With a passion for ocean and coastal ecology, Amber Mace, WG’20, started her career as a scientific diving instructor at UC Berkeley. She then joined the National Marine Sanctuary Program in San Francisco, where she piloted a submersible at the Farallon Islands — where white sharks commonly come to feed — and searched in Drakes Bay to try to find the oldest known shipwreck on the West Coast.
In this and other ocean-related work, Amber identified a disconnect between science and policy, where sound science was not effectively underpinning ocean policy and management decisions. It was a problem she wanted to solve.
Amber then pivoted her academic career toward building a science-policy connection. After earning a PhD from UC Davis in marine ecology she was awarded a Sea Grant policy fellowship at the California Natural Resources Agency and the U.S. Senate Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee. This placement gave her direct, hands-on experience to better understand how science informs policy at both the state and federal level.
“In school, I immersed myself in the science realm, learning the language of science. In my postdoctoral positions, I immersed myself in the language of policymakers. I became fascinated with the intersection of science and policy, where I could directly help translate the science for policymakers,” said Amber.
Amber later served as the first science advisor on oceans for California, as the executive director of the California Ocean Science Trust, and was then appointed by Governor Schwarzenegger to lead the California Ocean Protection Council. Amber also helped launch the UC Davis Policy Institute for Energy, Environment, and the Economy, serving as an associate director and policy fellow.
In 2013, Amber joined the California Council on Science and Technology as deputy director. In this role, she continued to translate science for policymakers. However, this new position also required an understanding of running a nonprofit organization. Over time, she realized there was a “missing piece” in her toolkit — a formal business education.
“I wanted to bring more business perspective to leading this organization. I’ve learned through experience that science is just one of many factors that informs policy, and to be truly effective in this landscape, understanding the private sector is essential. I love to learn, and even though I was 46 when I applied, I knew a business education would be immediately relevant to my organization and beneficial to me throughout my career,” she said.
Key Differentiators at Wharton
Wharton’s EMBA program stood out to Amber for its immersive experience. She explained: “The residential aspect was a key differentiator because students come to campus every other weekend and stay at the same hotel even if they live in the Bay Area. That immersive environment creates strong bonds among students as well as a collaborative and supportive community. The program is very welcoming and full of camaraderie. I was blown away by the atmosphere.”
Another differentiator was Wharton’s rigor. “During a visit, I saw how Wharton’s EMBA program provides the full MBA curriculum with the same professors who teach the full-time program. This isn’t an MBA lite, it’s the real thing.
Even with a science background, Amber was concerned about the quantitative focus of the curriculum. “I knew I would be stepping into a completely new world and starting from scratch. I was worried about being out of my depth, but I also wanted this kind of challenge. I wanted to push myself out of my comfort zone.”
Now that she is a second-year student, Amber has a new perspective on the quant part of the program. “I’m grateful that the program pushes me and tests my limits,” she said. “With support from my classmates and faculty, I’m accomplishing things I didn’t think I could at the beginning of the program. It’s been a very positive experience.”
Her new knowledge is already adding value to her job, where she was recently named executive director.
“I’m shepherding the organization through a leadership transition and everything I’m learning from leadership skills to accounting is relevant. For example, when reviewing our financials, I was surprised to find that not only did I understand all of the documents, I even found errors that I otherwise wouldn’t have detected. I’m able to have conversations at a higher level and ask different questions because I’m thinking about work in a more structured and strategic way,” she said.
Amber’s classmates are also making an impact at her organization. “I have learned so much from my classmates and I am so grateful for their willingness to share their expertise. Michael de Vera, WG’20, is now a member of our Endowment Investment Committee. Ryan Dillon, WG’20, is helping with our budgeting and accounting, and we are evolving our finances based on his recommendations.”
Amit Bhambi WG’20, a business consultant, in collaboration with Wharton faculty, is sharing his consulting expertise through an independent study project with seven classmates using Amber’s organization as a case study. This team of students is now working to make recommendations to reshape the nonprofit’s direction. “This project will affect the future of the organization and has the potential to make a significant impact on the state of California.”
Amber added: “It was a big decision to get an MBA, but Wharton is 100% worth it. Nonprofits are businesses and they benefit from a thoughtful, data-driven, strategic approach and a network of colleagues who can help you think through how to achieve the organization’s goals. Wharton gives you what you need to rise to the challenge in school and in the rest of your career.”
— Meghan Laska
Posted: September 11, 2019