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Idahoan Laurel Williams Adds MBA to “Thriiving” Career in Nonprofit Industry

Laurel Williams during a trip to Nicaragua
Boise State Online MBA graduate, Laurel Williams

Laurel Williams was managing a Bank of America branch in downtown Boise when she found a more fulfilling way to apply her monetary skills.

“I had an opportunity to do volunteer work at Thriive,” she said. “It is a nonprofit-oriented realm doing loans for small business, so it was a good transition into doing something where I could help change lives, get jobs for people and stay in the financial sector and in Boise.”

After starting for Thriive as a program officer, Williams became chief operations and financial officer for the United States’ division of the organization, prompting her to return to college. She graduated with a Master of Business Administration (MBA) from the online program at Boise State University in December 2018.

“I was on track for leadership and looking for a master’s degree program that could develop my leadership abilities,” she said. “Even though I work for a nonprofit, the MBA seemed like the way to go. Running a nonprofit is very similar to running a business, which certain people don’t realize. I had always thought about getting an MBA, but I was waiting for the opportunity to come up. With my new position, it did.”

Thriive’s global mission is to build shared prosperity in vulnerable global communities by helping small businesses grow and create local jobs. Because Williams travels to Nicaragua, Guatemala, Vietnam, Cambodia and Kenya for work, she needed the flexibility of an online format.

“It was crucial for the balance with me and my job being able to do the courses when I was available,” she said. “Doing the MBA online was the only option for me. I didn’t have time in my schedule to attend classes at the university.”

Home, Sweet Home

Williams grew up in Sun Valley, Idaho, with an affinity for numbers. She graduated from Pacific Lutheran University, in Tacoma, Washington, with a bachelor of science in mathematics with a minor in business administration and management in 2006.

“I love the outdoors, skiing and rafting,” she said. “Idaho provides that, and the online MBA program let me continue doing those things. I also liked keeping it local. I was able to go to campus and meet the professors. I looked around at other programs online. For the quality and price of the program, Boise State was a great fit for me.”

Even with the online format, Williams said the faculty was always responsive when she had questions. She took one course at a time and even took some terms off to accommodate extensive work travel.

“The professors were great,” she said. “It was similar to my experiences in the past attending a university. Their attention to the students was right up there with where it would be if you were in their classroom. It was a smooth transition and a good mix of visual learning and reading comprehension.”

Given her background, Williams enjoyed the finance and accounting courses and appreciated the general overview of management in each area of business. She especially loved the final course in the online MBA program curriculum, BUSMBA 555: Business Plan Development.

“It brought everything together and made you utilize what you learned in each of your other courses,” she said. “That was valuable. It was difficult. It takes more time than the other courses, but it is worth it in the end. The professor in that course, Dr. Jeffrey Sugheir, was exceptional and gave good feedback each week on your work. The information was applicable to my job.”

Groundbreaking Bronco

Williams is the first person in her immediate family to earn a master’s degree. Her friends and family are thrilled she returned to college and changed her life, too.

“They were definitely excited for me when I started the program and even more excited when I graduated,” Williams said. “Everyone was supportive and very proud of my accomplishment. I got to meet some of the other folks I had seen in our forums online, sit with them and graduate with them. I had a great time.”

Although Williams graduated from the online MBA program only recently, she is already seeing the degree pay huge dividends. She is set to become executive director of Thriive in September 2019.

“I’m stepping into that role, which is perfect timing with the MBA,” she said. “The degree is certainly part of the confidence that our board of directors has in me to take over.”

Williams still loves traveling for her job after six years. Her favorite destination is Latin America because she speaks Spanish and identifies with the culture. She is eager to continue to thrive as a master’s degree holder.

“If you are willing to put in the work, the online MBA program is worth it,” she said. “You’re going to learn a lot and get a lot out of it. Depending on your goals for the future, an MBA can push you to that next level. Going through the Boise State online MBA program is an option that can give you the flexibility that you need to reach that goal.”

That’s advice to take to the bank.

Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.