The School of Business at Portland State Redefines MBA Culture

The School is committed to gender parity. See what strides they have made to make their program a place for all.

Peek into the classrooms of any Master of Business Administration (MBA) across the country, and you'll likely see a room dominated by men. Despite the growing momentum around gender parity in the boardroom and pay equity in the workplace, most graduate business program pipelines are still underserving professional women, which makes it more difficult for employers to recruit a diverse workforce.

Simply put, MBA programs across the nation recruit and graduate substantially more men than women. According to the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business, the percentage of women graduating from full-time MBA programs in the U.S. plateaued at or below 38% from 2012–2017. The universities in the Pacific Northwest are no exception. University of Washington, University of Oregon and Willamette University reported their full-time fall 2019 MBA cohorts were composed predominantly of men, with 62%, 61% and 59% male students, respectively.

You'll see a very different picture in the Karl Miller Center, home to Portland State University's School of Business. Year over year, the graduate business programs at PSU have higher recruitment and graduation rates for women than the national averages. In 2019, the MBA full- and part-time programs reached gender parity. This is only possible through a meaningful commitment to redefine business and transform lives.

The Karl Miller Center, home to Portland State University's School of Business.

What makes PSU different

The School of Business' mission is to create positive social, ecological and economic impact through inclusive, transformative learning and meaningful research. As a mission-driven institution, PSU attracts innovative and collaborative faculty, staff and students.

From curriculum development to student services, The School of Business ensures outstanding women are not just recruited, but are supported throughout their program and graduate with the skills and connections to succeed.

"We have worked hard over the past few years to apply an equity lens to all of our student support systems. This means paying attention to who is succeeding in our programs, who is accessing our services and who our programming is designed for and benefiting," says Rachel Foxhoven, director of graduate business programs. "We have additional work to do to continue to make business education and its benefits more accessible, and our teams are dedicated to equitable outcomes for all of our students, especially those who have not always seen business as a space where they belong."

The Karl Miller Center atrium was designed for collaboration. It features versatile event and study spaces to support students and the Portland business community in coming together.

Strong role models and mentorship from faculty and staff like MBA Academic Director Tichelle Sorensen can make the difference for graduate students. A PSU business alum herself, Sorensen brings deep industry connections and a rich professional background to her leadership of The Portland MBA. After working as an intellectual property lawyer who also practiced marketing and employment law, and consulted for music and gaming industries and Chinese private and state-owned enterprises, she is no stranger to the realities of working in male-dominated fields.

"The structure of PSU's cohort means that students have strong peer support, which helps students both stay committed to their purpose as well as their program. We also have a strong network of external mentors, many of whom are women who are reaching back to make the path for the next generation easier," Sorensen says. "The Portland MBA especially has a strong tradition of mentorship from the leadership in The School of Business and faculty members who are committed to seeing our students succeed."

Inside and outside of the classroom, The School of Business reflects and reinforces the commitment to sustainability and social justice that defines the best of Portland's business culture. To advance equity and real-world engagement, The School of Business sponsors PDX Women in Technology, My People's Market and Portland Business Journal's Women of Influence. These community partnerships support the meaningful work of outstanding local organizations and provide MBA candidates opportunities to nurture connections with industry leaders.

How PSU MBA students and alumni are living the mission

Portland MBA alum Katie Eichelberger studied engineering and found success leveraging her technical abilities as an industrial engineer. When looking to advance her career, she decided to enroll in The Portland MBA to develop the managerial skills needed to lead teams and evaluate business impact.

"After looking at a variety of programs in the Pacific Northwest and online, I knew The Portland MBA was the right fit," Eichelberger says.

Katie Eichelberger, MBA
Senior Design and Innovation Engineer, Amazon

As her skill set grew, Eichelberger moved up the ladder. While still working on her MBA, she was promoted to industrial engineering manager, and she was promoted again, to a senior management role, after graduating.

Her time in The Portland MBA program strengthened her resolve to use her influence as a leader to create a more diverse, inclusive workplace. "It's about embracing differences and making the culture, as well as our deliverables, better every time," she says. "There is value in incorporating and learning from people with varied backgrounds, and my MBA experience at PSU taught me to appreciate that."

Early in her career, Portland MBA candidate Kate Poppel managed different hotel brands, often implementing green programs. When looking for a graduate program to advance her career, Poppel wanted a curriculum that supported her values of improving ecological impacts through green business practices.

"I was specifically interested in The Portland MBA because the program aligned with the renewable initiatives I wanted to implement," Poppel says.

Kate Poppel, MBA candidate
Pilot Master Scheduler and Program Manager, Lam Research

Her passion for sustainability was a constant, but Poppel's career focus shifted. Six months into The Portland MBA, she took a role as a master scheduler and production planner for a manufacturer of semiconductor processing equipment. The curricular focus on foundational strategy and creative thinking for sustainable solutions made the transition across industries an easy one for Poppel, and she is advancing quickly in her new industry. Poppel was recently promoted to pilot master scheduler and program manager.

"I gained a better understanding of making business decisions and became more confident in problem-solving," she says.

Both Eichelberger and Poppel exemplify the caliber of women who have helped redefine the culture of an MBA. The Portland MBA has been in the heart of the city for more than 50 years, and the culture has evolved over time through intentional, mission-driven efforts. Check back in another 50 years — The School of Business is already looking to the future to empower the next generation of innovators and changemakers.

Learn more about how The Portland MBA prepares business leaders to work for the greater good. There are too many barriers preventing high-potential students from pursuing a graduate degree, and The School of Business believes the application fee shouldn't be one of them. Apply for free for 2020 admission.

Willamette Week’s reporting has concrete impacts that change laws, force action from civic leaders, and drive compromised politicians from public office. Support WW's journalism today.