Growing into Leadership
A recent graduate reflects on her unexpected lesson
Author: Piper Conway, COL ’21 & Common Home Editor
I never thought a nonexistent program at Georgetown would teach me my most important lesson in college.
In the Fall of 2021, the Sustainable Business Fellows Program launched at the McDonough School of Business, a year after fellow students and I created the vision behind it. It will impart future business leaders with the knowledge and practical skills of how to navigate environmental challenges with complex social and economic dynamics. Even prior to its launch, the program taught me how to turn a problem into an idea and then into tangible change.
71% of global emissions originate from just 100 companies. Business schools across the country should seize the challenge and opportunity ahead and support their students in pursuing these topics. Georgetown is no exception, and this program is a major step in the right direction.
The seed for the Sustainable Business Fellows was first planted when a member of the GUSA Sustainability Policy Team, Scott Kase (MSB ‘23), pitched a project to me that aimed to increase undergraduate engagement in the intersection of sustainability and business. We pictured a future where Georgetown students could dive deeper into this critical area and acquire the tools to make meaningful change.
Together, we had a goal in mind but no idea on how to achieve it.
We gathered a team of students through GUSA who shared this passion. Several brainstorming sessions later, we set up meetings with professors within the MSB, members from the Dean’s office, the directors of Business for Impact, and the Office of Sustainability. Through their feedback, we strengthened our proposed program.
Our idea was beginning to take shape, but it wasn’t yet sufficient. While our meetings delivered small pieces of advice, we had no concrete action or next steps. Should we push for Georgetown approval to make the Sustainable Business Fellows Program a reality? Should we secure commitment from faculty who would help run the program? Or should we just hope the university would pursue it on their own?
We realized it was up to us to be advocates for change. Confident in our vision, we adopted a bolder tone and crafted a well-defended plan – not just an idea. We created a presentation on the proposed curriculum, analyzed precedents within Georgetown, researched similar programs at peer institutions, conducted a survey to gather data on student interest, and provided a 5 year plan. We now had a road map and a clear student will.
Gaining faculty support was a critical milestone. Vishal Agrawal, professor of the Fellows Program’s core course: Environmental Sustainable Operations & Business Models (OPIM 271), committed to serving as the academic director. On the extracurricular side, we also gained support from the directors of Business for Impact, who will help connect fellows to important opportunities beyond the classroom.
Presenting to the MSB Executive Council was the make-or-break next step. If they did not support our initiative, we would have almost no way of getting it off the ground. Scott Kase, Katie Fouss (MSB ‘23), and I had been preparing for months and were confident the case was compelling; but would others agree?
When our presentation ended, we were thrilled to hear the resounding support from faculty members and administrators. In hearing their applause we knew all of our hard work had been worth it. Only a few short months after I would graduate, our program would become real. In a community like Georgetown, with so many driven students, we truly do have the power to create change.
Working on the development of the Sustainable Business Fellows Program has truly been one of the most rewarding experiences of my time at Georgetown. It empowered me to advocate for changes that I believed in, that I knew were attainable within the Georgetown community. But it taught me more than student activism. It taught me how to create change, more broadly — that I need diligence, perseverance, and collaboration.
It helped me find my purpose in the passion that I have always had for sustainability. As a now-graduated senior, I feel lucky to have helped build something that will outlive my own time on the hilltop, and more importantly, will shape even more students into sustainability change-makers.
Piper Conway (COL ’21) is a founding editor of Common Home and the former Executive Chair of Sustainability at the Georgetown University Student Association (GUSA). She now lives in New York and works as an Associate at AlphaSights, a business and investment information services firm.
In October 2021, the first cohort of forty-three students were admitted to the Sustainable Business Fellows program. In addition to the core Environmentally Sustainable Operations and Business Models course, the program currently offers six electives of which students must complete a total of 6 credits. Current electives include Global Supply Chain Management (OPIM 262), Moral Foundations of a Market Society (STRT 255), ESG Investment (GBUS 444), Energy Finance, Policy and Markets (STIA 382), Environmental Economics (ECON 275 or 475), and Climate Science and Policy (STIA 412). In addition to the 9-credit course requirement, fellows are required to complete a capstone project of either independent research, a tutorial with a faculty member, or a senior thesis. Sustainable Business fellows and faculty are eager to begin the program’s first semester this spring.
Afterward by Alannah Nathan, SFS ‘24