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Spotlight on Walden // Jun 03, 2014

Expanding Her Horizons

“I have spent the past seven years in the nonprofit field,” explains Melissa Perkins Bellanceau, a 2013 MS in Nonprofit Management graduate. “It became increasingly clear that a master’s degree was necessary to demonstrate a thorough understanding of best practices and ethical principles in the field.” Her master’s coursework influenced her so strongly that she is now pursuing her PhD in Public Policy and Administration. Here, Spotlight on Walden highlights how her studies have broadened her perspective on social change, allowing her to positively impact her community as the director of advancement at Pomfret School in Connecticut.

What do you do as director of advancement?
I am responsible for a team of 11, six frontline fundraisers and five professional staff. We work to raise funds for the annual giving program. I am also responsible for the school’s capital and endowment fundraising efforts, stewardship program, on- and off-campus alumni and parent events, alumni relations, and volunteer programs. The work my team does on a daily basis contributes to the mission of the school by securing funds to advance institutional goals and improve the experiences of each student.

How has your coursework influenced your career?
The assignments I completed were directly tied to the work I was doing on a daily basis. For example, I was taking a class on strategic planning as the school was undergoing its own strategic planning process. My knowledge of strategic planning best practices allowed me to make meaningful contributions in discussions with constituents and organizational leaders. I think the information I learned about volunteer management and board development during my master’s program has had the most impact. In my new role as director of advancement, I have been able to improve our trustee recruitment and process, a contribution that has improved operations and established a solid policy for the school.

When did you realize the work you were doing could positively impact others?
When I first began at Walden, I was overwhelmed but inspired by the concept of social change. It seemed so big. I remember writing about my views on how to be a social change agent in courses and was able to observe the progress in my own thought development. Then I realized that by believing in the mission of the school I was working for and giving my best to further that mission every day, I was working to create social change. Changing my perspective opened a door. I began to think about my work differently; I wasn’t raising money simply to reach a goal, build a building, or start a program. Rather, the money we raised touched students and teachers—it is truly life-changing. In some cases, it made students’ experiences at the school possible. In others, it allowed faculty to pursue a passion and bring inspiration back to the classroom.

Those experiences not only touched the individuals themselves, but also their friends, colleagues, and peers. As I reflect on the former students I have known at the school, I see change manifesting itself in the work that they do, the companies they build, and the research they conduct. Having had a hand in making their experiences possible shows the positive impact I have been able to have on this small boarding school community. Pursuing my degrees at Walden taught me I am capable of anything. Walden is growth—in yourself, thought, and education.

What advice do you have for people considering pursuing their degree at Walden?
The coursework at Walden is rigorous. Balancing work, family, and personal obligations can be tough, but let your determination persevere. The professors at Walden will support you, but they will also challenge you. The road won’t always be smooth, but it will always be rewarding. Whether you are finishing a class or a degree program, know you will reflect on your experiences with a proud sense of accomplishment.