The Innovators: Executive MBA Class of 2018 Graduates

The Innovators: Executive MBA Class of 2018 Graduates

“If I had to choose one word to describe this year's graduating class, it would be ‘innovators,"" Executive Director Julianna Sowash told the crowd attending the graduation of the Oregon Executive MBA's Class of 2018 in downtown Portland's elegant Sentinel Hotel this June.

Looking back over the 20 months that they were in the program, it's clear that each one of the 50 cohort members was a trailblazer every step of the way. The members of the Oregon Executive MBA's 32nd graduating class were the first to experience the program's new twice-a-month class schedule. They were also the first group to attend the majority of their classes in the program's sleek new facilities in Portland's Old Town/Chinatown neighborhood.

When it came to the program's global study trip, the Class of 2018 had another opportunity to break new ground. They were the first to test a new spoke-and-hub model, with the cohort breaking into smaller groups to visit either Spain, Estonia, or Hungary and then reuniting in the Netherlands to share their experiences.

With every path-breaking step forward, the Class of 2018's members served as active partners with the program, providing frank feedback that enabled the Oregon Executive MBA to fulfill its ongoing mission of continuously enhancing its services.

Not surprisingly, the Class 0f 2018's innovative spirit—not to mention its commitment to excellence—extended even to the graduation ceremony.

Class 2018's graduation was the first to have the Lundquist College dean Sarah Nutter—herself the first woman to lead the college—deliver its keynote address.

Even the valedictorian and salutatorian awards presented an opportunity to do things a little differently. Competition for these honors stayed heated up until the very last hours of the final term, with no fewer than five students boasting grade point averages above 4.0. In the end, though, there could be only one victor in the academic race: Gang Fong, a senior manager at Hitachi Consulting. Pankaj “Sonney" Sapra, owner-principal at JAS Healthcare Solutions, was class salutatorian.

But even in this fiercely competitive arena, the Class of 2018 forged new traditions, with Fong and Sapra teaming up to perform the traditional valedictorian duties of awarding the program's Excellence in Teaching awards to four faculty members.

Adding their own distinctive twist to the program's highest faculty honor, Fong and Sapra composed haiku poems to celebrate the teaching achievements of this year's award winners: Deb Bauer, Gudrun Granholm, Andrew Nelson, and Ed Warnock. (Read the haikus below.)

This year's class speaker—a position selected through a class-wide vote—was Michael Martin-Tellis, who shared a summary of the class's adventures with the audience of more than 300 family members and supporters.

Together with classmate Lindsey Stier-Johnson, Martin-Tellis also played a key role in recruiting this year's graduation speaker: Dave Luhr, global president of Wieden+Kennedy, the Portland-grown international advertising firm known for its innovative work for such high profile clients as Nike, Microsoft, and Coca-Cola, among many others. Stier-Johnson and Martin-Tellis were looking for a leader who has made significant professional impact and could inspire the graduates and everyone else in the room. They more than exceeded their goal with Luhr, who has grown Wieden+Kennedy into what is today's largest global independent advertising agency.

As if all of the above wasn't enough, there was one more joyous moment when we learned that class members Jill Weglarz and Alex Kummer had become officially engaged the evening before graduation. (Much as the program staff would like to take credit for this romance, we must admit that the two entered the program as a couple.) Very best wishes to you both, Jill and Alex.

To the Class of 2018: Here's to your continued personal and professional success. Congratulations on your achievement. It was a true pleasure to share your executive MBA journey. We can't wait to see what you do next, so please keep us posted.

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2018 Excellence in Teaching Award Winners (and Their Haikus)


Deb Bauer Deb Bauer

Cheerful attitude
Net present value master
Unassuming coach


Gudrun Granholm Gudrun Granholm

Calming demeanor
Fearless leader of 10-Ks
Great capstone mentor


Andrew Nelson Andrew Nelson

Boundless energy
Maestro of innovation
Great educator


Ed Warnock Ed Warnock

Charming character
Practical tools and templates
Passionate teacher