A learning journal for back to school!

“The very best strategic thinkers make a concerted effort to reflect”

I was already considering a learning blog before hearing those words spoken in the first class of the 2017 Fall semester. After that I was even more determined to make this happen. I had initially thought of a blog as a place to summarize class notes and record random observations, but now… now it will still be that. I just now understand that as an opportunity to reflect which is inherently a learning tool. And since I’m determined to make the most of this go at school, that’s pretty exciting. So let’s start with how I got to this point.

It had been 14 years since I last took a college class and there I was around early June mulling it over. My career goal is to foster technology excellence as the CIO of a mission driven organization. I’ve been on an IT management track at small-to-midsized nonprofit organizations for a decade, and feel that pursuing an academic credential is a path to advancing my abilities to do that well. The Nonprofit Management Certificate program at the University of Minnesota Humphrey School appealed to me because the school is well regarded, the program seems rigorous, it can be completed in a year but leaves open the option to apply most of the course credit to an MPA degree program later, and it’s the familiar campus where I got my bachelor’s degree.

So I made an appointment with the head of the program, Melissa Stone, ahead of the June 15 Fall application deadline. We had a very encouraging conversation in which we discussed a course plan for completing the certificate by May 2018. Professor Stone recommended that to do so I should take the required Introduction to Financial Analysis and Management class during the summer session. I went home that evening and looked that class up to find it was starting on July 6!

Three weeks later I was in class learning about public/nonprofit budgeting, financial reporting, financial condition analysis, statements of cash flow and net assets. We learned how to analyze ratios, about allocating costs, how to read a budget, and how to determine if an organization is fiscally sound. We produced and presented a financial condition analysis as our final project. The math involved was fun to apply, my group mates were fantastic, and I couldn’t imagine a better class to ramp back in to being a student.

The coolest thing about that class to me was how it filled in gaps. Many of the terms we learned about were ones that I heard plenty of times through the years at work, but hadn’t always fully understood. In my profession I’ve generally become familiar with concepts as needed to for the challenge at hand. For instance I have a pretty good grasp on how a chart of accounts is structured because I managed that data in an AMS database, but now I understand how that data supports generally accepted accounting practices. Heck, now I know the actual definition of generally accepted accounting practices. I’m feeling smarter already.

Written on September 20, 2017