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Alumni return to Sauder to inspire students

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The last time Monica McMahen walked into a classroom, she was a BCom student at the Sauder School of Business. After graduating in 2013, McMahen chose to follow a different path from many of her classmates—she joined a single-founder start-up as full time employee number one. She recently experienced another first: speaking to Elizabeth Newton’s Entrepreneurship 101 class about her marketing experience in the tech industry.

“The students asked a ton of insightful questions that showed both an understanding of the challenges of entrepreneurship and a genuine interest in learning as much as they can,” McMahen (pictured above on the right) said.

Having the opportunity to meet and learn from alumni, who have applied in the real world the knowledge acquired at Sauder, gives students a sense of what awaits them after graduation.

Won Jun Kong, a second year BCom student in Newton’s class, was inspired by McMahen’s perspective and emphasis on social enterprises.

“Her business was focused on creating a positive social impact rather than making immense profits. That was very interesting,” Kong said. “The fact that she was once in our shoes shows us that it’s realistic to pursue a career with a positive social impact.”

In Newton’s Entrepreneurship and Intrapreneurship classes, students have the opportunity to interact with special alumni guests who bring their business expertise to the classroom. Students learn not only about the guest speaker’s career and industry, but also other valuable lessons such as how to network effectively and innovate inside a company.

“Networking is a key part of any business,” Newton explained. “The students learn (from the alumni speakers) and practice contacting different people who then give them feedback in what worked and what didn’t.”

Newton’s courses have been such a success with students that more sections continue to be added. To meet the demand for guest speakers, Newton turned to the Sauder Development and Alumni Engagement (DAE) office to help recruit alumni to share their expertise. The office helped her expand her contact list and added an important Sauder alumni connection to the student experience.

“Alumni always comment on how it’s nice to be back, how excited they are to see that Sauder is doing more on entrepreneurship. They get excited,” Newton said.

Some alumni go even further. Andrew McKee ( BCom ’06) owner of Great Dane Coffee, a coffee shop on the UBC Point Grey campus, invites students in Jenny Dickson’s Marketing classes to work on real projects for his company.

After an introduction from the DAE office, McKee (pictured above, left) regularly engages students when creating and evaluating his marketing strategies. Through this partnership, McKee has been able to gather insights into his customers and market that he wouldn't have had the resources to capture otherwise.

Dickson believes this interaction with alumni provides a more meaningful experience for the students since alumni know what they are going through.

“Alumni know how it feels to go through the class, they’ve been in their shoes,” Dickson said.

McKee agrees.

“As an alumnus, it was interesting to reflect on my experience in their position 10 years ago. It was also fun to provide some thoughts that are probably outside of the Sauder curriculum but hopefully, useful.