2021 MBA to watch: Neesha Pinnaduwage, University of Washington (Foster)

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Former engineer turned wealth manager, interested in expanding the diversity and impact of finance.

Hometown: Knoxville, Tennessee

Fun fact about yourself: I suck at downhill skiing – absolutely awful, to the point that I shouldn’t even be allowed on the rabbit trails. I stuck to snowshoes this winter!

Undergraduate School and Diploma: Princeton University, Chemical and Biological Engineering

Where was the last place you worked before enrolling in business school? Honeywell, Senior Process Engineer

Where did you do your internship during the summer of 2020? Goldman Sachs, Seattle

Where will you work after graduation? Goldman Sachs, partner in the Consumer & Investment Management division

Community work and leadership roles in business school:

  • President of the MBA association
  • Member of the Board of Directors of the Financial Company
  • Dean’s Fellow 2019-2020
  • Forté Scholar
  • First year representative of the Financial Corporation
  • Representative of the first year section of the MBA association
  • C4C (Challenge for Charity) volunteering over 60 hours during the MBA
  • Albert O. Foster Scholarship Recipient and First Michael G. Foster Scholarship Recipient

What academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of in business school? I am very proud to have been elected and to serve within the MBA Association as President. Honestly, it started with my election as a freshman section representative – these elections are happening very early, while all the students are still getting to know each other, and it was very difficult for me to get out of my area. comfort to introduce myself to a position. I was terrified of public speaking and nervous about being new to business and to the region. My classmates were very supportive, however, and I really enjoyed serving as a representative to teachers and staff. This experience gave me the courage to run for President, and once again I was blown away by the encouragement and confidence placed in myself. Thinking back to the past year, I could never have guessed that my entire tenure would be entirely virtual, with so many different challenges, but I’m proud of myself and my team for maintaining a strong Foster community, including a increased awareness of well-being and DCI.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? About a year after I graduated from college and started working at a chemical manufacturing plant in Louisiana, I was given ownership of a major project that would expand our most requested product line. I served as the project liaison between the company team and the site employees. Although I am the youngest in the room (and often the only woman), I negotiated conflicts, helped set schedules, and often gave final approval on completed steps. The first time I had to speak in a meeting to correct someone, my voice trembled. But months later, when I refused to sign dangerous piping, my voice held firm. I was transferred before the official completion of the project, but hearing from colleagues that everything was working fine, I felt proud not only of the end result, but also of everything I had learned along the way.

Why did you choose this business school? Foster impressed me for several reasons, but the most important was culture. Especially as a non-traditional student who had never had anything to do with business before, coming back to school full time for something I knew nothing about was scary, and I wanted to be able to learn in a supportive environment. Foster’s collaborative and welcoming atmosphere has been crucial to my success.

Who was your favorite MBA teacher? There are so many names I could name here, but I have to say that Ed deHaan was my favorite teacher. Even though he himself would say wryly that none of us were here just for the bookkeeping, he made sure we all knew the real applications of what we were learning and did his best to make the point. class as accessible and fun as it gets. As a first year section rep, I could tell that he always listened intently to what we had to say and that he visibly and genuinely cared about us. As we moved on to other courses and eventually went virtual, he remained engaged in discussions about the Zoom Cafe and DCI initiatives. Overall I’m thankful for her kindness and humor, especially during this stressful first term of fall!

(I’ll cheat and name two other names as well: Jennifer Koski, who could make anyone love finance and challenged us to always think beyond the numbers; and Ryan Fehr, who reminded us that the business ethics is not an oxymoron and is, in fact, a constant work in progress.).

What was your favorite MBA event or tradition at your business school? We unfortunately didn’t have the chance to experience all the traditions last year, but I’m so glad we were able to make our annual trip to Whistler in December 2019! It was a great combination of going outdoors, going out with friends, and exploring new places. Hopefully this winter the tradition can resume!

Thinking back to your MBA experience, what is one thing you would do differently and why? I wish I had been more in touch with the community earlier – I spent much of my first year focusing on academics, recruiting, and basically the world within the Foster School of Business. Although I volunteered and participated in case competitions, I did not take full advantage of other experiential learning opportunities or engagement programs.

