Mary-Margaret Koch never thought of herself as a numbers person.

The Chicago native was more interested in politics—a passion she saw as a way to address her concerns about climate change and gender equality—and went to American University in Washington, D.C., to study political science and communications studies as an undergrad.

After graduation, she worked on various political campaigns in Illinois before working at Science Olympiad, an education nonprofit that organizes student STEM competitions, as its first program manager and alumni coordinator.

But between doing everything from organizing and planning events to managing fundraising solicitations and social media and working on communications, she found herself working the numbers and loving it.

“I realized that the thing I loved about working in politics was being involved with the budget and managing all the spreadsheets and tracking cash flow,” Koch said. “But understandably, most organizations don’t let people in without official business experience. I had never taken an accounting class.” All of her training was on the job.

So, Koch decided to go back to school to get her MBA. “I realized it might be the right path for me to go get more of those hard skills,” she explained.

Koch, who had family and friends in Colorado, decided to apply to the University of Denver’s Daniels College of Business. She ultimately got a scholarship, enrolled full-time in the Denver MBA program in September 2022 and found herself focused on accounting via her concentration.

“It’s a field that I never would have thought about, which is why I’m really grateful for the Daniels MBA program,” she said. “You get a flavor of a lot of different disciplines of business and are able to pick the one you want to focus on and develop some more expertise.”

Students posed at South Africa's Cape of Good Hope

Koch, third from right, and her cohort experienced a global immersion in South Africa.

Koch will graduate this month with her MBA after a successful stint at Daniels—one that included leadership roles, a Race and Case win and a Global Challenge experience in South Africa, where she worked on an expansion plan for a Cape Town escape room company. 

In addition to serving as a Denver MBA cohort leader, Koch served as co-president of Daniels’ Graduate Women in Business group, where she planned events and panels—all in an effort to create opportunities for networking, socializing and community-building among female grad students. It was an important opportunity to help advance women in business and create a community.

“Obviously, it’s not 1950 anymore, so women are in the workplace and have leadership roles. But there still are some people who are uncomfortable with that,” she said. “It’s good to create community among women where that’s welcome, and create a space where people can celebrate our wins together.”

Lowell Valencia-Miller, assistant dean of MBA programs and a teaching associate professor in the Department of Management at Daniels, said that Koch “represents everything we value in a Daniels MBA.”

Lowell Valencia-Miller presenting Mary-Margaret Koch with a plaque

Lowell Valencia-Miller presents Mary-Margaret Koch with the Distinguished Leadership Award.

“She has gone above and beyond in her role as a Denver MBA student. She readily supports her peers and always expresses a positive attitude to everyone,” Valencia-Miller said. “She will always take time to help others even while juggling her own academic assignments and leadership commitments to the clubs of which she is a member.”

For those efforts and more, Koch was recognized by the MBA Programs staff with the Daniels Distinguished Leadership award. The honor goes to a Denver MBA student who exemplifies the highest degree of personal character, dedication to her fellow students, and ethical decision making.

After graduation, Koch will work in risk advisory for accounting firm Grant Thornton in Denver. She also hopes to volunteer for political campaigns and nonprofits to continue to be involved in projects and topics she’s passionate about.

Ultimately, she says her experience at DU—one that helped her gain not only hard skills, but soft skills of leadership and working with all kinds of people—will help guide her going forward.

“Beyond the practical skills of learning how to ask questions and network and all of those things that you do a lot of when you’re an MBA, fostering relationships with people is what I gained the most from this program,” she said. “You can find common ground with anyone; you just have to know where to look. And you can build something even if it seems like you might not have a single thing in common with someone.”