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Karen Mesrobian: An Informational Interview

Karen MesrobianI spent 2 years after undergrad working for my family’s agricultural company launching a new product line. I basically worked as a one person startup company establishing the legal entity, the marketing and branding (naming the product, creating the graphic design of the label, etc), and doing sales. I realized that my liberal arts background wasn’t sufficient for the hard skills I needed to be in business beyond my ‘guess and check’ method of trying things to see what worked, and abandoning those that didn’t.

I knew I wanted to be in a higher management level position, and I wanted corporate experience that provided more structure to learning the ropes then working for myself. I wasn’t sure exactly how that would manifest though. I didn’t have a specific industry or even a role/function in mind. I called it ‘marketing’ but really was looking at more brand/product management. And I had an interest in tech but it’s such a broad industry, especially if your background isn’t in it, I wasn’t sure if making that switch was feasible (spoiler alert: it ended up working out for me).

Did you specialize in Marketing, and if so, what feedback do you have about that particular focus at UC Davis?

The GSM doesn’t require you to declare a concentration or area of focus. We have mandatory core courses that everyone must take as a foundation, and the rest of your units are elective courses that you choose. I’ve taken several elective courses in marketing, but I’ve diversified my classes to take some harder skills (data mining, and SQL), strategy classes, entrepreneurship classes, cost management classes etc.

My advice is to get a rage of skills beyond one function. Marketing is heavily dependent on pricing (econ), placement (strategy), analytics (statistics/forecasting) etc. Taking a range of classes outside of strictly marketing emphasis is a good way to diversify your skill sets for roles you may take on later down the road.

Why did you choose UC Davis?

I wanted to stay in California and the strong agriculture focus of the broader UC Davis campus was a big draw for me. I prefer smaller programs with tight-knit classes where you actually know your professors. You trade off a more well established name recognition for the program, and maybe a broader alumni network to leverage post graduation, but the program itself is more customized to my individual goals and I have a better and more personal support group in my classmates and career development to help me.

In your opinion, what is the strongest part of the program?

Highly individualized program/course offerings, diverse cohort (especially in career backgrounds/experiences), personalized attention from career development, tight-knit community, close lifelong friends in my classmates, not locked in to a standard career path…

The weakest?

As a smaller program we don’t have the name power that a larger b-school would hold (i.e. we’re not a Marshall or Haas), but we are a much more unique group of people that is admitted and don’t necessarily want/need the well laid out path that established programs lock you in to.

If you were applying now, would you still choose UC Davis?  Why or why not?

The GSM helped me reach every goal I wanted to get out of an MBA program- I switched not only industry but function as well, neither of which I had any prior experience in. They helped me connect with Microsoft to get my internship which led to a full time offer before I even started my 2nd year, and I increased my pay grade significantly. It’s possible that other programs may have been better fits for one area or another of my overall b-school experience, but I can’t really evaluate and compare schools without having gone through the program. Every school will have its thorns, it’s just a matter of finding the best “fit” for the school culture/vibe that you work best with.

Do you live in Davis, and if so, what are your impressions of the area?

I moved to Davis and live in an apartment complex on the edge of campus. The downtown area is really nice and has a very “college town” type feel. Lots of coffee shops, restaurants, greenbelts (I run so I look for nice paths/scenery). The most Davis-y thing is the number of bikes/biker riders in town – we’re kind of famous for it. The town itself is small though and slightly isolated, very close to Sacramento and a really reasonable drive to SF. I like smaller town living so it’s a good match for me.

Anything else I should know but haven’t thought to ask?

Internships play a huge role in every MBA program, at any school. My main advice to any prospective student is to do your research on the career development team/program resources for any school you’re looking at.