SMWC MLD alums profitable for local nonprofits

September 13th, 2012 | SMWC


2008 MLD graduate Lorrie Heber, owner of Trailblazer Communications

Leadership isn’t about the position or power; it’s about the person.

“Society tends to view the success of an organization based on its CEO,” said Susan Decker, director of Saint Mary-of-the-Woods College’s Master of Leadership Development (MLD) program, “but the reality is that organizations need good leadership at every level to be successful.”

Take Lorrie Heber, for example. This 2008 MLD graduate is the president of Our Green Valley Alliance, chair of the Wabash Valley Race for the Cure and is about the celebrate the first birthday of her own company – Trailblazer Communications.

“For me, life is about having meaningful, purpose-filled work,” Heber explained. “You need work that makes a difference, work that makes a positive impact on lives.”

Heber’s menagerie of successes is just one example of how MLD graduates reenergize the community with a new outlook on leadership ­– one that emphasizes principles, not positions.

“MLD provided the framework for forward momentum,” Heber said. “I can better help people articulate issues and identify solutions.”

More than an MBA, MLD uses the whole person like a palette of colors. It fuses a student’s values and goals with successful leadership techniques. Courses like financial management and strategic planning show students how to navigate the fast-paced business world. However, with classes like ethical decision-making and creative leadership, MLD takes it to the next level. These graduates not only change the way organizations think about leadership, they change the way leaders think about leadership.


Brandon Halleck, 2011 MLD graduate and executive director of CHANCES for Indiana Youth

“For me, getting my master’s was not only a professional goal, but also a personal goal,” said 2011 MLD graduate Brandon Halleck, executive director of CHANCES for Indiana Youth, a not-for-profit focused on substance abuse prevention. “I knew that the skills taught in MLD would benefit me in everything I do.”   

These leaders thrive at nonprofits and corporations in Terre Haute and beyond. For example, MLD students and alums in Indianapolis are taking charge at Eli Lilly, Hawker Beechcraft, General Electric and Wellpoint, Inc. Coming from an eclectic background of bachelor’s degrees, from agriculture communications to social science education, they are committed to a medley of organizations and causes. “I am on-call 24/7,” said Gwen Tucker, executive director of the Council on Domestic Abuse (CODA) and a 2008 MLD graduate. “Your day never, and I mean never, goes as planned. Residents and staff always come first; that’s why we are here. You can’t ever lose that focus.”

In the end, that’s really what leadership is all about – keeping everyone aiming for the same bull’s-eye. “We see a need in the community and address it,” Halleck said. “Serving the underprivileged in Terre Haute - this is our soul work. MLD helped me learn to organize and lead people toward this common goal.”

For Halleck, developing new plans is like opening an endless pile of presents. “MLD gave me new perspectives,” he said. For the past six years, Halleck has organized the annual Dancing with Terre Haute Stars fundraiser, which has grossed more than $400,000. “I didn’t want to have another dinner, dancing and silent auction event,” he explained. “I wanted a fundraiser that was set apart from the others.”

Eager to tackle these new challenges, leaders inspire the community, one person at a time. “In MLD you must take responsibility and pull your weight or the whole group suffers,” Tucker said. “This has applied over and over again here at CODA, the only domestic violence shelter in the Wabash Valley. We have a 24-hour crisis line, an emergency shelter, supportive services, legal advocacy, children's programs and much more. If I don't have my ducks in a row, the whole team suffers.”


MLD is a one-year hybrid program, conducted online with several face-to-face group sessions and live webinars.

Leaders give innovative thinkers the tools to create. They turn ideas into actions and actions into advantages, revamping and streamlining nonprofits and corporations. Who are the greatest beneficiaries behind all this progress? People right here in Terre Haute. “Seventy-five percent of the funds we raise during Race for the Cure stay here, providing mammograms for women in the Wabash Valley,” Heber said.

MLD is a one-year hybrid business and leadership program designed for busy professionals who, like Tucker, want a master’s but can’t afford to give up their jobs or family responsibilities. “I went for MLD when my oldest child was six months old and I worked full-time,” she explained. “The program was a great fit because I was able to get my master's degree in a year, which was unheard of, and keep my job. The staff was so supportive and understanding as life events came and went.”  

Conducted online, the program also hosts several face-to-face group seminars and live webinars. Students choose from one of two MLD tracks – organizational or not-for-profit leadership – with more on the horizon. “Anyone considering a degree in leadership has a desire to lead,” Heber said. “I say go for it! MLD puts structure around your passion and gives you wings to fly.”

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