What’s the biggest myth about your school? I had heard a lot about how Foster was student-oriented, and after being involved in student leadership, I realize that this is very true, but in different ways than I expected. . There are both pros and cons to the amount of student authority we exercise – we can create a lot of our own experience, but also with a complete renewal of leadership every year it is difficult to fully transfer. the knowledge.

What surprised you the most about business school? I hadn’t realized how diverse my comrades would be, in all dimensions – birthplace, education, career, hobbies, etc. I have learned so much from them in such a short time, and I will miss them very much!

What was one of the things you did during the application process that gave you an edge in your chosen school? One of the first things I did when I found out Foster was my first choice was to call the admissions office and tell them about my goals and options. I was very honest about the type of MBA experience I wanted and asked them about “Foster fit” and what their opinions were. After gaining a better understanding of how their priorities could match mine, the application process didn’t seem so daunting.

Which MBA classmate do you admire the most? Claire Herting has been a rock star throughout our MBA program! She is involved in so many different activities and gives herself all 100% – as MBAA EVP of Communications, Co-President of Diversity in Business, Board member of Out in Business, Board member from Level Up, Fritzky Fellow… Her enthusiasm and kindness has made a huge difference to many people, and I admire her so much for being so openly herself in everything she does. Walmart is very lucky to have him, and I can’t wait to stay in touch even after he leaves for Arkansas!

How disruptive has the switch to an online or hybrid environment been after the COVID hit? I give all of the faculty and staff at UW Foster huge credit for the change that happened just before spring break last year. Our winter term teachers passed the last week of Zoom lessons without too much difficulty, then a lot of preparation went on during the break so that we could start the spring term. I wouldn’t call it as disruptive as it is difficult – it was hard to go from seeing hundreds of people every day – sitting next to your classmates and constantly interacting with them – to sitting alone in your apartment in front of a screen. Personally, I think that was the hardest part, especially for a community as tight-knit as Foster.

Who most influenced your decision to pursue business in college? I am very grateful to my mom for believing in me and pushing me when I was not sure I could go into business. Honestly, the biggest influence was probably one of my former bosses. From his successes and mistakes, I learned a lot about what happened when an engineer took on a leadership role without any experience or training, and I recognized that I wanted more of a base on which one to build.

What are the top two items on your professional bucket list?

  • Build a diverse portfolio of activities in Seattle
  • Be able to mentor other women in finance, especially women of color

What made Neesha such a valuable addition to the 2021 class?

“You rarely see students giving back to the community as much as Neesha has over the past two years. One of his goals for his MBA experience was to take risks and develop his leadership style. After serving as a freshman, Neesha did this by introducing herself as president of the MBA association and saying, “I’ve learned that I don’t want to go back to anything comfortable or easy.

She had no idea that in six weeks the MBA experience that she and her classmates were waiting for would not happen and that the world we knew was going to change drastically. Neesha worked quickly and tirelessly to voice concerns, ease tensions, suggest solutions to unexpected challenges as we transitioned to a fully virtual agenda and ambiguous environment. Neesha made students feel heard while partnering with the Foster administration to create a space where student concerns can be expressed. As an empathetic leader, she inspired her classmates to continue to lead, stay engaged in the community, and prioritize well-being as we took shelter in place for three months.

Additionally, Neesha has worked with student leaders in the full-time MBA and Foster programs to prioritize diversity and inclusion. She has worked with student leaders, faculty, staff and administration to prioritize the creation of an inclusive community in curriculum development, teaching practice, and student recruitment. Most impressively, Neesha took the time to continue to understand racial inequalities through independent education, reflection, dialogue and listening.

Finally, Neesha has been active in welcoming new students into the Foster culture, connecting them to resources and continuing the legacy of the Foster community. Under his leadership, she inspired the next generation of student leaders at Foster and let the culture flourish.

Norah Fisher
Director, Full-time MBA Student Affairs


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