Nonprofit leader receives full MBA scholarship at Chicago booth

The tension is familiar. The business skills and networks provided by an elite MBA program can be invaluable in accelerating innovation, change and impact in the nonprofit sector. Still, the cost can seem prohibitive. For Jason Quiara, who has dedicated his career to expanding educational and economic opportunities for children and families, the answer was Chicago Booth’s Civic Scholars Program. The program provides up to 100% full tuition support to mid-career MBA applicants engaged in the non-profit or government sector. Quiara, strategy director for a national education nonprofit, discusses the value of an MBA, the importance of the Civic Scholars program, and the lessons he is already applying from his education at Chicago Booth .

An MBA at the intersection of business education and civic leadership

I like the strategy. But, it was not by design – nor by strategy – that I started in business school two years ago. I only recently repaid my previous student loans. I will be graduating this fall from Chicago Booth with a concentration in Strategic Management.

My current title at work? You guessed it: director of strategy at the Berkeley, Calif.-based ConnectED nonprofit: the National Center for College and Career. We work in partnership with schools, districts and community leaders to inspire all students, regardless of their background, to succeed in college, in their careers and in civic life.

B-School and the Social Sector – “Opportunity for growth and change”

“Beautiful but complex” is the shorthand I use to describe the social sector. Beautiful reflects the incredible commitment of civic leaders and nonprofit professionals who work diligently to address society’s most pervasive challenges. Complex connotes the scale of problems and solutions.

Throughout my career, I have worked in early childhood, public education and workforce systems to support children and families furthest from opportunities, especially in communities colored. My commitment to these issues is unwavering, which is why I felt compelled to seek new opportunities to grow and make changes.

I have forged partnerships between public institutions (eg school districts and colleges) and private companies. I have always been impressed with the business acumen of the workforce leaders in these partnerships, and I coveted these skills and knowledge. My decision to apply to business school was born out of a desire to acquire new skills and acquire the tools to solve complex societal problems.

The opportunity

The Civic Scholars program sits at the intersection of business education and civic leadership, ideal for professionals seeking change in the nonprofit sector or government. With the costs to take elite MBA programs being out of reach for many of us in the social sector, I could not have attended Chicago Booth without the program’s significant scholarship, made possible by the Foundation of the Neubauer family. For young professionals who wish to follow a commercial training but do not have the means to pursue this path, becoming a Neubauer Civic Scholar is a game-changer!

The program’s blend of academic rigor, real-world application, and social activism is ideal for MBA students who are curious and focused on impact. With the support of Booth’s expert professors, the program introduced me to new dimensions of innovation and entrepreneurship in the social sector. These concepts were reinforced through hands-on learning and events to support the career development and professional growth of students through Booth’s Rustandy Center for Innovation in the Social Sector, the social impact center of the business school.

The academic experience at Booth is designed to accommodate students both where they come in when they arrive and where they want to go after graduation. The flexibility to learn at your own pace is important, especially for part-time students balancing the demands of the workplace and the classroom.

From class to work

After almost two years in my role at ConnectedED, I am apply classroom tools and the private sector to solve public sector problems. Entrepreneurial Selling and Business Negotiation courses inform fundraising, sales and customer development strategies. Recently, I adapted the frameworks of two strategy courses to conduct an industrial analysis of the education sector. With this, I developed a business strategy to expand ConnectED’s services nationwide. ConnectED works with school districts to ensure high school students, especially students of color, get a head start in college and career through experiences such as internships, project-based learning , STEM education and advanced college courses. Every day, I apply behavioral science knowledge to improve workplace relationships, manage teams, and strengthen organizational culture.

Last year, I drew on lessons from two courses – Diversity in Organizations and Workplace Management – to create a commitment to action on diversity, equity and inclusion. This engagement summarizes ConnectED’s perspective on why diversity, equity and inclusion are at the heart of our work and how we intend to deepen our engagement through action. As a next step, I’m working with colleagues to implement best practices from these courses and improve equity and inclusion at ConnectED, including new policies that will help eliminate gender-based pay disparities.

Final thoughts: a new goal

Participation in the Chicago Booth MBA program has helped me grow as a leader and pushed me to new intellectual heights that will ultimately benefit the communities I support. Over the past two years, I have learned to look at complex social challenges from a different perspective. The lessons of the classroom have accumulated in new intellectual and interdisciplinary muscles which I intend to develop throughout my career.

I am always grateful for the experiences and opportunities created for Neubauer Civic Scholars. I am a stronger and more competent professional than when I arrived. Amid a lingering pandemic and a world that continues to warp in unprecedented directions, I am ready.

Jason Quiara, Director of Strategy and Partnerships at Connected, is an MBA candidate at Chicago Booth, where he is Neubauer Civic Fellow. Jason was the Senior Program Officer for the Education and Economic Mobility program at the Joyce Foundation, leading a national portfolio of investments that supported cutting-edge research, innovative solutions and new public policies to improve student outcomes in K-12 grades, college, and the workplace. Jason majored in history and philosophy at Boston College and earned a master’s degree in educational policy and management from Harvard Graduate School of Education.

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