A Real Incarnate of a Horatio Alger Hero

With poverty comes fear, stress and a shift of priorities. Poverty can shape who a person is and what a person can become. Recent graduate Vernon Rowland ’14 M.B.A. knows this firsthand, and is certainly shaped by his childhood of destitution. But he never allowed it to be an excuse.

Growing up, Rowland and his family faced the depths of poverty. His elementary and middle school years were particularly tough, where at one point his family was homeless.

“My family would move from house to house, staying wherever there was a free place to sleep … Kind souls were generous enough to open their homes to us.”

The struggle continued, yet Rowland’s family values remained focused on education. By the time Vernon enrolled in DeLaSalle High School, he had surrounded himself with a solid support team, all of whom cared for his best interests. During his senior year at DeLaSalle, Rowland was met with a unique opportunity. His principal, Barry Lieske, had recently returned from a trip and had learned about a nationwide program offering scholarships for students in need.

The Horatio Alger Association of Distinguished Americans, a nonprofit organization established in 1947, sponsored the program offering financial assistance to students who “exhibit integrity and perseverance in overcoming personal adversity.” Named after the famed rags-to-riches author, the association employs a simple yet powerful belief – that hard work, honesty and determination can conquer all obstacles.

img500_rowlandA typical Horatio Alger protagonist was depicted as someone who rises from humble beginnings,and achieves prosperity through hard work, perseverance and determination. Individuals who were awarded the scholarship had to display these same characteristics.

And Vernon Rowland fit the bill perfectly.

After finding the opportunity, Lieske encouraged him to apply. Eighteen-year-old Vernon thought, “Yeah, whatever. I’ll do it.” Some hours later, he turned in an application. His principal glanced it over. He promptly tore it up and said, “Do it again.”

So Vernon took the application a bit more seriously. And a few days later, he submitted a much better application; so much so that he was awarded the scholarship.

Since receiving scholarship in 1996, Rowland has seen a bevy of opportunity arise. He has remained close with the association, and over the years has volunteered his time to work with new scholars and reconnect with past award winners. After spending extended time with bright, young students, Vernon was drawn back to academia and sought his graduate degree.

A native Minnesotan, Rowland wanted a school that would align with his personal values and also allow him to remain close so he could give back to the very community that raised him the University of St. Thomas Opus College of Business rose to the top.

Rowland has always known the importance of community and has possessed a strong desire to give back. During his two years in the Full-time UST MBA program, he was actively involved as a leader of First Book, a club that reaches out to children of low-income families in the surrounding area, and the International Business Club, where he embraced the diverse backgrounds of his MBA peers.

Throughout his UST MBA journey, Rowland relied on those around him for support. This past May he hosted a “celebration of life” to thank those who have helped him along way. “The community has made me. Without them, I am nothing.”

Today, Rowland is a real incarnate of a Horatio Alger hero. Now an IT specialist at Boom Lab, a small consulting firm that partners with some of the Twin Cities’ largest corporations, he is positioned to make an impact worldwide – his current project includes implementing a worldwide ERP system, which is scheduled to launch in the coming months.

Though he has enjoyed his first months in corporate America, Rowland has kept Horatio Alger near the top of his mind. As he continues to find success, he seeks to become the first Horatio Alger scholar to be recognized with the Horatio Alger Award – an honor given to community leaders who demonstrate initiative and a commitment to excellence through the organization’s four pillars: honesty, hard work, self-reliance and perseverance over adversity.

“Given the history of the program – and the successful people it’s bred – to be the first would be an absolute honor,” Rowland says.

Indeed, Vernon Rowland has proven to be a strong example of leadership within the community. Combining his inherent tools with the refined skills learned through his graduate education and now corporate experience, Vernon is on a path to continue to the tradition of making the community a better place.