Two years ago, I came to the Erb Institute as a way to transition from my years in management consulting into the nonprofit or government space in Detroit, with a focus on environmental and social issues that affect Detroiters’ day-to-day lives. Here are some of the opportunities I took advantage of to tailor my Erb experience for this career path.

Two internships. Because the Erb MS/MBA program is three years long, students can pursue two different internships. I used them to explore two different paths I could envision taking. One was working on large-scale initiatives at an environmental nonprofit (I worked with the World Wildlife Fund on the Science Based Targets Initiative) and the other was working on smaller-scale local issues in my community in Detroit (I worked with the City of Detroit’s Office of Sustainability). These experiences helped me reaffirm my interest in local and state initiatives and more confidently pursue a career at this level after grad school.

Dow Sustainability Fellows. As part of this yearlong fellowship program, I worked with an interdisciplinary team of graduate students on a project with EcoWorks, an energy justice nonprofit in Detroit, to evaluate the financial viability of a residential utility affordability program, through energy and water efficiency retrofits and innovative financing methods. I learned about a subset of the energy industry and worked closely with local leader Justin Schott and Tony Reames, recently appointed as a senior advisor to the Department of Energy’s Office of Economic Impact and Diversity.

Research and publication. My Dow Sustainability Fellows project and my experience living in Detroit for five years before Erb prepared me to contribute to research with Sara Hughes, focused on water access and affordability in Detroit, as a graduate research assistant. The paper I worked on with her through the university’s Poverty Solutions Initiative, Addressing the Links Between Poverty, Housing and Water Access and Affordability in Detroit, was published earlier this year.

Erb Partner Project. Through the Partner Project program, I worked with Walker-Miller Energy Services, a Black-woman-owned business based in Detroit, on their B-Corporation certification, the first in their industry, and provided strategic recommendations for their future full-time sustainability/corporate social responsibility lead. I learned more about a sector that piqued my interest, as well as the B-Corporation certification process, and built relationships with people I would continue to collaborate with during my internship.

Teaching. I am serving as a graduate student instructor for a community-building and college success course for students in a living-learning community subset of the university’s Undergraduate Research Opportunities Program, Michigan Research and Discovery Scholars, seeking to bring more diverse perspectives to research. I get to help diverse undergraduate freshman hit the ground running and make the most of their time at the university, while working on my own public speaking, facilitation and mentorship skills.

DEI training. Before grad school, I was shocked by how few Black, Indigenous and people of color (BIPOC) colleagues I had in an office based in a city that is about 80% Black and about 8% Lantinx. I knew I wanted to build skills to be an inclusive leader, so I can confidently facilitate change if I ever work in a similar environment and make sure my teams are supported if I come into a more diverse workplace. Rackham’s DEI Certificate Program and Ross’s Leading Inclusive Teams programs helped me build skills, become more comfortable having difficult conversations, and become ready to tackle DEI challenges.

The Consortium. This organization has been one of the most important parts of my grad school experience. Being a part of an organization dedicated to increasing the representation of Black, Latinx and Indigenous people in management provides an energy I will take with me wherever I go next. I have learned so much from my peers in this group and have made friendships that will last a lifetime!

Here are a few pieces of advice I’d like to share with prospective students, especially those considering a less traditional post-MBA career in local government or nonprofits.

  • Define a North Star before starting school. If you have a goal for the type of work you want to do after grad school or what you want to learn while on campus, define it up front and look to this purpose when you need to evaluate opportunities. When making a decision about how you will spend your limited time, simply ask yourself: Does this help me work toward my North Star to become the person and professional I want to be?
  • Don’t get distracted by what others are doing. It is easy to get sucked into the hype of what everyone else around you is doing, especially the lucrative traditional business roles and the shiny sustainability roles peers are pursuing. However, letting what they’re doing pull you away from your North Star will cause you to spend time on irrelevant pursuits.
  • Your initial funding package is not all that is available. My friends and loved ones thought I was crazy when I turned down full-ride scholarships at other programs to attend Ross/SEAS with less than 50% of my tuition funded. However, as I start my third year, I have more than doubled the initial support I was offered through scholarships, fellowships and a teaching position. The hundreds of hours I spent pursuing this funding were absolutely worth it, and I encourage others to pursue every additional funding opportunity, to make attending your dream school and going into a low-paying sector a feasible option.
  • Erb has allowed me to explore many professional interests, find new passions and build my network. While pursuing an MBA/MS through Erb may not be the traditional route to enter the local nonprofit or government space, it certainly has been a springboard for me, preparing me to dive head-first into this world after grad school.