The first Bluffton University-hosted Collaborative MBA cohort meets at Bluffton and converses with speakers via Zoom video conferencing. (Photo courtesy of Bluffton University)

Bluffton-hosted Collaborative MBA cohorts off and running

Missy Kauffman Schrock always knew she wanted a Masters in Business Administration (MBA).

Having worked business-related jobs on the side through high school and college, Schrock switched gears and got her undergraduate degree in ministry from Eastern Mennonite University, Harrisonburg, Virginia. After a short stint pastoring in Syracuse, Indiana, Schrock began to feel called in a different direction.

For more than a decade, the dream of earning an MBA stayed in her mind. She worked as a manager of Ten Thousand Villages, a fair trade store selling handcrafted products from around the world,  and managed two different  Mennonite Central Committee thrift shops for a number of years before starting work at Anabaptist Mennonite Biblical Seminary in Elkhart, Indiana, as director of development. Due to family rhythms and work schedules, the timing never was never quite right to enter school again.

But in 2013, Schrock decided it was time. She inquired at Bluffton (Ohio) University about the MBA program, but George Lehman, a Bluffton business professor, told her to wait a year: something new was coming.

The Collaborative MBA program started in 2014 with Schrock as a member of the first cohort.

A joint effort between Goshen (Indiana) College, Bluffton University, Eastern Mennonite University and Canadian Mennonite University, Winnipeg, the Collaborative MBA is a two-year program designed to offer students the chance to complete an MBA that embraces Mennonite values.

‘Leadership for the Common Good’

One of the guiding principles of the program is “leadership for the common good.” The program focuses on personal formation, competency in business and economic skills and building relationships. It is a program rooted in the idea of community and uses a cohort model so participants can move together through the program. Coursework is spread out over two years.

EMU has received accreditation for this program through the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools and GC and Bluffton received approval from the Higher Learning Commission. After completing the program, participants can receive the degree from the school of their choice and pick a graduation ceremony to take part in.

Dominique Burgunder-Johnson, the director of marketing at Goshen College, was also part of the first cohort. She was drawn to the values-based approach to business and saw it as something that would be relevant to her

Collaborative MBA student Dominique Burgrunder-Johnson, photographed while on the program’s one-week trip to Costa Rica. (Courtesy photo)

extensive work with nonprofit organizations. “This [program] aligned much more with my interests,” she said.

Another thing that drew Burgunder-Johnson to the program was the flexibility. “At the time I was living in [Washington] D.C.,” she says, “but midway through I ended up moving to Goshen and it didn’t interrupt the program at all.”

For Schrock, with a job that requires frequent travel, the Collaborative MBA program made it possible for her to attend class from anywhere with an Internet connection. “Wednesday night was class time,” she said. “We just always knew that and then from there it was mostly about self-discipline to make sure my work outside of class was getting done. My weekends were spent studying.”

Schrock said that despite having been apart for most of the program, the cohort interacted well and engaged in a positive learning experience together. Classes are held via Zoom: an online video chatting program that allows professors and cohort members to interact and converse face-to-face.

Burgunder-Johnson echoed that she valued the interaction with the others in the program. “You still have real human interactions and get to know your cohort,” she said. “Even though you’re not all in the same space you are still having good conversations and engagement.”

There are two residencies during the program. At the beginning of the program, the cohort spends one week together on one of the college campuses getting acquainted and oriented.

Costa Rica cross-cultural focuses on business models

The second residency is one week in Costa Rica. Students live in a small town and have the chance to live and speak with community members and see a variety of business models in operation. One of the interactions is with a co-op of coffee growers where everyone involved in production is also a part-owner of the business venture.

Schrock picked the leadership concentration, but the time in Costa Rica also guided her thinking around questions of sustainability. “We were able to see how the culture, the government and the economy all combined to function in Costa Rica,here the majority of the energy is produced sustainably,” she said.

For Burgunder-Johnson, it was inspiring to see things the group was learning in class put into action in Costa Rica. “Being able to see the different leadership models in action helps it feel more achievable when you come back home,” she said.

Towards the end of the program students begin to develop an idea for their capstone project as a way to apply what they’ve learned.

Schrock focused on sustainability issues.

“Really neat things ended up coming out of [the capstone project],” Schrock said. Schrock’s project was centered around the idea of installing solar panels on the AMBS campus and finding other ways to become a more sustainable institution.

“This program helped me think more clearly about sustainability in a lot of different ways: financial, social, environmental,” she said. There had been talk around the AMBS campus about solar panels but when Schrock decided

New solar panels are being installed on the AMBS campus in Elkhart, Indiana. The idea for the panels grew out of Missy Kauffmann Schrock’s capstone project. (Photo by Katie Hurst)

to take it on as a capstone project she assumed her work would stay theoretical.

However, conversation spread as she developed her project. Schrock and AMBS eventually started more formal thinking about how her project could come to fruition on campus. They applied for grants, searched for additional resources and solar panel installation began March 27. The panels will be fully operational by April 15, with a dedication taking place on April 20 as part of the Rooted and Grounded Conference.

The whole project is projected to offset about 70,000 kilowatt hours, about a quarter of the institution’s total energy use. This will save AMBS 8,000 dollars in electric costs every year.

Not only will Schrock’s capstone project have a lasting impact on the AMBS campus, but the program will influence her work as well. “Every class that I took as part of the Collaborative MBA had some direct relevance or impact on my current work,” she said. “Whether it’s understanding market forces better or leadership skills or accounting or sustainability practices, it has impacted the way I do my job.”

Experienced executive wants ‘something different’

Another student, Jackie Glick, is a member of the second cohort and currently anticipating graduation in April 2017.

What drew Glick, a financial executive, to the program was the online model as well as the values-based education that was different than the corporate spheres she’d been operating in. Glick worked in the insurance industry for 28 years, ran her own consulting business for 15 and worked in the corporate world 7 years. When she sought more education, she decided that she needed something different.

“I needed something to work on and to be able to show ‘look I did this,’” she said. And she wanted it to be something that would make a difference and be useful to her future career endeavors, whatever they may be.

“This is the first time in my life I don’t have a plan,” she said, “and I’m working on being okay with that.” Despite some uncertainty, she mentions feeling empowered by this new stage of her life. “I’ll finish in April and then decide what direction I want to go, what I want to do next with these new experiences and knowledge.”

Glick, a Goshen College grduate, also mentioned that her international Study Service Term was a formative experience and she was thrilled at the possibility of an MBA program with international experience in Costa Rica. During her trip with the Collaborative MBA cohort, Glick got to experience staying in a small town and interacting with local business leaders and economists, tours and a variety of alternate business models. She was impressed with the focus on cooperatives in Costa Rica as well as nonprofits.

“It was so interesting seeing business models where [local coffee growers and buyer co-ops] build infrastructure within little towns and take the profits and reinvest in the community,” she said.

All three women mentioned that the program left a lasting impact and expanded their knowledge.

“It definitely impacts how I approach all of my work,” said Burgunder-Johnson.

This article is republished with permission from The Mennonite.