Nancy McKinstry award pays dividends for Alice Longhurst

Sep 12, 2012
MBA graduate Alice Longhurst (right) with Brita Cloghesy-Devereux, her mentor from the CMC's Mentors in Business program

MBA graduate Alice Longhurst (right) with Brita Cloghesy-Devereux, her mentor from the CMC’s Mentors in Business program

No one could ever accuse Alice Longhurst of being indecisive. In spring 2011 she was working at the Women’s Executive Network (WXN), with no plans to return to higher education. One month later, she was enrolling in the MBA program at SFU’s Beedie School of Business.

The Beedie School of Business is the national education partner for WXN, and it was through her director-level position at the WXN in Toronto that Longhurst was first introduced to the school and program. “I was able to sit in on a leadership development workshop delivered by Melissa McCrae (Executive Director of Graduate Programs at the Beedie School of Business) to the participants of the WXN Top 100 Mentorship Program,” she explains. “I was really impressed with the calibre of the workshop content and with the information provided at that session about the MBA program. As soon as I returned to Toronto, I contacted Melissa and asked if it was too late to register for that year’s cohort. Within a month I was taking the GMAT.”

Longhurst is clear about her reasons for enrolling in the MBA program. “I wanted to learn the tools necessary to justify my business decisions, instead of basing them on limited experience and intuition,” she says. “I didn’t apply anywhere else – I knew SFU was the right choice for me.”

Longhurst has long been passionate about supporting women, both in leadership development and in improving the lives of women and girls. Prior to moving to Vancouver for the MBA program, she held a seat on the YWCA Toronto Board of Directors and ran a volunteer-based bakery, FeriaCakes, which provides cakes on a monthly basis to YWCA women’s shelters.

Her work in promoting opportunities for women in business earned her the 2011 Nancy McKinstry graduate student scholarship for leadership. The award is presented each year to a Beedie School of Business graduate student who has been a leader in promoting the advancement of women in business.

Longhurst brought her personal passion for this subject with her to SFU and, along with her fellow MBA classmate Alannah Cervenko, co-founded the Graduate Business Women’s Council for the Beedie School of Business in 2011. The Council focuses on raising awareness about upcoming business networking events and providing access to local women business leaders.

Longhurst also seized the opportunity to incorporate the subject of female leadership development into her course work. “In our marketing class we were asked to design a social media campaign for a not-for-profit organization. I was able to convince my group to focus on the Minerva Foundation, which has a mission to elevate the visibility, influence and contribution of women leaders,” she explains. “In collaboration with the Foundation, we developed a successful “Leading by Tweeting” campaign, and managed to enlist some major Twitter users to champion our cause. I was very happy to have been able to combine what I was learning in the MBA program with helping such a worthy cause.”

Throughout the course of the program, Longhurst has made the most of the services offered by the Career Management Centre (CMC). She has been an active participant in the Mentors in Business program, and was paired with Brita Cloghesy-Devereux, Strategic Partnership Manager at Vancity. “Brita has been a tremendous help in building my business relationships and sharing invaluable career advice,” says Longhurst. “The Mentors in Business program provides an opportunity to boost your career, and I would highly recommend it to anyone seeking words of wisdom from a respected local business leader.”

When searching for the right internship to undertake as the final part of her MBA, Longhurst once again turned to the CMC. “Through the CMC I became aware of an internship with Sawa World,” she explains. “This non-profit organization is taking a very innovative approach to ending extreme poverty by identifying solutions that already exist within the base of the economic pyramid. Sawa World collaborates with community leaders, called Sawa Leaders, who have created projects that have had proven success in helping people get out of poverty.”

Longhurst, along with fellow MBA classmate, Amrit Morsara, will be in Uganda this fall working with Sawa Leaders. In this role, the pair will be helping to identify social enterprise options for the Sawa Leaders’ existing projects to ensure long-term sustainability.

For Longhurst, one of the highlights of the MBA program was the bond the cohort developed. “I expected everyone in the program to be Type-A personalities and I was surprised to find it wasn’t like that,” she says. “The cohort is like a 52-person family who provide support to one another and who challenge each other through lively classroom discussions, facilitated by the world-class faculty. The thorough MBA candidate selection process at SFU is one of the real strengths of the program.”

Now that it is all over, does Longhurst feel the MBA program met the clear goals she had identified? “The MBA has definitely provided me with the business acumen I was looking for,” she answers. “I’m looking forward to using my new skills in the business world and have already found myself using some of them in everyday life. The MBA has been an incredible experience, one I will never forget.”