The Columns

My W&L: Maggie Ackell ’16

— by on September 5th, 2016

Maggie Ackell '16

“I’ve learned a diverse set of capabilities that has aided my transformation from a curious girl with a knack for business into a cognizant, concerned businesswoman aware of the challenges of this complex world.”

When people ask me what my field of study is at Washington and Lee, they are often shocked at my response. As a Business Administration major and a Poverty and Human Capability Studies minor, many think my two main areas of study are contradictory. Business, with its efficiency and speed, does not have time for the theoretical discussions of poverty ethics, right? Poverty is something the government should be worried about, not business, right? Taking a cue from the economist Milton Friedman, the social responsibility of business is to increase its profits, and nothing more, right? Wrong. The Shepherd Program has enriched my business degree in ways that the Williams School alone could not have. Having grounded myself in the Shepherd Program’s classes, fieldwork, internship and extracurricular activities, I’ve learned a diverse set of capabilities that has aided my transformation from a curious girl with a knack for business into a cognizant, concerned businesswoman aware of the challenges of this complex world.

My first connection to the Shepherd Program was through the Volunteer Venture pre-orientation trip. I went to Greensboro and had a powerful volunteer experience at Greensboro Urban Ministry. Although I wanted to study something in the Williams School, I immediately felt compelled to take Poverty 101. During that first Fall Term, I received an email from Dean Straughan and Professor Oliver regarding BUS180, a first-year specific Spring Term Abroad course studying Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) in Copenhagen, Denmark. Having had no prior experience with the concept, CSR appeared to be the solution to the dichotomy of my interest in social justice and business. I was lucky enough to go to Copenhagen twice in my Washington and Lee career, once in my first year in the BUS180 class, and again in my sophomore year working as a consultant for BUS391, a consulting practicum centered around CSR and sustainability issues.

As a Shepherd student, I bring a unique perspective to courses like these that contrasts with that of “traditional” accounting and finance students. Often, we find ourselves so tightly concentrated on our pragmatic skills or on a specific project that we forget to see the bigger picture. Similarly, it is so easy to talk about what is practical, rather than what is ethical. However, the Shepherd Program has trained me to ask the hard questions that morality requires of us. In Rockbridge County, I have been face-to-face with an elderly disabled veteran, living in an assisted-living facility with scarce amenities and comforts. In Vietnam, I have been face-to-face with a young mother, smiling because her fruit cart has begun to turn profit for her family. In Greensboro, I have been face-to-face with a homeless man, thanking me for serving him lunch. These faces compel me to ask what is ethical, what is right, what is just. They compel me to bring humanity back into conversations of business or theory. They compel me to reject the “contradictory” nature of a Business Administration major and a Poverty and Human Capability Studies minor, because by trying to understand their plight just a little bit better, I am asking them to sit at the table and engage in the conversation with me. As I pursue a consulting career after graduation, I very much intend to keep Henry, Minh and Marcus in the conversations I have, knowing that a recommendation I make may very well have an impact on them or someone like them.