Daniels alumnae embrace the power of positive friendships

Nine women embarked on a laughter-and-wine-fueled scavenger hunt—complete with selfies and Insights color-coded T-shirts—during an overnight girls’ trip to Breckenridge, Colorado, in November 2019. In February, five of them were on the beach in Costa Rica celebrating their friend’s wedding.

The 12 women from cohort 20 of the Daniels College of Business Professional MBA program are frequently doing something together—brunch, spinning, book club, yoga, happy hour, even attending international weddings. They’re not making plans while sitting together in class, though—they graduated two years ago.

Through new jobs, relationships and babies; moving across state lines; even personal tragedies, the friendships that Kate Barton, Jessica Blakeman, Aubre Clemens, Mary Beth Cote-Jenssen, Kari Degerness, Carolyn Klindt, Darcy Lattof, Ashley Ruiz, Melissa Still, Mary Swenson, Sahra Tzortzis and Maggie Yokley (all MBA 2018) formed during their two years at Daniels have grown stronger.

“We all talk about our MBA experience being good, but the best part was the friendships and amazing women we met,” said Still, the recent bride.

While balancing the academic rigor of the PMBA program with their professional careers and personal responsibilities, the high-achieving and well-accomplished women, in particular, were reluctant to show their vulnerabilities at first, since grit had gotten them far.

“Being in a professional MBA, you can put your head down and just hope you get through it, and there were definitely moments where we all did that,” Still said. “But there are also these moments when you look around and realize, ‘these are the only people who understand exactly what I’m going through right now.’”

That’s when their softer sides emerged and bonds started to form.

Still, a change management specialist at CoBank, hosted a brunch. Blakeman, a senior financial analyst at Lockheed Martin, suggested a book club. After graduation, the group started a text message chain, which led to impromptu happy hours, workout classes and emotional support during a group member’s nearly fatal car accident. Then Swenson, managing director at Capstone Colorado, organized the weekend mountain getaway, which the group hopes to repeat annually.

“I personally love that we invite every woman from the group [to gatherings],” Still said. “Sometimes people can make it and other times they can’t, but we are still one group of supportive and driven women. I personally never expected them to come into my life or to have them become so close. I honestly didn’t know that I needed them and now I can’t imagine my life without them.”

Swenson remarked that it’s rare for a dozen high-performing businesswomen to develop a deep, authentic and respectful sisterhood devoid of toxic competition.

“We are confident enough in ourselves to not be threatened by others’ success, but celebrate it instead,” she said. “It’s an abundant approach to how we interact with each other.”

Two women from PMBA 20 cohortAmanda Cahal, Daniels’ director of MBA global programs, who accompanied PMBA cohort 20 on its global trip to Colombia, said, “In my experience, every cohort builds strong relationships that often stand the test of time, but the bond between the women in that cohort was particularly noticeable. They were all pursuing fantastic careers and exhibited such support for one another.”

In addition to providing personal friendship, Still described her fellow female classmates as a ‘board of advisors’ for each other’s professional growth, providing a sounding board of diverse perspectives and pushing each other to attain career goals. One case in point: The group convinced Barton, senior vice president of executive office and special projects at Downtown Denver Partnership, that being honored as a Denver Business Journal 40 Under 40 was an attainable goal. She achieved the recognition in February.

While their gatherings look different in the midst of the coronavirus era, Swenson said they haven’t missed a beat.

“The spin classes and brunches have been canceled, but a lot of the spin crew got Pelotons to ride together virtually,” she said. “Now we just have to brunch afterward on Zoom instead.”

Daniels Director of Graduate Student Services Kari Graham added, “One of the unique aspects of choosing Daniels’ programs is that smaller classes give students the chance to develop deep, meaningful relationships. Of these ladies specifically, when you put together a group of remarkable young women, it is hard to hold them back.”

Reflecting on whether she would do it all again if given the choice, Still did not hesitate.

“For me, Daniels was the perfect fit because of the relationships I forged, and that included this group of women, it included the rest of my cohort, but it also included relationships with really wonderful professionals and professors,” she said. “That investment that you make in yourself—it’s the best investment you’ll ever make. For me, it has already come back and I know it will come back tenfold.”

For more information about Daniels’ Professional MBA program, or to apply, visit daniels.du.edu/professional-mba/.