Stanford bets on the Midwest with new MBA scholarship program

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Stanford’s Graduate School of Business announced Wednesday that it had selected three incoming MBA students for the 2017 school year to be a part of its inaugural USA MBA Fellowship, a program designed to spur economic development in the Midwest. The perks these three students will receive — free tuition during the two-year MBA program —  are enviable, but there’s a catch: Within two years of graduating, they must return to work in the Midwest for at least two years.

Simone Hill, the assistant director of MBA admissions at Stanford’s Graduate School of Business, says that the university launched the program to increase geographic diversity among applicants. The fellowship mimics the Stanford Africa MBA Fellowship, which recently wrapped up its fourth application cycle.

Hill says that two years ago, she noticed that with the exception of Chicago, there weren’t many applicants coming to Stanford from the Midwest (Stanford uses the U.S. Census Bureau’s definition of the Midwest, which includes Illinois, Indiana, Iowa, Kansas, Michigan, Minnesota, Missouri, Nebraska, North Dakota, Ohio, South Dakota, and Wisconsin).

“We knew that there was a ton of talent there, but some reason or another, we weren’t really getting a chance to tap into that pipeline,” Hill says.

Stanford announced the launch of the USA MBA Fellowship in September. Only Midwestern residents, those who lived in the Midwest for three consecutive years or more, graduated from a Midwestern high school, or demonstrated a strong tie to the region, can apply for the fellowship. Hill says that for the most part, the reception was positive — though she said she heard from some critics that the program reeked of “coastal elitism.” Mark Nolte, the president of the Iowa City Area Development Group, told the Iowa City Press-Citizen newspaper after the fellowship’s announcement that “my gut reaction was that it felt somewhat like a slight — as if we don’t know how to fend for ourselves in the global economy.”

Nonetheless, Hill says that Stanford did see a 25 percent in applicants to its Graduate School of Business for the 2017 school year compared to 2016.

Amanda Donohue-Hansen, one of the recipients of the USA MBA Fellowship, is a native of Southern California who moved to Minnesota to attend college. She works as a business development manager at Cargill in Minneapolis, working on the company’s ventures in developing alternative plant protein ingredients. She will, however, be leaving the company to attend Stanford. She says that she hopes to use the connections she makes at Stanford to work on helping Bay Area food and ag tech startups bring their technology to the Midwest.

“California is a large agriculture state, but its primary product is produce–fruit and vegetables.  Whereas in the Midwest you have the major grains–soybean, corn, wheat,” Donohue-Hansen explains. “I see that one of the challenges with ag tech is that if you have a lot of innovation concentrated in the Bay Area focused on California, it’s going to be limited to things like indoor produce. I think it’s important to have someone from the Midwest who is aware of other types of agriculture, and not just what’s present in California.”

Hill says that while details are still being ironed out, the USA MBA Fellowship program for the 2018 school year will remained focused on the Midwest, and will be awarded to a comparable number of recipients. Hill does say however that Stanford hopes to make the program available to applicants in other economically underserved areas in coming years, particularly to the Southeast.

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