QS Community Scholarship Winner: Baking a Difference in People’s Lives

Baking a difference in people’s lives

It was during a difficult childhood that Jen Bower first realized the power of baking; a comfort for both herself and her young siblings. Wanting to share this gift with others, she founded Baking the Change in the summer of 2016. The brand aims to allow those who might not otherwise have the opportunity – children with disabilities, families in underprivileged communities and seniors in care homes – to experience the therapeutic, creative and delicious joys of baking.

It’s been a success so far, with bakers coming back for class after class. We’ve recognized Bower’s great work with a QS Community Scholarships worth US$2,000. We award five of these to MBA candidates who have shown socially responsible leadership each year. To learn more, visit TopMBA.com/scholarships.

We asked Bower, currently studying an MBA at UBC Sauder in Canada, to tell us a little bit more.

Jen Bower UBC SauderTell us a little bit about your background

I am from Glendora, California, a small suburban town wedged between Los Angeles and Orange County. Most of my free time was spent running along the foothills of my town, swimming, and, of course, baking. I chose to attend college at Boston University where I studied Spanish language and literature, business administration, and english literature. Throughout college, I interned at a law firm and worked as a server at a few seafood restaurants. After college, I moved to NYC and worked at a global law firm in practice development. In 2015, I transferred to the LA office to be closer to family. After almost five years in the legal field I wanted to try something new so I took a position in data and information management consulting at a small US west coast based firm. This job was the most challenging and rewarding year of my professional career thus far and it taught me to appreciate and embrace change. 

Obviously baking helped you get through some tough times – what made you want to share this with others? 

It didn’t hit me until I was in my first year out of college that I could share baking with others. For so many years it was a very personal activity that I only ever experienced at home with family. My first winter in NYC was spent baking with my roommates as we all tried to navigate our inaugural year of true adulthood. Each of us had our own obstacles to face but we were able to bake our way through this challenging season one pie at a time. My roommates had only ever baked out of a box and they are all now much more adventurous bakers. After that year, I realized that so many people probably like to bake but they just haven’t had the opportunity to do so. I started sharing my love for baking with the children I babysat on the weekends. At first I thought it was going to be a disaster but then I remembered that kids are usually the most willing to learn something new and it was a success every time!

What are your plans for BtC in the future? 

BtC is honestly a selfish and selfless way for me to do what I love every day. Selfish, because baking with wonderful people as a career is a dream that I hope to make a reality. Selfless, because many of our bakers do not have opportunities as simple as baking a batch of cookies at their disposal and we can change that for them while making them feel special, too.

BtC has a few avenues I would like to explore in the future. I would first like to start partnering with universities that have complementing programs, such as, occupational therapy, speech language pathology, and childhood development. Creating a chapter-like franchise system will allow the students of the universities to start their own BtC club and gain leadership experiences while also giving back to the communities they have chosen to work in. Many of my friends in these fields have recognized a lack of volunteer opportunities for students and this would be a great solution.

Additionally, I would like to start hosting classes in pediatric hospitals and women’s shelters. I am focusing on writing recipes that are healthy and kid-friendly, which is perfect for the hospital setting. Many shelters and rehab centers offer life-skills classes and we have been asked to teach the basics of baking to a few groups. The opportunities are endless but we are hoping to find partners and sponsors to help us impact as many communities as possible.

Why is it that you think baking is so therapeutic? 

In terms of sensory stimulation, there are a lot of hands-on steps that require different levels of attention, which can be therapeutic for anyone. From initially measuring out the ingredients to mixing, a baker can spend time getting lost in the recipe using only their hands. The children I have worked with love dumping the ingredients into the bowls and mixing it all up, as you would expect. Following simple step-like instructions is also part of regular OT and SLP therapy sessions, which for many of our bakers makes them feel comfortable during our classes since I designed our recipe cards to replicate a familiar format. Decorating allows the bakers to finish off their creations with a personal touch while engaging fine-tuned motor skills, such as piping frosting and using cookie cutters. Our seniors enjoy decorating almost as much as the kids do and this actually surprised me at first. After a few classes with them, I learned that seniors have limited opportunities to exercise their creative sides and they definitely don’t hold back in our classes, which I love to see!

For me, baking a pie is the most therapeutic which many people might think is the complete opposite. Hand kneading and then rolling out the crust the night before has me thinking about baking that pie throughout the next day. Rushing home to start the filling so the pie can bake and cool by the end of dinner is both thrilling and challenging, something I can’t wait to take on. Cutting and weaving a lattice-style crust takes just enough focus to let my mind forget about the stresses of the day. Serving up the pie to hungry (and willing) friends is definitely the best part of it all!

What is your absolute favourite cake to make? 

I wrote a recipe seven years ago that I am still proud of and love to bake: dark chocolate cake with lavender vanilla buttercream frosting. It is the perfect balance of bitter and sweet with a floral pop to brighten each bite.

What advice would you give to others who face tough circumstances? 

Find the light in every dark place. It could take years to see it, but every painful experience can be used to change someone else’s life and to make this world a better place.

What are your plans for the future? 

I am currently searching for my next professional experience hoping to work in a corporate social responsibility department in a medium to large corporation. Learning how companies are able to support their communities through CSR will help me build BtC into a stronger nonprofit in the future. Eventually, I would like to see myself continuing to work in CSR at some capacity while also running classes for BtC. I could also see myself teaching CSR or Organizational Behavior at a university one day.

Why do you want to study an MBA? What made you settle on UBC?

An MBA is my ticket to understanding the corporate world at a higher and more strategic level. At first, I didn’t think I would ever want to work for a big company that had lots of money until I realized just how much of an impact a big company with a lot of money can have on its direct and distant communities. At one of the firms I worked for, we had ONE day of organized community service a year. Almost all of my associates asked for more opportunities to give back using the firm’s name, which showed me that not only do these companies have money, they have employees with big hearts and willing hands. Learning how to connect communities and organizations in need to powerful and responsible corporations is what I hope to take away from this degree.

UBC proved to be one of the only programs to offer a selection of experiences and courses dedicated to social impact. The social entrepreneurship program allows students to help locals of developing communities design and build businesses. I am most excited to take the ethics and sustainability course taught by highly acclaimed professor, Tamar Milne. I am also hoping to get involved with the Centre for Social Innovation & Impact Investing (Sauder S3i). Overall, UBC matched my passion for making a difference as a meaningful career and every encounter with the faculty thus far has confirmed my decision to study here. 

Written by Mansoor Iqbal

Mansoor is a contributor to and former editor of TopMBA.com. He is a higher and business education specialist, who has been published in media outlets around the world. He studied English literature at BA and MA level and has a background in consumer journalism.

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