Stories

Whitney Keyes, Founder & CEO, WK Productions

Sandermoen School of Business, MBA Alumna

Discovering her Passion for Social Enterprise

 

While at Microsoft during her late 20s/early 30s, Whitney Keyes often thought about getting her Master’s degree, but there never seemed to be enough time. She developed strong business acumen early on from her parents, who were artists and art professors. They owned a wholesale pottery business and a retail art gallery where Whitney was expected to help out. “I got entrepreneurialism in my blood at a young age,” she said. She focused her early education on the “science of trying to figure out how to communicate about a product or service; how to connect with customers.”

 

It wasn’t until Whitney left Microsoft and focused on her consulting company that she began to research MBA programs seriously. She found it challenging to choose the right one for her:

“I am very passionate about communication, journalism, and working with the media so, I looked into those types of advanced programs. I’m also very passionate about business, so, I also considered quite a few MBA programs.”

When she started her role with the United States Department of State, she began working with social entrepreneurs to explore the concept of bridging, which is using a business to do good in a community, in society, around the world, and how those two can fit together. “You do what a non-profit does but then apply a business framework,” she said. About seven years ago, she began to look for a program that had a social enterprise focus and “I just didn’t see much out there,” she said.

 

The UFred Impact

 

Whitney spent some time with a Canadian friend, and a student of the Sandermoen School of Business, who shared his UFred experience with her. It was then that she knew she had finally found the program for her:

“He was telling me how great of an experience he was having going to school at UFred and how much he valued the professors, his colleagues, and his cohorts; it was just full of incredible people doing amazing things, and he was learning so much. He told me the University was beginning to put together a new program focused on social enterprise. So, that really appealed to me, and that’s what led me to make the decision to continue my education.”

Whitney earned her MBA with a specialty stream in Social Enterprise Leadership in March 2016, and regularly uses the lessons she has learned:

“I’m using what I learned every single day, and it’s absolutely enhanced my career. I think there are practical aspects of pursuing your MBA, you can potentially leverage for a higher salary, and it gives you a certain amount of credibility in a different way that you didn’t have before.”

Though her UFred education was entirely online, Whitney found that she did not lack in personal connections made at other sorts of institutions; in fact, they may have been stronger:

“There’s just a different way of absorbing information when you are both feet in, day in day out within your classes with your colleagues as pa part of your larger cohort, associated with such a fantastic university and then getting access to these amazing professors with such diverse backgrounds and impressive CVs. I continue to keep in touch with many of my colleagues; I continued to learn from them and have them to go to; I’ve reached out to my professors as well on various occasions. It’s definitely been fantastic icing on my career cake, so to speak.”

A Different Sort of Education Online

 

In the US, Whitney is sometimes asked about the credibility of online education.

“Online education is still evolving, but sometimes it’s still questioned. What I always tell people is what was so beneficial for me, and what I think is pretty unique, was the phone classes (live vclasses). This isn’t just completing some easy exams online, or reading some information online, the fact that the university requires that students participate in phone classes (vclasses) is terrific. The professors are very engaging, making sure that you were not tuning out, playing video games, but really engaged in the lectures, and participating and calling on you. I mean it felt that I was in an actual classroom.”

Whitney enjoyed the challenging classes and the diversity of experience within the student body. “I had people that were in the oil industry, and working in the Prime Minister’s office, and social entrepreneurs running their own businesses,” she said, and added, “All different genders, and, because Canada is such an inclusive country, many different people from all around the world.” To suit her objectives, she needed this sort of distinct learning environment.

 

Whitney is the author of Propel: Five Ways to Amp Up Your Marketing & Accelerate Business and regularly writes for business publications and blogs including Seattle Post-Intelligencer’s Biz Bite Blog. Regarding the future, she said she is “academically inspired,” and may one day want to pursue her Ph.D.