For more than a decade, Colorado State University’s College of Business has been at the forefront of connecting purpose and profit through its hands-on Global Social and Sustainable Enterprise (GSSE) MBA.
The College of Business is moving forward with the next chapter in its legacy of helping students to build successful careers addressing some of the world’s most challenging social, economic and environmental problems with its new Impact MBA program.
The on-campus Impact MBA takes the best of the GSSE MBA — which teaches students how to create and manage a startup that addresses a global challenge through the venture creation process — and adds a new track focusing on corporate sustainability, where students will get hands-on professional experience through fellowship opportunities with businesses, nonprofits and government organizations.
“Our goal is to change people’s perspectives from one of crisis to one of opportunity.”
– Tom Dean, CSU College of Business professor
Two Academic Tracks
The Corporate Sustainability Track of the Impact MBA program teaches the science behind sustainability and equips students with the analytical skills to lead change within an organization by presenting the business case for sustainability projects. The GSSE MBA is now the Social Entrepreneurship Track of the Impact MBA.
- Entrepreneurial – start a team-based venture that addresses a global, social and/or environmental challenge
- 40-60 day practicum of discovery in the field: A unique opportunity to discover and to fill in the practical implications or gaps in knowledge related to a new venture idea
- Hands-on experience identifying opportunities, designing business models, creating financial projections, and pitching your ideas
- Intrapreneurial – make the business case and lead sustainability projects from within an existing organization
- Fellowship: An opportunity to apply the foundational analytical and technical skills learned in the classroom to real sustainability projects
- Courses in greenhouse gas management, life cycle assessment and climate change impact with a Carbon Management certificate option
Purpose and Profit
Professor Tom Dean will be one of the first professors to welcome Impact MBA students to the program through his Strategic Opportunities in Impact Enterprise course.
“We start with the fact that the world is very much changing,” Dean said. “With 7-plus billion people in the world, the nature of society – the nature of business – is in the midst of change.”
Dean points to emerging challenges tied to this changing environment as key areas the next generation of business leaders will have to address. The scarcity of supplies and raw materials, global warming, declining biodiversity and increasing inequality, as well as new government regulations and shifting consumer sentiment, all serve as major factors driving large-scale market transformations.
“Corporations believe the science,” said Impact MBA Director Kathryn Ernst. “They see the climate changing, and they know it will impact their business.”
“Our job is to make sure that all our graduates have the skills and connections to not only understand these, and other, critical issues, but to really be able to do something about them.”
Although it’s unclear what precise level of climate change would put the planet over the tipping point for catastrophic and irreversible effects, the United Nations projects that through the 21st century the threats to global food security, drinking water access, human health, economic systems and the natural environment are going to increase significantly without adaptation, mitigation and sustainable development.
But instead of doom and gloom, Dean offers an alternative take.
“Our goal is to change people’s perspectives from one of crisis to one of opportunity, and then to what that means from a business perspective,” said Dean. “We want students to be able to answer the question: ‘Strategically, how do you get ahead of the curve?’”
The program’s instruction is interdisciplinary, tapping into courses across CSU and allowing students to supplement their foundational business coursework with electives in ecosystem sciences, sustainability law, international finance, environmental philosophy, design thinking, carbon accounting and more. This expanded curriculum is enabled by partnerships with the College of Liberal Arts, the Warner College of Natural Resources and the School of Global Environmental Sustainability.
“We have the advantage of being connected to all of these leading researchers to create a truly world-class experience in sustainability,” Ernst said.
Whichever track students choose within the Impact MBA, they will be able to serve as change agents.
“The experiential learning allows our students to really get it, and to analyze things differently.”
– Tom Dean, CSU College of Business professor
Fieldwork and Fellowships
Following a year of coursework, Corporate Sustainability Track students will gain professional experience as part of their academic fellowship, joining an organization to complete environmental projects and sustainability initiatives. This serves as a cornerstone experience contributing to the ultimate goal of the Impact MBA’s Corporate Sustainability track, preparing students to have an impact within an organization, and help lead the way to a sustainable future.
Over the summer, students in the Entrepreneurship Track will complete field research in environments and populations most in need of creative solutions in order to refine and develop their transformational business ideas. Students will return to CSU’s College of Business after the field experience for the final semester with three business models that address a global challenge and a new perspective on achieving objectives and solving problems.
Rams Taking Action
Ernst said that the program is designed for students across all disciplines.
“The biggest thing is that you have to want to come to learn about how to use business to solve some of the world’s greatest challenges,” she said. “If that is the goal, regardless of your background, you’ll bring value to the table.”
Two of those students working to bring about change are Rams wide receiver Brenden Fulton and recently injured quarterback quarterback Collin Hill, roommates and classmates in the program.
“There were definitely easier things I could have done,” Hill said with a laugh. “A lot of people think the 8 a.m.’s are early, but we’ve probably already lifted by then.”
Instead of looking for the lightest course load to match up with their packed schedules, Hill and Fulton wanted a degree that they could put to use after graduation, while also pursuing something they were passionate about.
Fulton, who like Hill comes into the MBA program with a business undergraduate degree, is especially looking forward to the summer field work and venture creation that will kick off after the football season has come to a close.
Seeing his classmates’ energy, and the career experience with social and environmental causes that they bring to the program, Fulton said he may opt to play the supporting role and see where it takes him.
“There’s life after football. So having a sustainability MBA going into a job after football will be great… I’m just so excited!”