2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Alysa Ulstad, University of Minnesota (Carlson)

Alysa Ulstad

University of Minnesota, Carlson School of Management

Age:  32

“Insatiably curious. Passionate about my family, healthcare innovation, untraveled locations, and my sourdough starter.”

Hometown: Cuyahoga Falls, OH

Family Members: Peter Ulstad (Husband), Ruthie (Mini-Goldendoodle), Joe and Chris Granata (Parents), two brothers, wonderful in-laws, and nine nieces and nephews

Fun fact about yourself: I jumped on the sourdough bandwagon during the early days of COVID and instead of it being part of a fleeting attempt at a new fad, it turned into a true hobby.  Baking artisan loafs and bagels for friends and family gives me joy.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

University of Pennsylvania (Philadelphia, PA)

MSE in Bioengineering

BSE in Bioengineering

Where are you currently working? I work for Marani Health as the Director of Systems Engineering & Clinical Innovation. Marani is committed to transforming the pregnancy care model by dramatically improving access, convenience, outcomes, and costs through our comprehensive digital prenatal and postpartum care portfolio.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Committed to community outreach to inspire young women to pursue STEM careers and help them find their passion for math and science
  • Co-Founder of Smiths Medical’s Global STEM Outreach Program

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? While the MBA brought an expected level of additional work and responsibility into my life, I am most proud of the way I was able to find balance and navigate the unanticipated events that occurred during my business school journey, irrespective of the unforeseen circumstances that came with the pandemic.  During this time, I embarked on the start-up journey for the first time as Marani’s sixth full-time employee. This was a dramatic shift from my prior role at a 30,000 person company. I also moved across the country on about twelve weeks notice, welcomed a puppy into our home, sold a house, bought a home, and managed to PR in a Sprint Triathlon over this time.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? At the precipice of the COVID-19 Global Pandemic in March 2020, I had the tremendous privilege to contribute to the development and regulatory authorization of the Coventor device conceived by Dr. Stephen Richardson and the Medical Devices Center at the University of Minnesota. Coventor is a low-cost ventilator that serves as an alternative when traditional ventilators are not available. It is intended to work as a one-armed robot to pump an Ambu® bag, replacing the need for manual respiration in emergency settings. Coventor was the first-of-its-kind ventilator authorized for use under the FDA’s Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) for the COVID-19 Pandemic.

Amongst an amazing team of professionals who came together seemingly overnight across the University of Minnesota, Boston Scientific, Medtronic, United Health Group, and many others, I helped design a risk management and design control framework to build the body of evidence required for FDA review of Coventor as the lead systems engineer. It is humbling to look back on those first few uncertain and terrifying weeks of the pandemic and realize that I was participating in video conferences directly with the FDA. While I am extremely proud of all the medical devices I have contributed to in my career, Coventor exemplifies what is possible when private industries, academic institutions, and government agencies work in unison towards a common goal. The Coventor experience will forever be a career highlight for me and something I hold with extreme pride.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? The Executive MBA at Carlson was the best fit to help me achieve my goals. I was attracted to the inherent network built within the EMBA’s Cohort structure. I trusted that having dedicated time for two years with the same group of progressing industry leaders would broaden my perspective and help me grow as a business leader. When I initially explored MBA programs, I was in a role that required travel to customers and facilities around the world. Having the ability to communicate a known schedule of school dates more than a year in advance was beneficial to myself and my team to enable better planning.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? In August 2021, my husband (also a Carlson MBA alum!) was offered a fantastic job opportunity which had us relocate to Northeast Ohio from Minneapolis. This was not only exciting for him professionally, but also exciting because it brought us to the same town as family for the first time in over a decade. As we started to navigate everything that comes with a cross country move, I was just six months into my new role at Marani and had my entire second year of Carlson ahead of me. By mid-October, we had relocated to a rental home in Ohio and I began commuting every other week to Minneapolis to attend class. I would take a Thursday 7:00 AM flight from Cleveland to Minneapolis and head straight to the Marani office to be with colleagues in person, finish up homework Thursday evening or visit with friends, spend Friday and Saturday in class, fly back to Cleveland late Saturday, and then attend my Global Team Project meeting on Sunday morning with cohort members from China, Austria, and Minneapolis on Zoom. I have no doubt that juggling work, family, and education was well worth the effort.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Be intentional about prioritizing time and recognizing when diminishing returns occur. Diminishing returns is not just an economic concept, but one that can be applied to life as well. Appreciating when an extra hour with loved ones will pay more dividends than an extra hour of school or work will help you achieve balance.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I personally think the biggest myth is that the MBA alone will advance your career with the ‘letters after your name.’  Your reputation, how you apply your knowledge, and most importantly how you treat others will dictate the milestones that you are able to achieve.

What was your biggest regret in business school? While starting the program in the Fall of 2020 brought lots of uncertainty and Zoom time due to COVID, I wish I had leaned into networking and getting to know my classmates better early on.  I am grateful for Year 2 and having more time to build these relationships.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? I admire Victoria Chambers.  Vicky and I were in the same small cohort group during the first year of the program. As we got to know each other as professionals and friends, we were able to acknowledge how different our paths were to arrive at Carlson. Vicky wrote a note in 1995 that she still possesses. The hand-written note lists her academic “short-term” and “long-term” goals. At that time, her long-term goal was to obtain a BS from Carlson.  For perspective, I was six in 1995. Twenty-five years later, Vicky persevered to achieve her dream and earn her MBA from Carlson. I admire Vicky for her belief in herself, the example she sets for her daughters, and her passion to improve access to housing in Minnesota.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? I wanted to gain exposure from colleagues in different industries, outside of the medical device and health tech organizations I had experienced to date in my career. Located in Minneapolis, MN, Carlson is surrounded by a diverse range of companies, ranging from start-ups to Fortune 500s. I trusted that Carlson’s structure of meeting every other week in person (or on zoom given COVID) would help me build a new network and learn new ways of thinking through my peers.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? At the most basic level, my long-term professional goal is to be happy and forever curious.  On a more tactical note, I would love to lead a technology organization that makes products to improve human health.  My dream is to build an organization where employees are empowered, dream big, have fun, and make a difference.

What made Alysa such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“Alysa (aka Red, Mathlete) is exceptional in every way one would hope for a student and a business person. She excelled in assignments with very high marks. But, in reality, that is not enough to make you great. Alysa is an excellent communicator and has shared the knowledge she has gained in business with her classmates throughout the program. In so doing, Alysa not only demonstrated her knowledge and ability, but she helped classmates to also build theirs.  Alysa was driven to develop relationships and was, I believe, admired and adored by her classmates. I base this belief on the interactions that I was able to demonstrate personally, but also on a comment emailed to me by one of the outspoken students of her class who said, “Seriously though. My favorite classmate is the mathlete – we have had some of the absolute best laughs.” Alysa is like joy incarnate; I look forward to keeping in touch with her on what I assume will be an amazing journey in life.”

Helen Moser
Senior Lecturer in Finance Department

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