By Jacquelyn Rees Ulmer | Associate dean and professor, Ivy College of Business, Iowa State University

Back in August, I walked the halls of the Gerdin Business Building. I had many reasons to smile. The beautiful campus of Iowa State University was abuzz with the energy of students starting a new year. Opportunities, experiences, friendships, and football were all ahead of us.

These things always make me smile, but one thing stood out — half of our incoming class of full-time MBA students were female.

There are big reasons for my smile. Only 39 percent of applicants to full-time, two-year MBA programs in the United States are female, according to the 2019 application trends reported by the Graduate Management Admission Council. Reaching parity has been the goal of my dean, David Spalding, and of course, all of us at the Ivy College of Business.

The MBA is considered the most direct pipeline to the executive level or C-suite of a business. If we don’t have gender parity in our MBA programs, it’s difficult to reach parity in the boardroom. This directly benefits business because better performance is tied to more profitable business.

But none of this happened by accident.

A strategy that was in the works for six years featured several elements. Spalding, his administrative team, faculty and staff worked to increase the ranking of the full-time MBA. We needed that level of visibility to be attractive to all applicants.


The college also aggressively hired amazing female faculty. We went from last in the Big XII to first in the highest percentage of female faculty in the college. We know that makes a big difference. Our faculty are role models for our students. It is important to have role models with whom students and potential students identify.

We also changed our admissions processes. Barriers to applying and being accepted into the program were identified and changed. A new, holistic review process was introduced, where we look at applicants in terms of not only their potential for academic and professional success, but also what they bring to their classmates, such as experiences and perspective. The MBA program is where viewpoints and decisions must be challenged – we need diversity in experience and perspective to accomplish this.

There is momentum with the Ivy MBA program, which is the only full-time MBA program in the state of Iowa. In addition to having gender equity with the incoming class, the part-time program, which has 47 percent female students, was voted Best MBA Program in Des Moines by readers of the Des Moines Business Record, two years running.

Clearly, we are making a difference. Not only with our students, but in the communities we serve.

While the COVID-19 pandemic required us to pivot by offering all courses online during the last half of our spring semester, I look forward to the day we return to campus so we can meet in person with our Ivy MBA students. That will make me smile again.