Jennifer Koski and Jerry Liu
The Koski Effect
While generations of Foster students have been informed and inspired by the transformative Jennifer Koski, one of them—Jerry Liu—expressed his gratitude by creating a scholarship in her honor
Jennifer Koski and Jerry Liu
Dynamic. Enlightened. Inviting. Warm. A confidence builder. It shouldn’t be a surprise that alumni use those words to describe Jennifer Koski, the Kirby L. Cramer Endowed Chair in Finance at the Foster School of Business. Over the past three decades, Koski has taught finance and inspired thousands of students across the school’s various programs.
Jerry Liu (BA 2011) was one of those students. He took Koski’s entrepreneurial finance course as an undergrad and remembers the experience being both indelible and unique in his UW education.
“There was a very different feeling, an aura, within that class,” Liu explains. “She tells stories and brings you into her world.”
Liu credits that class and Koski for inspiring his career as a serial entrepreneur and investor at the intersection of tech, finance and policy. When Liu realized he wanted to give back to the University of Washington, it made sense that it should involve his favorite professor.
Last fall, he funded the Jennifer Koski Honorary Scholarship for Academic Excellence. His gift will provide future Foster students the opportunity to experience their own indelible education from world-class teachers like Koski.
A promise to give back
Born in Australia and raised in mainland China, Liu always had ties to the PNW. With family in Seattle, he spent his childhood summers attending camps and science programming courses at the UW.
“There’s a lot of fate bound between me and the university,” he says.
When he graduated in 2011, Liu made a promise to himself that he’d come back to campus in 10 years. A decade plus one year later (thanks to the pandemic), he kept his promise. Professor Koski was his first call.
“I hadn’t heard from him since he graduated. We went to lunch and had a nice long chat,” says Koski, who also serves as associate dean for academic and faculty affairs at Foster.
“It felt like she hadn’t aged a day,” says Liu. “She still has all the same charm and the aura from over a decade ago.”
That lunch was just the start. As he was reconnecting with his favorite professor, Liu was already giving back to the UW as a volunteer with student groups like the Blockchain Club. Given his family’s value of philanthropy, he knew he wanted to do more.
“My grandmother was very selfless. When she was 70, she gave away all her assets to charity to facilitate the things she believes in,” he explains. “This is the kind of thing that’s embedded in our genetics.”
As Liu was thinking about how he wanted to give back, he thought about how Koski impacted him—and so many others.
Solving problems together
Koski started as an assistant professor at Foster in 1991 after she completed her PhD at Stanford. Prior to that, she earned an MBA from Harvard Business School and worked on Wall Street.
It was at Harvard that Koski picked up the case style of teaching, where students examine a scenario and discuss it in depth. Koski says discussing these cases means “the students and I are solving the problem together, instead of me telling them the answer.”
This approach has made finance—a sometimes intimidating subject—approachable for so many.
“Jennifer brought the subject to life in a way that was so much more than just pure financial concepts,” says Kristen Spangler (MBA 2004). “I remember thinking: this isn’t a number-crunching class. This is all about how to use financial statements to tell a story and do analysis and make decisions.”
Koski’s legions of acolytes report that it isn’t just the use of case studies that made her classes accessible. It’s the way Koski teaches the content.
“Her passion for finance always came through,” says Sasha Duchin (MBA 2022). “Through the way she taught the subject, I was able to build a little more confidence in what I was learning.”
“She illuminated the magic force of finance and business, like there was really something that you can do with finance to make a huge difference,” adds Peter Stroble (MBA 2004). “If you have those skills, it is like a secret weapon that you could really use in your career as a differentiator.”
Koski says she jokes with students that, at the end of her case method courses, they can throw away all the material.
“Because what they learned wasn’t the nuts and bolts of this specific content of any given case, but rather it was how to think and how to structure a problem,” she says. “It’s a way of thinking—that’s what I’m really after.”
A remarkable homage
After Liu decided to honor Koski with a scholarship in her name, he told her he was going to be on campus and had something to drop off. That’s when he told her about the scholarship.
“It was a complete surprise,” admits Koski. “I’ve been teaching for almost 32 years now, and I’ve never had anything even vaguely like this happen to me before.”
The Jennifer Koski Honorary Scholarship for Academic Excellence will support undergraduate students who excel in their studies. Liu says he established this not only to reward students for their hard work, but also to make sure more students are exposed to Koski.
“This is really just to create this environment so that students can continuously be exposed to her thinking and her values,” he says.
Koski hopes Liu’s generosity, through the scholarship and as a volunteer, will serve as a model for students and alumni.
“I would love for them to see that they don’t have to wait until they’re 70 to give back or to make a difference for a student. It doesn’t have to be as significant as what Jerry did. There are little ways that you can do it,” she says.
“Giving back this way serves as a message to foster giving,” he says. “It doesn’t have to be monetary, but the spirit of giving for everyone. You never lose by supporting others.”
Photography by Matt Hagen and Paul Gibson.