What have I done?

I’ve left my job, my hometown, my friends and family. For a graduate business degree? In Minnesota?

It was August 2007, and these words were playing in my head, on endless repeat. I think it was partly the unknown, the anxious anticipation of beginning a new school in a new place. I had virtually no acquaintances or contacts in Minneapolis. Even more troubling, I wasn’t sure what I possibly could have been thinking. Business school? Really?

My background was a little bit business – health care administration, to be specific – and a considerable amount of art and social science. I had dabbled in philosophy, theology, political science and our relationships with major societal forces, including corporations and commerce. But I knew that wherever my career path took me, I would be part of a business, maybe even my own business. So I decided to pursue an M.B.A.

Having such a varied and peripheral background, I was concerned about being absolutely outnumbered in business school by more “traditional” business students – those with undergraduate business degrees and those who had gone to work for financial behemoths, retail giants and consumer-packaged-goods heavyweights. Weren’t these people concerned only with making money?What would we possiblyhave in common?

It took me less than two weeks in the UST MBA program to get my answer.

Some second-year MBA students had organized a volunteerism outing for the second week of the fall semester at Feed My Starving Children. It’s an organization that prepares bags of carefully measured dry food – grains, dehydrated broth, herbs, dried vegetables – to provide healthy, balanced, nonperishable nutrition to starving people throughout the world. An hour’s worth of work at Feed My Starving Children can feed an unbelievable number of families for months. It’s effortless, and the measurable impact is staggering. Sign me up.

My social science studies showed me that the disparity between rich and poor is so  great in so many parts of the world that it would take literally entire villages of determined humanitarians to right the wrongs of poverty, malnourishment and disease.

And here I was, scooping rice and dehydrated onion, standing in the presence of a small village of business students who were committed to doing something about the world’s greatest injustice. I was a little surprised. But I mostly was relieved.

Two years later, it bothers me that I ever had those negative preconceptions about business professionals. I credit the University of St. Thomas with my enlightened perspective.

Perhaps it was the way that every single one of our professors challenged us to think about the ethical implications of our business decisions. Perhaps it was the community feel of the UST MBA program that inspired us to think about how our actions affect those around us. Or maybe it was just an implicit understanding that at UST, we were earning not only business degrees; we were learning how to make the world a better place.

Left and right, my classmates were creating opportunities for us to make a difference inothers’ lives. Students organized a toy drive for disadvantaged children at Christmas. We organized women’s professional clothing drives to help impoverished women get well-paying jobs. We joined a suburban Rake-a-Thon to clean up the yards of elderly and disabled Twin Cities residents. Some students even began a consulting venture to help an underfunded school in a low-income neighborhood that was committed to keeping urban kids off the streets.

It’s hard to cling to stereotypes about business students being greedy or power-hungry after being surrounded by such inspired and meaningful acts of giving.

So we come from different work backgrounds. We have different career interests and different opportunities ahead of us. Fine. Ultimately, it’s not what we’ve done in the past or where we’re headed that makes us UST MBAs. What unites us, and what distinguishes us among all other M.B.A.s, is our shared commitment to changing the world through enlightened business practicum and stewardship to the community.

And I couldn’t have known that, two years ago, when I was just leaving Omaha for the six-hour drive to Minneapolis.

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