It’s Never Too Late to Return to School: I Did After 25 Years

Non-profit work brings new challenges every day, but I love what I do

When I started my MBA journey in the fall of 2018, I had been out of school for over 25 years. I wanted to learn management strategies with a particular focus on finance and to propel my leadership career in the non-profit sector.

Some colleagues had advised me to get my master’s in public administration as it might better prepare me for an executive position in a non-governmental organization. Ultimately, after much research into various graduate programs, I decided to enroll in the UC Davis Graduate School of Management’s Bay Area Part-Time MBA program for several reasons.

Many nonprofit leaders who I admired the most had earned their MBAs. They seemed to think differently with the ability to develop creative, out-of-the-box solutions to leadership dilemmas. I also appreciated the flexibility of the UC Davis Part-Time MBA program with classes in-person every other Saturday and virtual evening classes twice each week.

Lastly, I knew an MBA would vault my career forward.

About one year into the MBA program, that proved true as I received a promotion.

Another year later, after graduating with my MBA, I became the associate director and, shortly after, the acting executive director of Tri-Valley Haven. The nonprofit serves survivors of domestic violence, sexual assault, homelessness and poverty in the Tri-Valley and East Bay Areas.

My Call to Service

The Haven runs seven sites, including a domestic violence safety shelter, a homeless shelter, a busy food pantry, a rape crisis center, a restraining order legal clinic, and a counseling program. We also teach prevention education at local middle schools and high schools, striving to end interpersonal violence before it begins.

As the acting executive director, I lead an organization that assists people out of crisis situations. That means each workday brings new challenges, but I absolutely love what I do!

The work is demanding, but we know we’re making a positive difference in people’s lives.

Just one example: Recently, a staff member shared with me what a client had written to her in a letter. The client shared that when she and her three children had to flee the physical violence in their home, with little more than the clothes on their backs, Tri-Valley Haven was there for them. At the Haven, she and her kids had received a safe, secure place to heal, as well as counseling and the help they needed. The family is now living safely in their own home. For the first time in many years, the mom wrote, she could truly relax.

It takes great courage to leave a domestic violence situation, and it is not always possible without the help of a community organization like ours. I am honored to lead Tri-Valley Haven, an agency that serves survivors and their children and works towards ending domestic violence, sexual abuse and poverty.

Creating a Collaborative Leadership Experience

While at the Graduate School of Management, I had the opportunity to lead a capstone project team for our client, Square (Block, Inc.), the online platform financial services company. Although I had prior experience managing projects and groups, this posed a challenge for me.

As I wrote about in a previous blog, our team analyzed and proposed strategic investments that would advance increased, long-term renewable energy adoption within the bitcoin ecosystem. Our work included an assessment of emerging technologies, a recommendation for Square's focus and building a financial model to illustrate a better return on investment.

The project needed to be completed in 10 weeks and it was a race to the finish line. Throughout this hands-on, experience, I applied the management strategies that I had learned from my courses, both with my team and with the executives at Square. The project had a major impact on my overall MBA experience and my conviction as a leader.

Adding Skills to Boost My Career

When I started at The Haven, I coordinated the crisis center’s daily activities and served as a crisis counselor. Nearly 20 years after that first day on the job, I moved into a role as the director of development.

“Looking back now, it was my MBA experience that propelled me to move forward, and my education gave me the confidence I needed to succeed.”

While at UC Davis, I concentrated my elective classes on finance which has aided me in making budgetary decisions. I also became the treasurer of the board of directors for the Tri-Valley Nonprofit Alliance, an organization that helps hundreds of local nonprofits to achieve their missions.

The lessons in management, leadership and finance that I gained from UC Davis provided a foundation for my career. It created self-reliance and allowed me to lead with confidence.

I am thankful to the faculty and staff at the Graduate School of Management for providing me with the education and skill set to be the kind of leader I aspired to be.

Every day I continue to learn, grow and improve. It’s an added bonus to turn to the School’s alumni network when I run into a business situation where I need additional assistance. I hope to one day return the favor to a future MBA grad.