Vanessa moved to California from Colorado to attend Stanford University to pursue a B.A. in English. When she graduated in 2005, Vanessa decided to stay in California and got swept up in the Google frenzy by going to work right away for the popular company.
“I got caught up in what everyone else was doing and joined the crowd, even though I had always been interested in nonprofit work.”
Four months later, Vanessa realized that Google was not a good fit for her and left to pursue work in the nonprofit industry. She eventually landed a job at the YMCA in 2005, where she steadily got promoted to her last position as development manager, before moving to Outward Bound in 2012.
Since she was working full-time and gradually climbing up the ranks, Vanessa didn’t even think about getting a Master’s degree for several years until she started hearing about the MNA program at USF from her YMCA colleagues. After doing some research, Vanessa realized an MNA would greatly benefit her in her role and along her career path, so after six years of working, she decided to go back to school in 2011.
“I wanted to learn as much as possible so I could be a leader in the field. The MNA program gives you insight into a variety of nonprofit areas; history of the sector, finance, marketing, legal, etc. It’s the whole spectrum of what you need to know to run a nonprofit.”
Now, two years into the program, Vanessa is thankful that she realized she wanted a Master’s degree later in her career.
“Master’s work makes more sense now then it would have if I had started it right out of college. I can apply lessons to real life experiences and use what I learn the next day at the office, which is rewarding.”
When asked what the most challenging thing was about working and getting a Master’s degree at the same time, she replied;
“Balancing all the different aspects of my life; grad school throws my life out of balance.”
But Vanessa said she combats stress and disorder in her life with constant reflection; stopping to realize how far she’s come and all she’s accomplished, which helps her to keep moving forward.
Vanessa also shared the benefits of getting a Master’s degree, some of them unexpected.
“Obviously there’s the promise of more growth potential, responsibility and opportunities with a Master’s degree. But also I didn’t expect that I would bond so much with my cohorts and learn/benefit so much from their experiences and questions. I even found my current job through one of them.”
Vanessa will graduate in December 2013 and hopes her MNA will help her in her current role as a development director, and help her achieve the position of a VP of financial development, or even allow her to be a freelance consultant in the future. In a leadership position, she’s hoping her MNA will help her run or advise a nonprofit to be effective, efficiently run, and responsive to the needs of the community.
When asked what is some advice she would like to give to other Rising Pros thinking about pursuing a Master’s degree, Vanessa replied;
“It’s not something everyone needs to do. You can get really far in your career without a Master’s. But if you do want to get one, it helps to wait a couple of years so you have a good set of experiences to work from. And the benefits of a potential higher salary, more connections and a sense of community makes it definitely worth it.”
Even though grad school and work keep her busy, Vanessa also finds time to have some fun. She teaches Kenpo Karate and even achieved her black belt in February 2013. Vanessa also loves biking, hanging out in the park, going to the theater, backpacking and camping with friends.
Although some don’t want to work and go to school at the same time, Vanessa is proof that getting a higher degree while you’re working, or even several years after you graduate from college, can be extremely beneficial to your career. With this approach, you not only can draw from past work experiences in the classroom, but also apply new leanings to your current job.
So think before you get a Master’s degree, it may be worth the wait.
To contact or learn more about Vanessa Baker, visit her LinkedIn page.