“[I gained] the knowledge that I could use my legal training and the other tools a legal education bestows—an ability to rationalize and put things in logical order, for example—in any number of ways,” he says, “and that I could prosper in a career in government or public policy.”
Receiving an honor from his alma mater “means a great deal to me,” Yerxa says.
“My career has taken me far from my law school roots, but it is important to me that I can reconnect with today’s students and faculty and hopefully inspire others.”
For Harriet Stephenson, business education is about more than just the “bottom line.”
The longtime professor at the Albers School of Business and Economics—she started there in 1967—is galvanized by the efforts of those in her Small Business Institute (SBI) program or when her students develop a winning business model in the Entrepreneurship Center Business Plan Competition.
While she’s accomplished much in her more than 40 years at Albers, Stephenson says her original career plans were far removed from the business world.
“I wanted to be president of the United States,” Stephenson says with a laugh. “That got a real dose of reality when I didn’t do so well in poli sci.”
Instead, she found herself gravitating toward education—her mother was a teacher—and decided her focus would be business, the chosen profession of her older brother. At the time it was an ambitious goal as most women, Stephenson says, weren’t pursuing business careers in the 1960s. So after she earned her undergraduate and master’s degrees in business from the University of Washington, she pursued her doctorate there so she could teach.
“There are a lot more women in the MBA program today than in 1962, when I got my MBA,” she says of how far the program has come. “At that time, out of 5,700 MBAs, there were probably 100 women. Now more than half of all graduate MBA students are women.”
Professor Stephenson’s imprint on the business school is palpable. She created the Entrepreneurship Center—the center’s annual business-plan competition is named in her honor—and brought to Albers the Small Business Institute, which is incorporated into several sections of the senior capstone course. It’s also used in the MBA Social Enterprise/Triple Bottom Line class, where students spend a quarter providing analysis and drafting business plans for nonprofit and for-profit companies in the region who would not normally be able to afford such consulting.
The SBI practices a service-learning methodology, in which teams of five to six students meet weekly with their clients and offer feedback and recommendations that demonstrate their business prowess. The takeaways from the course, Stephenson says, benefit both the companies and the students. The businesses get a fresh perspective and solutions to challenges they face. The students get hands-on training, apply classroom lessons to real-life scenarios and learn the importance of teamwork.
“We are so able to demonstrate the quality of work and the capability of our students,” she says. “We can match them against any students anywhere. This is true for our undergraduates and our grads.”
Sharing her business smarts with others extends beyond her work at Albers.
A champion for women in management and business, Stephenson emphasizes in her classes the “triple bottom line,” a concept that embraces people, environment/planet and profits as the three essential measurements of success—rather than profits alone for a for-profit organization or service alone for a nonprofit. She often serves as a mentor or adviser to small companies and startups and has given her time to several boards, including Washington CASH, Community Capital Development and the Village Net.
An additional cause important to Stephenson is the Prisoner Education Network, which enables Washington state inmates to earn college-level credits and become part of a network to prepare them for careers once they are released.
Yet another area that interests Stephenson is the intersection of globalism and business. With the support of colleagues, Stephenson has started microcredit programs in villages in Ghana and Kenya.
For a maverick educator who has carved out a distinguished teaching career, receiving an honor from alumni is especially meaningful.
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