Nov. 8, 2010
SEATTLE - For students who study at UW's Foster School of Business, it's hard to imagine a better environment to stimulate learning.
The state-of-the-art PACCAR Hall - designed by Seattle-based LMN Architects - is encased in glass, providing a panoramic view of the campus fall foliage. Students huddle near the fireplace in the common area, pecking away at laptops while sipping lattes from the on-site café. Finished just months ago, this is the home for the elite business students at the University of Washington.
This is also the scene that greets Hans Struzyna and Bede Clarke of the Washington men's crew program each day. Both rowers are studying for a business degree at Foster, a select program at the UW that boasts the reputation of offering one of the best undergraduate business experiences worldwide. Struzyna and Clarke have access to talented, passionate professors. Classes are small and interactive. The crush of Fortune 500 companies such as Microsoft and Amazon, along with a vibrant group of innovative entrepreneurs in the Seattle area, is unmatched by almost any other school.
For those who make it in to Foster for the undergraduate program, their job prospects in the professional world become more about choice and intrigue, and less about necessity. Corporations in the Seattle area aggressively recruit Foster graduates. The Big Four accounting firms (Deloitte, PwC, Ernst & Young, and KPMG) regularly poach Foster graduates. A degree opens doors both nationally (Foster has a cohesive Wall Street network) and internationally for motivated students.
The rankings back up the program's brag points. Foster routinely ranks in the Top 10 of the U.S. News & World Report's rankings for public institutions, and Top 25 for all business schools. The location in a desirable city like Seattle attracts high-caliber students from across the globe, all eager to take settle in one of the nation's most livable locales of the Pacific Northwest.
But entrance to Foster is not assured. Struzyna and Clarke earned their way into the school with excellent grades and a willingness to network with Foster professors and advisers, which helped attach a face to their applications.
Rob Post, the academic advisor for men's crew, cautions student-athletes interested in Foster that the entrance requirements are steep. Potential business school matriculates need to display advanced understanding a group of core classes, including calculus, accounting and a writing course. Do that, and then you compete with thousands of similarly talented students for a finite number of spots. In other words, it's highly competitive.
Students can apply to Foster either out of high school, after their freshman years and then again after their sophomore years. Post suggested the latter option as the one he recommends because it gives students time to put together a resume of success in the UW classrooms.
Those who don't meet Foster's entrance requirements still have plenty of options, notably a respected economics program.
This was no issue to Struzyna and Clarke, who compete each day as oarsmen at Conibear Shellhouse. The atmosphere men's crew coach Michael Callahan has cultivated has given these athletes mental strength and discipline to succeed in other avenues in their lives. He challenges them to become better students and community members.
These are the students Roland "Pete" Dukes likes having in his undergraduate program. A Durwood L. Alkire Endowed Professor of Accounting at Foster, Dukes noted how crew athletes are equipped with the right makeup to succeed academically. This was a point echoed by Struzyna.
"It seems so apparent to me that this community at UW (business school and rowing) has similar goals and beliefs: hard work, dedication, goals, way of thinking, networking," Struzyna said. "There are no slouches in the business school or on the team."
Growing up in Kirkland, Wash., Struzyna had no intention of going anywhere but across Lake Washington to the UW. Multiple members of his family graduated from Washington, but what truly hooked him was the pomp and pageantry of Windermere Cup, one of the largest rowing festivals in the world and exclusive to Seattle. At Foster, Struzyna enjoys the real world applicability of his coursework, which is largely case-based. For example, a marketing VP from Starbucks will visit a class, present an actual case and put the onus on students to identify the solution.
Clarke didn't originally have Washington on his radar. The Wallabi Point, Australia, native had taken visits to Harvard and Princeton, figuring the Ivy League held the key that opened professional doors in the United States. But after Clarke was turned onto Washington by a friend, and then came to Seattle on his official visit, it didn't take long to convince the soft-spoken Australian that UW was the best fit. He liked the high level of academics coupled with the beauty of the Pacific Northwest.
While sitting in on business classes during his visit, professors engaged him in the discussion, a level of personal attention he didn't feel in Cambridge or New Jersey. Clark is studying accounting, and while being a CPA interests him, he fantasizes about busting tax evaders for the IRS.
"The IRS, they work in teams, just like the crew team," Clarke said with a wry grin, "And I feel like that would really suit me."
What Dukes is really working on as a liaison for the Foster school is building the brand abroad. He points to the incredible focus of another rower, Ante Kusurin, a man he calls one of the "brightest students" he's ever associated with at Washington. Kusurin studied finance at Foster before receiving his MBA at Oxford, one of the most prestigious learning institutions in the world. The Croat now lives in London. Dukes said he wished more students at Foster would embrace Kusurin's worldly ambitions, but noted it's easy to grow roots in a city like Seattle and get attached.
But whatever the path, Dukes wants to ensure that Foster students are equipped with all they need to make it a successful venture.
"We're going to prepare them for whatever direction he or she wants to go, and we're going to do it well," Dukes said. "We have a terrific faculty. We have a terrific building. And I think we have a great program that these very bright kids have at their disposal."