8 Ways to Make an Impact in Business School
A growing number of students enter business school with the hopes that their education will lead to a job in which they can have a positive impact on the world around them. However, there is no need to wait until you graduate to have an impact. Whether you choose a specialized sustainability-focused degree or another path, business schools offer a range of experiences that will help you make an impact during your educational journey.
If your school doesn’t have the kinds of experiences you are looking for, you can find ways to build societal impact-focused opportunities into any degree program. Not only does this approach give you the chance to make a positive impact right away, but it can help you to identify where and how you would like to make that impact and start gaining relevant experience. In turn, you can reflect these efforts on your resume to help differentiate you from other students and increase your chances of getting the job you most desire.
Molly MacEachen, a recent graduate of the Leeds School of Business at the University of Colorado Boulder, engaged in impact-related activities wherever she could find—or create—them. “I went out of my way to connect with faculty who focused on sustainability while I was a student and reached out to get involved in these areas.” As a result, MacEachen landed a job at the business school’s Center for Ethics and Social Responsibility. “I learnt a lot about sustainability accounting and metrics and got engaged in projects on non-financial disclosures, which I found really interesting.” When a guest speaker came into the classroom, she took the opportunity to introduce herself, which led to an introduction to a recruiter for Deloitte’s sustainability and ESG services team, where MacEachen works today. “Without the connections I made to the sustainability reporting world during my program, I wouldn’t be here.”
Here are eight ways that you can make a societal impact during your degree program.
- Look into what your school already offers.
Chances are, there are already a range of initiatives within your institution that will allow you to get started. These may include specialized programs, courses, case competitions, or community consulting opportunities. If you are interested in finance, check to see if your school has an impact investment club. For example, MBA students at Duke University's Fuqua School of Business can apply to the student-chaired CASE i3 program, where they complete case work in impact investing, conduct relevant research, complete part-time internships with outside impact investing firms, serve on the Fuqua Sustainable Impact Student Investment Fund, and work on other related projects.
- Make it a part of your curriculum.
Even though business schools are increasingly talking about sustainability, these messages are yet to permeate into every lecture. If your class doesn’t specifically talk about societal impact, take your assignments as an opportunity to make these connections yourself. Write essays on topics that interest you, interview local businesses having a positive impact. If you find interesting readings that bring a different lens to one of your courses, share it with your fellow students and professor. Create your own curriculum by bringing these issues into the classroom discussions and group projects.
- Participate in campus sustainability projects. Every business school has a number of social and environmental projects happening on campus to ensure that the school is demonstrating its commitment to positive societal change. For example, student volunteers at the University of New South Wales in Australia raise awareness about and help peers navigate their plastic-free dining courts, encouraging students to bring their own containers and training students to use the correct recycling bins. Students at the University of New England changed their new building design after a graduate sent a petition with over 1,000 signatures asking for it to be modified to make it bird friendly.
- Join a student club.
Your business school likely has a wide variety of clubs that you can choose to join. Regardless of whether the club has a sustainability focus or not, you can make the connections between the topics that interest you and your future career. For example, the ClimateCAP Summit is a partnership of 23 business schools that host an annual summit on business risks and opportunities related to climate change. The 2022 summit was envisioned and executed by a team of MBA students at Northwestern University’s Kellogg School of Management.
- Participate in the school's sustainability committees. Max Heijmans, an undergraduate at Amsterdam University of Applied Sciences’ Amsterdam School of International Business, is the chairperson of the Programme Committee—a group of students and lecturers who collaborate with school administrators and recommend ways they can improve the student experience. To better understand students’ views on sustainability, Heijmans coordinated a survey on how the business school is creating a positive impact. “Surveying the students helped us to understand what the students thought and wanted so we could present these ideas to management and make the changes needed.”
- Look behind the scenes.
When Chloe Ballard, a master's student at EM Strasbourg Business School in France, approached the corporate social responsibility (CSR) department of her school to find out more about what the school was doing and propose some of her own ideas, she ended up getting an internship focused on putting the school’s new CSR strategy into action. “If you feel that the school needs to improve their impact through their programs, they need to hear it from you. Students are often left out of the equation when it comes to pedagogical decisions, but it does not have to stay that way.”
- Be a responsible community member.
Another way you can make an impact is through the decisions that you make as a student every day. This includes where you spend your money, what you buy, and what you support. Are you speaking up for those who need it? Are you voicing your concerns and taking action to make your community better? Voting, recycling, advocating—your actions on a day-to-day basis can have a significant impact around you, especially if you are able to inspire your fellow students to do the same. Small steps do add up.
- If you can’t find what you are looking for, start it yourself.
Think your school could be doing more? “Reach out to relevant faculty and get connected. Never be afraid to speak up or volunteer for something, especially if there aren’t many others that seem interested. You could be the one who starts the momentum towards a full-fledged program about sustainability,” adds MacEachen. Heijmans suggests looking outside for inspiration. “Look at other schools where you know they are doing a lot in this area and reach out to talk to them and learn from their approaches.”
There is no need to wait until you graduate to make an impact. Starting while you are studying in business school sets you up to continue making an impact throughout your career. As Chloe Ballard puts it, “People will always tell you that what you want to achieve is impossible, but they likely have not done their research! Develop that project, create those faculty and administrative relationships, speak what you have in your heart, and people will follow.”
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