation goals early, and seek opportunities outside the classroom to differentiate yourself from day 1 of b-school. Here are a few ways I did that and what I learned along the way. 

Before coming to CWRU I knew that I wanted to become a business designer. For those who aren’t familiar with that term – it means solving complex “hairy” problems using a human-centered approach, combining customer empathy, business strategy and design thinking. Often it starts with ethnographic research and problem definition, followed by an iterative series of prototypes and experiments tested and co-created with actual users in the field, and finally a human centered solution is solidified. I knew it to be my vocation. Knowing that made it easy to find opportunities to grow in this respect. Some of my classmates knew what industry they wanted to work in, for example: one peer wanted to work in something Organizational Behavior related, another wanted Investment Banking, and yet another wanted to work in advanced marketing analytics. While you may not know every detail about what you want to do, at least have a type of work or industry in mind so that you can more easily evaluate all of the many opportunities that are going to come your way, and choose to get involved in what will give you great stories and skills that you can discuss in your interviews. 

I spent most of first semester of year one looking forward to the MBA core Design class that I knew would come in the Spring for my cohort. A lot of my free time was spent pursuing creative interests on my own, but there weren’t many opportunities to engage in design-related project work or events outside of class. So, shortly after the first days of Design class I, and another student, approached our Design professor, Professor Yoo, to ask for more opportunities. We didn’t let the dearth of opportunities stop us, we made our own! We got a design challenge from our professor to work on as an extracurricular project, which gave us both some great talking points that helped us both get our business design-focused internships in the summer. 

Shortly after the meeting I mentioned above, we made plans to start our own Weatherhead Design Club. This year that club has come to fruition and it’s one of the things I’m most proud of from my time at Weatherhead. We’ve come up with some repeatable templates for events that engage students with outside speakers, skill-building, and ongoing project work for those who desire it. I’m not telling everyone to start a club, but at least get involved in one and make it your own. If I could change something, I would probably have gotten more involved in event planning for different clubs in my first year. Just because you’re not a club leader your first year, doesn’t mean you can’t plan! In fact, club leaders would probably be grateful for someone to step up and help with event coordination, especially when they’re often working, going to school and leading a club. 

You can also flex your leadership muscles with GBSA and deepen your content knowledge by becoming a TA. These are things you should start setting up for during the beginning of the first year – want to TA for a specific professor? Do extra great work for them and attend office hours whenever possible! Want to represent your classmates in GBSA? Apply for a class representative role, and find innovative ways to collect student voices so that you can do your role meaningfully. For me, being the VP of Academic Affairs in GBSA was a great way to get an understanding of the inner-workings of higher ed institutions, and to advocate for my peers. TAing for the first year’s Design class was incredibly valuable and gave me the opportunity to use skills from my past life in teaching in a new context that I am more passionate about. 

Don’t underestimate the power of extracurriculars to get you to the next level and help you meet your goals. The experiences I described above helped me land a job in my vocation and you can too! It’s the things outside of class that strengthen our network and form the connections that will last far into the future. So go get involved!


A photo from our first Design Club event back in the fall.
Excited for next year’s leaders to repeat this event, and make it even bigger and better!

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