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MBA Journal: Introduction

MBA Journal: Starting and Ending With Duke

I never imagined business school would be my goal—or my dream—but here I am. After more than 10 years in Washington, D.C., I am packing my house into brown cardboard boxes, quitting a fabulous job, persuading my boyfriend to transfer offices, and moving down to Durham, N.C., to attend the Fuqua School of Business at Duke University.

I consider myself a “nontraditional” business school student and maybe a little crazy to leave my current career. While I dabbled in nonprofit and government work throughout college and immediately after graduation, I have spent the last six and a half years as a pollster. My job allowed me to work on behalf of clients I believe in for causes I care about, such as educational equity, global health and development, and women’s issues. I had the opportunity to think creatively, craft communications strategy, and gain a broad understanding of policy issues and the public dialogue that surrounds them. A few years ago, I stepped back and realized I was living some version of my dream. So why business school?

Without a doubt, Duke is the reason I first began considering an MBA. Four years ago, I accidentally stumbled across a website for the Center for the Advancement of Social Entrepreneurship (CASE), at Duke, and I was immediately intrigued. There is a business school that cares about the things I care about? As I read on, the wealth of resources and information amazed me: social sector leadership and impact; innovation, strategy, and planning within nonprofits; and the use of business best practices to guide social ventures. Since working for Teach For America, and within my current job, I’ve been intrigued by nonprofit organizations that apply the pragmatism of the business sector to their work. I was fascinated that an MBA program could allow me to wrestle with these concerns while obtaining the tools to pursue social change effectively and pragmatically.

Over the next few years, I returned to the CASE website many times, discovered Net Impact and Beyond Grey Pinstripes, networked with colleagues and peers, built my understanding and knowledge of the social entrepreneurship field, and researched graduate programs that emphasized social impact. Ultimately, I decided to pursue an MBA to bring the efficiencies of business to the world of social change and advocacy.

My decision to pursue an MBA, however, hinged on the availability of a very specific program. It was not enough for a school to provide an excellent management education. I wanted to understand how to apply those skills in a social-change organization and join a community that would integrate social impact and value-based leadership into the school’s culture and curriculum.

While I considered a range of programs with a social enterprise concentration, my search came full circle with Fuqua, which offers everything for which I am looking. Not only will I receive a robust education in social entrepreneurship over the next two years; I’ll also be a member of a well-rounded, collaborative community that will welcome and integrate a “nontraditional” business student. Ultimately, I hope to work as a nonprofit executive or consultant, but for the next two years, I am thrilled to be attending Fuqua and contributing to the Duke MBA community.

Between journal entries, you can keep track of Susan’s business school adventures at the Business Schools Facebook page. Follow the Bloomberg Businessweek B-Schools team on Twitter.

Susan Shell is a second-year MBA student at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business. During her life before business school, Shell managed strategic polling and focus group projects for nonprofits, public interest organizations, Democratic political campaigns, major corporations, and the media. Her goal, she says, is to use her MBA to make a difference in the world. As part of a choir she helped launch, Shell performed onstage for President Obama in 2009.

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