By Kara Sherrer
100% Owen, the community service and philanthropy-focused club at Vanderbilt Owen Graduate School of Management, launched the Owen Board Fellows program this January. The program pairs full-time MBA students to serve on the boards of local nonprofits in and around Nashville. This experience will give students the opportunity to engage meaningfully with the community and strengthen their leadership skills. The Turner Family Center for Social Ventures (TFC) and 100% Owen are reinvigorating the Board Fellows program model to fully embed and sustain the opportunity for MBA students to develop as community leaders.
Serving on a nonprofit board is an eventual goal for many MBA candidates, which is why the program has participants serve as non-voting board members for their designated nonprofit organization for a calendar year that spans their first and second years in the MBA program. The program equips selected student Fellows for nonprofit board leadership in their careers and supports partner nonprofit organizations in Middle Tennessee to advance social impact and mission-driven work in the Nashville community.
“As business leaders, we often put on a different hat when we advise nonprofits or give donations. The Board Fellows Program exists to ensure we are integrating our roles and thinking as business leaders and community leaders — that our students leverage their strategic thinking and skillsets to maximize their contribution to society,” said Mario Avila (MBA’12), Director of the TFC.
The program is envisioned and led by both student leadership and staff at the Turner Family Center for Social Ventures. Students and TFC staff select and engage both local nonprofits and student Fellows — looking for high levels of engagement and motivation from each — to create individual pairings that match students with the nonprofits.
“We are thrilled to partner with nonprofit and community leaders committed to providing learning experiences for our Owen students,” said Kathleen Fuchs Hritz, Assistant Director of the TFC and 100% Owen advisor. “Having engaged business students as board members and volunteers in my Nashville nonprofit work, I can speak firsthand to the value of the learning and contributions of students in these community leadership roles. I’m grateful to our partners for their deep interest in cultivating our students’ development.”
Students will attend all board meetings for their designated nonprofits, including potentially serving on a board committee. They will also support and attend any special events organized by the board. In addition, they will work with nonprofit CEOs, executive directors, and their board chairs to identify a specific and strategic project to address that will leverage their MBA skillsets.
Students will also receive training to help them prepare for their role on the board. Prior to beginning their service term, students will attend a training on nonprofit board governance. They will also attend additional learning sessions on specific topics throughout the course of the program.
“Not only does it give them a chance to give back to our Nashville community in a more impactful, long-term way than one-off volunteer events or fundraising, but it also allows them to build skills as community leaders,” said 100% Owen President Mallory Hall (MBA’20). “This is such a great chance for Owen students to learn what it means to be a great nonprofit board member so that they’re prepared to take on – and thrive in – that role after graduation.”
“I’ve really enjoyed getting to meet nonprofit leaders and board members in the Nashville community — many of whom are Owen alumni,” added Kaitlyn Wilson (MBA ’21), 100% Owen Vice President of Board Fellows. “In addition, the exposure I’ve received through Owen Board Fellows has helped me learn about different ways to get involved in the community after my MBA.”
Fellows will commit approximately 5-10 hours a month to the program, which is roughly the same amount of time as a full board member (dependent upon the organization). The first cohort of first-year MBAs was named in January 2020, and they will participate in the program through March 2021.
“I’m looking forward to seeing this program grow and continually change to fit the needs of our partner organizations as each new class of Board Fellows takes on their roles,” Hall said.