Charlene Franke

Charlene Franke, BBA ‘19

Leading on Social Impact

For as long as she can remember, Charlene Franke had dreams of a career through which she could change the world. “For many years that career was going to involve medicine. I wanted to do Doctors Without Borders and live in Latin America somewhere,” she says. “That goal brought me to a high school focused on science and technology. After my first biology class, though, I realized that medical school and the natural sciences were not for me.”

Charlene didn’t let this realization stop her from continuing to seek a meaningful career path.  “Most of my classmates were studying medicine, engineering, or computer science. I knew I wanted something different.”

Attending these events and seeing people from all over Ross creating a stronger environment for social impact at the business school was really exciting to me.

It was Charlene’s aunt who set her sights on using leadership to effect change. As a result of her encouragement, Charlene developed an interest in business as a junior in high school. “That's what got me interested in Ross,” Charlene explains. “I saw Ross as one of the best undergraduate business schools for students interested in social impact. No one in my family was from the Midwest. I was the first person to attend the University of Michigan.” 

Charlene felt that attending Ross was the right decision for her almost immediately. “When I first started taking some of the core classes, like economics, business statistics, and accounting, I felt things click. I knew that I could excel with a lot of hard work, which was really rewarding. I could see how the classes would apply in my future career.”

Charlene was also quick to get involved in the social impact community on campus. As a sophomore she became involved in Net Impact, a 70-member, multidisciplinary group of students dedicated to making a difference through business leadership. Charlene earned the position of vice-president for the organization’s projects — the first to hold the role. 

Now the co-president of Net Impact, Charlene has many good friends, former mentors, and mentees who are making a difference in the club, too. “Being involved in Net Impact is a really cool way, not just to get to know people, but also to see how social impact and sustainability work happen on campus.”

As part of her work with Net Impact, Charlene is a peer coach for social impact. “In this role, I help business students who come into Ross knowing they want to work in social impact explore all of the different possibilities that are out there.”

Another highlight of Charlene’s time on campus are the Business+Impact planning sessions that she participated in. “Attending these events and seeing people from all over Ross creating a stronger environment for social impact at the business school was really exciting to me.”

Charlene’s ability to make an impact hasn’t been limited only to the Michigan campus. She completed a summer internship last year which she calls the greatest learning experience she’s had. “I worked at a microfinance institution in Colombia. It was the first significant amount of time I had spent abroad. It was the hardest thing I've done, but it taught me the most and made me grow as a person.”

Based on her experience, Charlene agrees that Ross provides everything students interested in social impact and community economic development careers need to succeed. “Being able to understand how businesses work has really prepared me for a career with impact. I've also learned that having business skills and really understanding the business side is what will help a nonprofit organization succeed and be sustainable going forward, and that these skills are in high demand in the social impact space.”