From lifelong learners to lifelong friends
A shared experience
Aryn Bergsven, Nicki Britton, Kala Pedersen and Crystal Pelkey’s friendship is rooted in many shared experiences.
They all work in Duluth and contribute to their communities as leaders and organizers. They were all drawn to the College’s MBA in Leadership and Change program because of its emphasis on the process and the people — a unique focus with a unique curriculum. And, since graduating from St. Scholastica, they have all made an effort to remain connected with one another on a regular basis, planning monthly happy hours and even transitioning to virtual gatherings during the height of the pandemic.
“We had a lot of classes together,” said Pedersen, who works as the Community Relations Specialist at Essentia Health. “And every time we left our class, the four of us had the urge to connect more.”
During their last night of coursework, they decided to celebrate at a nearby restaurant. Initially, it began as a way to process what they had just experienced as MBA students.
“It was really important to honor our experience: the course work, things we learned, how it relates to work, how we’ll use it in the future,” said Pelkey, who works in customer engagement outreach at Minnesota Power. “It was pretty powerful to go through that and talk about it with someone who could directly relate.”
At one point during the night, someone suggested, “We should do this again next month!” And so they did.
Britton works as a support analyst for National Information Solutions Cooperative (NISC), a position she enjoys because she loves helping people solve their problems. She described the College’s MBA as a program that “really got to the heart of life.”
“You think differently when you’ve gone through this program versus when you began,” she said. “Once you know something, you can’t un-know it. So when we come together, we all get very empowered. These women are some of my best friends.”
Bergsven, a high school art teacher at Harbor City International School admitted feeling a little disconnected from some of the other students in her cohort.
“I was coming in as an artist and as a teacher and a lot of the people in the program were very different than me,” she said. But when she met Pedersen and Britton — she and Pelkey had known each other previously — they all “just clicked.”
Finding connection virtually
And the friendship has had long-lasting impacts.
“The fact that we meet regularly keeps this experience and knowledge present for me,” Bergsven said. “They keep me grounded and confident and connected to people outside of my world of teaching bubble.”
When the pandemic struck, the need for connection remained and the group found ways to stick together.
“Human connection is so important. To lean on friends, to know that we had a monthly happy hour, even if it was via Zoom, carried me through some very dark times,” said Pedersen. “I still think every month: I can’t wait to be with these people!”
For Pelkey, the gatherings also represent a welcome respite. “We’re living in such divisive times where it’s so easy to tear each other apart or judge people who have different views than you do. This is the one place where we all lift each other up. It’s something we can look forward to where we get unconditional support no matter what we’re going through.”
“That’s part of what makes it really special,” Pelkey said. “And really rare.”
Meet the MBA pals
Aryn Bergsven (MBA ’20) has been a high school art teacher at Harbor City International School for twenty years. She considers herself a coach, helping her students figure out what their goals are and how they can achieve them. Beyond the classroom, Bergsven described the unique model of her school: teachers are the leaders, with a board that’s made up of five teachers and four community members. Having served on the board many times, she was interested in growing her skills.
“You find yourself in positions of leadership regularly if you want them,” she said. “We’re always wearing multiple hats and doing multiple roles. The nature of that experience is what got me interested in leadership that was relevant to this role.”
St. Scholastica’s program was appealing on many levels: the convenience of the location and the reasonable costs compared to other programs. But what was most “serendipitous” to Bergsven was the program’s emphasis on people.
“I didn’t want to take economics, marketing, accounting classes,” she said. “I don’t know about accounting, but I do know about people. And from that perspective, the program was a good fit and well worth the time and money commitment.”
Bergsven especially enjoyed her coursework in organizational development, cultural studies and methods. Her lens as an art teacher also helped shape her final project. “I was well-primed as an art teacher to be thinking about organizational development,” she said. “I wrote a paper that was about why artists, specifically art teachers, make good organizational design and design facilitators and why that skillset correlates so nicely to the work in OD.”
Nicki Britton (MBA ’19) loves to problem solve, something she gets to do a lot of in her role at NISC. Here, she helps consult and support software implementation for utility and telecommunication members. “I love when someone tells me that they’ve got something they need to change in their organization or for their team,” she said. “And identifying the processes to do those things.”
Britton had always wanted to pursue a master’s degree in business administration, but there was something special about St. Scholastica’s program.
“I didn’t care about economics or accounting,” she said. “This program emphasized life and the world and how people operate and how I operate.” Britton acknowledged that while she may not know how to start a business, because of the program, she can make sure that the people who are working in it are happy, fulfilled and able to operate in a changing world.
Her recommendation is emphatic: everyone should enroll in this program.
Unsurprisingly, Britton’s favorite classes were those that emphasized consulting — learning how to talk to people as they are learning how to overcome their obstacles. She also considered her international studies class with Amy Johnson to be a life-changing experience. Britton’s final project explored how to increase software adoption for new implementations, a relevant and fitting deep dive into her current work.
Kala Pedersen (MBA ’19) has been with Essentia Health for nearly six years, first as a market research analyst and currently as the community relations specialist. Her responsibilities align perfectly with a passion that is both personal and professional: connecting with the community and with other members and organizations who are doing purposeful work.
A few years ago, she realized she was missing a “sense of drive” in her life. She was considering enrolling in the College’s MBA program and happened to ask a colleague about their experience. The answer was a resounding, “do it now.”
Although she had struggled with traditional learning and studying, she discovered that the Leadership and Change program was about her own lived experiences and building upon them to be a better leader, community member and person overall. Once again, a perfect alignment.
Pedersen was especially appreciative of her classes with Professor Bob Hartl who also serves as director of the MBA program. “He gave us the space for us to show up as ourselves and talk about our work and who we are,” she said. “We never felt wrong. It was just about who I am and what I can bring to the table.”
For her final project, she chose to conduct an analysis on the success of Essentia Health-sponsored National Diabetes Prevention Programs. While the application of her project was delayed due to COVID, Pedersen hopes her research will eventually benefit her employer in a meaningful way.
Crystal Pelkey (MBA ‘19) began working for Minnesota Power in January 2020, producing marketing materials for the organization’s energy conservation programs and engaging with community members in these important conversations. Prior to joining Minnesota Power, Pelkey spent several years working in the nonprofit sector in arts administration. These experiences inspired her to consider her own personal leadership.
“I was interested in continuing my education and investing in myself, seeing what other kinds of opportunities could open up for me,” she said.
St. Scholastica’s program focused on leadership and change, qualities that resonated with Pelkey since she was already acting as a change agent in the community. “It seemed like a really good fit for what I was interested in doing and eventually pursuing.”
For her final project, she chose to revisit the “Unfair Campaign,” a project that Duluth became involved in 2011. She applied the things she had learned during the program to evaluate why that campaign had failed and wrote a thesis on how predominantly white communities can reduce racism and become more inclusive. She described the journey as broad and powerful.
And as for her favorite class? “All of the Bob classes. All of them.”
Since 2008, the College’s MBA in Leadership and Change has enrolled and graduated thoughtful, innovative leaders who are poised to guide their organizations through change. Unlike other programs, St. Scholastica’s MBA emphasizes organizational transformation that is rooted in an understanding of the process and the people. To learn more, visit css.edu/mba.