Quinn Lee is a long-time advocate for representation in the LGBTQ+ community. In addition to working full-time in procurement for Whole Foods Market, Quinn formed an organization devoted to elevating underrepresented voices in the Denver performing arts scene. When Quinn decided to build their organization to have a larger impact, they wanted to develop business skills before diving in head first. That’s what brought Quinn to the CU Denver Business School and the One Year MBA program.

A Winding Path to the One Year MBA Program

Quinn grew up in Southern California and completed their undergrad degree in Urban Planning. After graduation, Quinn worked with Americorps’ Backcountry Trails Program and lived in a tent in the wilderness near Yosemite for six months building hiking trails. Shortly after completing that program, Quinn and their partner moved to San Francisco, where Quinn took a job with Whole Foods Market.

“I started as a part-time Grocery Team Member stocking shelves at a Whole Foods store in San Francisco,” Quinn recalls. “I took the role because there were no jobs in my field at the time. Now, I’m a Team Leader of Equipment Procurement for the West, a region which includes more 200 stores.”  Quinn worked their way up in the Whole Foods organization through several years of promotions and new opportunities. Recently, Quinn realized there wasn’t much room left at the company for career advancement.

“My supervisor helped me understand that there was very little upward mobility left for me at Whole Foods Market,” Quinn says. “She agreed to let me take Fridays off and pursue my MBA. I chose the One Year MBA program because I was drawn to the accelerated nature of the program and the in-person cohort structure.”

Creating Space and Community for LGBTQ+

While Quinn was climbing the ladder of advancement opportunities at Whole Foods Market, they were also working in the community to foster inclusive spaces. In 2019, Quinn started an organization called EDIT with the mission of elevating underrepresented voices in the improv community. They also produced Denver’s first and only improv festival featuring all majority-female and non-binary teams.

“I’m very passionate about social justice issues and representation in performing arts,” Quinn says. In addition to forming their organization EDIT, Quinn also performed regularly with improv team Bent (an all-LGBTQ+ team). They hosted drop-in improv classes for the queer community and a “Queercomers” show that invited new and up-and-coming queer improvisers to perform alongside the team.

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the consulting coursework changed my life,” Quinn Lee says.

After graduation, Quinn has dreams of making an even greater impact on LGBTQ+ representation in the improv scene. “The pandemic has drastically changed the improv landscape right now,” Quinn says. “I think that while theaters are closed for performances it could be a great opportunity to provide strong curriculum and training to change the toxic culture that exists not just in Denver improv but all over the country.”

Quinn has also been developing an idea to build a queer-friendly, sober lounge space. They’ve worked on the idea through One Year MBA class assignments during the program. And though starting the business might get put on pause due to the health crisis, they’re passionate about building inclusive spaces for the LGBTQ+ community.

Finding Commonality in the One Year MBA Cohort

“Our cohort has definitely had a unique experience since the pandemic hit,” Quinn reflects. “I’ll be honest, I’ve struggled to make personal connections with some of my classmates. I’m hearing impaired, so before we transitioned to online learning, I had a difficult time hearing people in class, and it was challenging for me to connect and communicate with folks in the lounge. I am also queer and non-binary, and it was a bit of a culture shock to be in a cohort with so many straight, cis-gendered people. Most of the people in my personal life are queer and very progressive, so the One Year MBA program has given me an opportunity to interact with a wider variety of people with differing viewpoints.”

Although Quinn had some difficult making early connections with their classmates, they have found their stride through relationships with professors and group projects. “My advice to future One Year MBA students is to lean in to your cohort and don’t hold back,” Quinn shares. “If you’re like me, business may feel like an abstract idea and you might think dreams of working for yourself are just dreams. In reality, the people in this program could become your future business partners. If you really put thought and effort into projects, they could very well be the first building blocks of your next great career. Seek your people out early and stay in touch with them!”

Real-World Experience in the Consulting Courses

“I don’t think it’s an exaggeration to say that the consulting coursework changed my life,” Quinn says. “I found my voice there and discovered that consulting could be a very good fit for me in my career.”

Through the One Year MBA program’s consulting projects, Quinn has had the chance to work with real companies to solve business problems and approach challenges in a new way. “Our instructor, Jill Lohmiller, does a wonderful job of introducing consulting in a way that’s empowering. The real-world experience I got in those classes is priceless.”

Quinn feels lucky to have been assigned to a very good group of classmates who worked on many projects together. “In our marketing class we were tasked with developing a business idea and a marketing plan,” Quinn recalls. “My group chose to work on an idea for a sober bar, lounge, and café marketed toward the LGBTQ+ community. I was overwhelmed by the positive response to our project, and several of my cohort members expressed interest in pursuing the idea after graduation. That experience gave me a lot of confidence and helped me realize that these ideas that may have seemed like pipe dreams before could actually become a reality.”

Since discovering their passion for consulting, Quinn’s career path has started to take shape. “The pandemic has drastically changed the improv landscape right now, so I am thinking of shifting the focus of EDIT a bit and building it out as a consulting firm. I haven’t decided exactly what I want to do, but it is really exciting to know that I am going to work toward building space and community for marginalized folks like myself.”

You Can Do Hard Things

“I’ve developed a mantra since I started the One Year MBA,” Quinn says. “You can do hard things. It’s something my boss always told me and I’ve repeated it to myself often throughout the program. The One Year MBA program is hard, but you can do it and you will come out the other side with much more than just a resume-booster.  You will gain confidence, improve your emotional intelligence, and hopefully find a class or subject that really resonates with you and can guide you to whatever your next step is.”

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