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Stephen Courchane: An MBA In the Nonprofit Sector

Stephen Courchane ’17 M.B.A. currently serves as senior director of operations for Hiawatha Academies, a network of college-preparatory charter schools focusing on closing the achievement gap in Minneapolis. As a member of the Senior Leadership Team, he works collaboratively to ensure that the schools deliver a well-rounded, relevant and rigorous program to students while also supporting and developing staff. He also sets and communicates a strategic vision for operational excellence across four campuses, manages operations directors at each campus and oversees key operational contracts and vendor relationships.

We talked to Stephen about his role at Hiawatha Academies and his decision to pursue an MBA while working in the nonprofit sector.

Opus Magnum: Coming from a non-traditional business background, how did you decide an MBA was the right degree for you?

Stephen Courchane: When I joined Hiawatha Academies in 2012, I took on a coordinator role at our Morris Park campus. As the organization grew from one campus to four I was fortunate to be able to grow along with it. I served as the director of operations for Morris Park for three years before transitioning to my current network role. During that time I developed a strong understanding for what it takes to operate a school, and I also identified many opportunities to better develop my core knowledge and skills to better serve our schools and students. The University of St. Thomas MBA program was an opportunity for me to fill many of the gaps I had identified for myself so I could contribute at a higher level within my organization.

OM: Why did you choose the University of St. Thomas?

SC: When it came down to it there were two strong schools in the Twin Cities region for me to choose from. I completed my undergraduate coursework at the University of Minnesota and have nothing but positive experiences to share. I ultimately selected the University of St. Thomas because I felt it was important to gain a different perspective by attending another institution. I was also drawn to the more personalized feel of the program and smaller class sizes.

OM: What has surprised you most about your experience?

SC: When I enrolled I knew I would learn from the program and I also knew that my degree would be beneficial from an employment perspective. However, I’d underestimated how much I personally would take from the program and how quickly I would be able to apply my learning to the real world. I have found that in all of my courses I have been able to apply my learning to my work with Hiawatha Academies on nearly a daily basis.

OM: What has been your favorite class and why?

SC: I have two. The most life-changing course I have taken was Leadership (MGMT 603) with Professor K. David Hirschey. Professor Hirschey built an incredible cohort among all the students which made the class significantly more impactful than most. Beyond this, he challenged us to dig deep and think critically about the world around us. We spent a significant amount of time examining our own personal mission, vision and values. This exercise provided us with a better framework to understand ourselves and to make decisions that align with our beliefs.

Similarly, Professor Tom Ressler’s statistics course (OPMT 600) was grueling but meaningful for me as well. I can thank Tom for helping me to think critically to make the best decisions possible in all facets of my life. Both of these classes have developed me as a person due to these incredibly dedicated professors who truly care about their students and hold a high bar for us to reach.

OM: How has your MBA impacted your career so far? Have your career goals changed while in the program?

SC: Without this program I would not be enjoying the success that I have had in my role today. As I mentioned earlier – I am able to apply so much of my coursework to my daily professional work that I am a much stronger contributor than I would be without the program. My goals have remained mostly intact – I selected this program to enhance the work I am doing and hope to do in the future and it has aligned well.

OM: Do you have any advice for prospective students, especially those who weren’t business majors or who don’t have “traditional” business experience?

SC: If you’re looking to expand your impact personally, within your organization, or within the community you will not be disappointed with this program. You should have a clear idea of what sort of impact you want to make and what you are looking to get out of the program. Coming from a non-traditional business background should not be a deterrent for you – you will have significant value and perspective to offer that will enhance the experience of other students and will allow you to access the content in a uniquely powerful way.