/ By Tamieka Briscoe /
For many working professionals, the weekend signifies the conclusion of a long work week and the much-anticipated beginning of well-earned leisure time. But for nonprofit and government employees enrolled in the Weekend MBA program at The University of Chicago Booth School of Business, Fridays and Saturdays mean “business as usual.”
Based in downtown Chicago—host site of Upswell 2019—the Weekend MBA Program meets entirely in-person and encompasses the same curriculum taught to Chicago Booth’s full-time MBA students.
And for exceptional nonprofit or government professionals, the highly selective Civic Scholars Program annually provides full-tuition scholarships to attend the Weekend MBA Program, funded by a gift from the Neubauer Family Foundation. Ideal candidates have 6-13 years of work experience and currently be employed at a nonprofit or in government and have “extraordinary potential to become a recognized leader in their field.”
Molly O’Donnell is the first Director of the Civic Scholars Program at Chicago Booth, and headed a workshop at Upswell LA last November called Applying Business Skills to Nonprofit Challenges.
“Upswell is where we can start and have conversations about big picture issues facing the nonprofit sector, and think about the reality of implementing ideas,” said O’Donnell. She’s discovered that there isn’t a full acceptance of the idea of an MBA being a useful or ethical degree for the nonprofit world, and that there is a lot of misunderstanding of what an MBA is.
As a requirement of the program, all Civic Scholars must be working full-time in the nonprofit or government sectors when they apply for the program. They also must remain employed in those sectors while they are in school, and for three years post-graduation.
“Scholars can move to different organizations within these sectors but cannot move to a for-profit company. If someone moves to the for-profit sector while in school or within three years of graduation, they are required to repay their scholarship on a pro-rated basis,” O’Donnell explained.
Students have five years to complete the Weekend MBA Program, though most finish in between 2.5 to 3 years.
“Most of our students take two classes a quarter, but they have flexibility to take only one class, or to take a quarter off when needed. It isn’t unusual for students to take the summer quarter off,” said O’Donnell. “Classes are every Saturday, so if a student takes classes every quarter, they are in Chicago 43 weekends a year.”
More than 70 percent of the Chicago Booth Weekend MBA students commute from outside of Illinois, traveling to campus weekly from as far as California, Washington, D.C., and New York.
Yi Wei is Global Director for Water Sanitation and Hygiene at International Development Enterprises (IDE) and a current Civic Scholar. Originally from Chicago, she returns to her hometown each weekend from her current residence in Denver. This month, Wei took a five-day work trip to Ethiopia and made it back in time for class.
Wei is on target to graduate in 2021, having started the Weekend MBA Program in Fall 2018 after discovering the program through a notification on Independent Sector’s 2017 conference app. The distance didn’t turn her away, as Wei is aware that a significant number of students travel from across the country to attend the distinguished weekend program.
“You kinda get used to it,” Wei said of her weekend travels. “You get into a routine, and learn how to maximize your time.” She added that she often completes work while waiting in the airport terminal.
“It takes an extremely effective time management approach,” Wei said, adding, “there is no magic formula.”
With such a stringent schedule, social events are often placed on the back burner when they fall on weekends, but Wei says this schedule has helped her gain an appreciation for her support system. Wei has been enrolled for two quarters so far, and said it can be challenging working full time, while studying and trying to remain engaged with all the enriching extracurricular activities Chicago Booth has to offer.
Since 2016, there have been three Neubauer Civic Scholar cohorts, with 20 students participating in the program thus far.
Doug Palmer is a vice president at Ideas42, and has participated in important behavioral science studies for Chicago’s transit system and the city’s plastic bag use reduction. He was in the inaugural Civic Scholars Program cohort, starting in Fall 2016, and was the first Civic Scholar to graduate from the weekend MBA program in August 2018.
“The program was really fun and rewarding.” Palmer said. “You never know how much you are able to do until you’re in that position.” Managing work demands and a challenging curriculum and meeting friends who went through the same process were the most exciting parts of the experience for Palmer.
The Civic Scholars Program includes current and past civic scholars who represent organizations of various size and missions, including Pew Research Center, Elevate Energy, Greenpeace USA, Sierra Club Illinois, Accion Chicago, and Wisconsin Department of Children and Families.
Nonprofit professionals seeking to make the world a better place, like those in the Civic Scholars Program, will make their way to the Windy City November 13-15 for Upswell Chicago. Register now and join thousands of other changemakers from across the country. You might be surprised to find that the heartland’s approaches to local challenges may hold the answer for your community, too.
Tamieka Briscoe is an associate at Independent Sector.