Putting students in charge of their own legacy

By Elisabeth Schnebele 

If you deliver value and exceed expectations, you will never be unemployed. 

That is the motto for Andrew Ballard’s Business Consulting class. An adjunct faculty member at the University of Washington Bothell, he also runs his own company, Marketing Solutions, which provides big brand strategies to small businesses. 

He has reached great success, and students in the course learn how they can do the same. 

“I am here to help students learn how to succeed when they leave college, both personally and professionally,” Ballard said. “I’m not in this for money. I actually lose a significant amount from my billable rate when I am teaching. But that doesn’t matter, that’s not why I am here. I am here to make an impact.” 

From pain to gain 

Headshot of Andrew

Andrew Ballard, adjunct faculty member at the UW Bothell

Ballard has been teaching the course for eight years, and spring quarter 2022 marks its 18th iteration. In that time, he has connected more than 500 students with more than 100 different companies and organizations. “We always work with one nonprofit, one government agency and one business,” Ballard said. “I pair students with the different partners based on their common interests and concentrations.” 

But he pairs the teams of students in a completely different way. Upon enrolling, each student takes a personality test, and Ballard uses the results to organize the teams of students based on their differences, not their similarities. 

“I purposefully put students together who, on paper, would not work well together,” he said. “I actually try to create as much tension as possible because in the corporate world, you can’t control who you work with, and you need to be able to work with people of all different personality types.” 

Alumna Tejaswini Parvatkar ’22 said that working under pressure is one thing, but working well under pressure is something entirely different. “Now that I have entered the corporate sector, I understand why Andrew tried to create as much tension as possible to mimic the corporate world,” she said. 

“Working with different people who have different skills requires you to create and support an ecosystem that accepts, supports and encourages everyone. These fundamental values help teams to work effectively,” she said. “It creates a safe atmosphere that does not shatter under pressure because, at the end of the day, you are bound by a common goal.” 

From classroom to consulting 

Ballard’s curriculum is designed to provide students with real corporate experience while still in college. During the quarter, they work as consultants for local and national businesses that are faced with various challenges and opportunities. 

“The students are tasked with developing project management plans and managing a multi- functional project from start to completion,” Ballard said. “In the process, they develop highly important consulting skills that will stand out on their resumes when they graduate — including finance, management, marketing, operations and situation analysis, as well as customer and competitor research.” 

Ballard with students

Ballard with the 2022 Business Consulting class

In years past, students have helped stagnant organizations reach new growth, provided businesses with sound investment advice based on extensive research and even helped expanding restaurants decide on new locations. “The Business Consulting course provided a platform to gather and apply knowledge toward real-world problem statements and goals,” Parvatkar said. 

“The course’s framework was critical for understanding how interconnected the corporate sector is across multiple functions and showcasing how one decision can impact other. This is especially important while providing solutions,” she said. “Through my job interviews, I was able to demonstrate this insight, and it helped me stand out.” 

Writing their own eulogies 

Not only does the course help students to stand out against their competitors in the hiring process, but it also makes them exceptional employees and, more importantly, people. This is in part because of an unorthodox activity that Ballard facilitates in his class which reminds his students of what’s most important and how they should live their lives. 

The students find this clarity by eulogizing themselves. 

The idea came to Ballard after he had to write a eulogy for his best friend. “His death absolutely destroyed me. We had been friends since seventh grade. We were in each other’s weddings and at the hospital when each other’s children were born,” he said. “Writing his eulogy was just about the hardest thing I had ever done, but I realized when the day comes that we die and someone is talking about us, about our lives, they aren’t going to say ‘Yeah, you know that person worked 75 hours a week’ or ‘they got this big promotion.’ 

“They will talk about the impact we had on our families, the lives we improved,” Ballard said. “As students go out in the world, I don’t want them to lose sight of what’s really important.” 

Living an intentional life 

So, he has them write their own eulogy and encourages them to think about how they would need to live their lives to be remembered in the way that they hope. When they finish writing, he has them choose the top three characteristics that would be most important for whoever writes their eulogy to say about them — and those three things become their north star. 

“I have them write those three things as bullet points on an index card and encourage them to take it with them wherever they go,” Ballard said. “Anytime they need to make a big decision, whether it is personal or professional, I tell them to run it through that north star lens and the choice will be clear.” 

Writing her own eulogy made a significant impact on Parvatkar. “As a daughter, a sister and a friend, it helped me become an active listener and empathize by understanding how others think,” she said. “As an employee, it taught me the true meaning of accountability and taking responsibility when I helped provide solutions and solve problems.” 

Her north star includes: 

  1. Family, specifically their support and feedback 
  2. The University of Washington Bothell, which has given her a close-knit network of professors and mentors 
  3. Consulting, which provides a great sense of meaning in her life — “Helping people transform their businesses and witnessing its impact right from the micro level drives my will to keep helping and reinventing solutions.” 

Students succeed 

Ballard’s methods of teaching are perhaps non-traditional, and that is largely because his experience as a student wasn’t a cookie-cutter one. In third grade, his teacher informed his principal and his mother that he had an intellectual disability because he couldn’t, read, spell or do math as well as the other kids. His mom, however, didn’t believe he was mentally disabled, so she had him tested. It turned out he had a severe case of primary dyslexia, a genetic dysfunction that doesn’t improve with age. 

“For the rest of my time at school, I experienced relentless ridicule and humiliation, even from three of my teachers in the third, fourth and eight grades,” Ballard said. “By the age of 16, I dropped out of school because I just couldn’t see life getting any better. I contemplated suicide.” 

Now a teacher, he strives to give students a better experience than the one that he had. “In many ways, I was set up for failure,” Ballard said. “I want to do everything I can to ensure that students are successful when they leave here.” 

His efforts have not been without reward as he recently received an email from Parvatkar telling him that she landed a job at one of the largest consulting companies in the nation. 

“She said that this class was the most important class of her academic career — I almost started crying,” Ballard said. “I was so excited, my wife told me to print it and hang it in my office!” 

Alumni flourish 

Alumna Tejaswini Parvatkar ’22

Alumna Tejaswini Parvatkar ’22

Parvatkar now works as a change management consultant for enterprise transformation with Capgemini Invent. “As a student, this class provided me freedom to work with real-world examples while harnessing creativity. This combination, especially when you are a student, helps build various knowledge areas,” she said. “As a professional, this class was my first peek at the corporate environment. Knowing what to expect, even at the beginner’s scale, provided me great comfort while exploring the unknown post my graduation. 

She still lauds Ballard for his impactful teaching style and genuine concern for each of his students. 

“Andrew was inspiring as an instructor and as a human. I can say this with confidence that through Business Consulting, I was able to gain experience and inspiration for my personal life as well,” she said. “By helping our client through project plans and working closely with other students, it made me a better human, it highlighted the importance of giving back to your community, and at the end of the day, that is what contributes to everyone’s true north.” 

 


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