MBAs pitch in on community projects. Business schools encourage pro bono work with summer programs

Huge salaries, lavish life styles, and - topping it all - recent insider-trading scandals have focused public attention on business-school graduates. But Guilia Fitzpatrick, a 1987 graduate of the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton Business School graduate program, doesn't fit the money-chasing image. And she says there are others like her.

Ms. Fitzpatrick and eight classmates spent a month this summer doing volunteer work on the impoverished Caribbean island of Dominica.

Also this summer, five young Wall Street analysts set off on a cross-country bicycle trip to raise money for the homeless.

These are among a significant number of students and graduates of prestigious masters of business administration programs who are getting involved in volunteer community service activities.

Several schools have programs in which MBA students donate a portion of their summer earnings to support community service work by their peers. Almost a quarter of the students at Yale work in the nonprofit or public sector under such a program. At Stanford University, contributions from more than 80 percent of the first-year students support 10 interns doing volunteer work around the world.

After graduation, some students forgo careers on Wall Street in favor of public-sector work.

Laura Tavormina, a Columbia University MBA (1984), works with the Local Initiative Support Group, a nonprofit organization based in New York that funds local development projects, such as housing for the poor.

Motivated by the economic and social problems she found while living in Lansing, Mich., Ms. Tavormina says she hoped that she could learn how to combat them at business school.

She says she found that many students were surprised at her choice of occupation. But, she says, there was a recognizable ``core'' of students at Columbia who also planned to work in the public sector.

This core has remained small over the past several years. On average, for example, only 1 or 2 percent of business graduates of the University of California at Los Angeles enter the public or nonprofit sectors. That seems typical.

Cathy Castillo, a spokesman for Stanford University's business school, notes that ``people working for nonprofit agencies face the stereotype of being do-gooders who are unrealistic ... and could not make it in the for-profit world.''

Many more MBAs and business graduates choose to combine a career in high finance with pro bono work on the side. At Stanford, graduates have formed an Alumni Consulting Team (ACT) program that coordinates volunteer work by alums.

``While pro bono work is fairly common among lawyers and doctors, it has rarely been practiced by MBAs,'' says ACT organizer Debbie Cohen.

``I love the private sector,'' says Fern Mandelbaum, a first-year student working with ACT, ``but at the end of the day I really want to do something different, something for others.''

Along similar lines, many companies are encouraging volunteer work among their employees. Merrill Lynch & Co., for instance, will contribute up to $500 to a community service project undertaken by one of its employees.

Top executives at Bear, Stearns & Co. donate 4 percent of their salaries to charity and do pro bono work in their field.

One difficulty in volunteering, however, is the hectic schedule among MBA students and graduates. Matthew Ben Daniel, a graduate student at the Sloan School of Management at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology, says he worked ``only nine or 10 hours a day'' this summer for Apollo Computer. He says the public would be surprised at how many MBAs actually do volunteer work despite the pressure. Up to one-third of his classmates, he says, were involved in some kind of volunteer activity while in school.

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