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Q & A with Melissa Vien, CFRE (MBA, '20)

2020 Chaifetz School of Business graduate Melissa Vien, CFRE, balanced school and full-time work for years as she pursued her degree part-time through SLU’s top 40 ranked Professional MBA program. In April, the former St. Louis Business Journal 30 Under 30 honoree accepted a new role as Board Relations Manager for SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation. Recently, the Chaifetz School of Business interviewed Vien to learn more about the passion and dedication that propelled her to earn a master’s degree while working full-time in St. Louis' nonprofit sector. 

Chaifetz School Alumna, Melissa Vien (MBA, '20) smiles for a photo.

Melissa Vien, CFRE, earned her MBA through the Chaifetz School's Professional MBA program and recently joined SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children's Foundation for a new role.

Tell us about your current role.

I recently joined the team of SSM Health Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation in a new role supporting the Foundation president, Sandy Koller, and the Board of Governors. As the only free-standing, nonprofit Catholic pediatric hospital in the nation, SSM Health Cardinal Glennon is a truly special place. 

Our work at the Foundation ensures the hospital has the resources needed to continue delivering exceptional pediatric care for years to come. In addition to special projects for the president, one of the things I’m most excited about is the opportunity to assist in cultivating and stewarding vital relationships on our Board of Governors, which is the backbone of the Foundation.

How have your education and your career path led you to your current position?

It all started at Cor Jesu Academy, where I was given opportunities to live out my faith through service locally and internationally. Later, in undergrad at Creighton University, I followed my heart and studied what I was most passionate about: social justice, Spanish and business.

I knew my heart was calling me to a career of service to others after life-changing study abroad experiences in the Dominican Republic and Peru and a year of post-graduate service in Brooklyn, N.Y. Perhaps it was my Jesuit education at Creighton and SLU that also led me down this path. Jesuit values empower us to be “men and women for and with others.”

Over the last eight years, the majority of my work in the nonprofit sector has been focused on pediatric health. Children are arguably the most vulnerable population in our society, and sadly, oftentimes whether a child lives or dies is a direct result of where they are born and whether or not they have access to quality pediatric care. I’m thrilled to work alongside the Cardinal Glennon Children’s Foundation team to increase access to hope and healing for all children in need in our local community.

Tell us a little more about the awards you’ve received. Feel free to brag about yourself!

In 2017, I was recognized at the Standing Ovation Awards as the Young Nonprofit Professional of the Year by Young Nonprofit Professionals Network of St. Louis (YNPN St. Louis). The Standing Ovation Awards recognize emerging leaders in the St. Louis nonprofit sector, including men and women who are inspired and engaged leaders dedicated to creating positive social change in our community.

In 2018, I was selected to the 30 Under 30 class of honorees by the St. Louis Business Journal. 30 Under 30 is a program that recognizes the next generation of metro-area “movers and shakers” under age 30. Honorees typically represent a diverse background of industries, careers and ethnicities, but usually have one thing in common: they’re dedicated to service the community.

For me, service to others isn’t a hobby I do once a month on the weekends. It’s a lifestyle choice and a calling. I am humbled to be recognized by both the local nonprofit sector and private sectors for my work thus far.

I am grateful to have spent the last five and a half years in four different roles with World Pediatric Project, a local nonprofit dedicated to increasing access to pediatric critical care resources for children in Central America and the Caribbean. Through my entrepreneurial leadership of a new fundraising event (Rock ‘n’ Heal, now in its sixth year) and other community events, I helped raise nearly $1 million for critically ill children during my time with World Pediatric Project.

What’s your advice to young students or professionals just starting in your field?

What makes your heart come alive? What do you care about most in the world? What fires you up? Search your soul and seek out opportunities that allow you to work in those areas. That’s what I believe the world needs most. Passionate people who are applying their whole hearts, minds and talents to solve problems and make the world a better place for us all.

In the nonprofit sector, I think passion is the most important factor for success. Many other things can be learned on the job. Especially in nonprofit development, without genuine passion for the cause, donors will see through you and you’ll burn out. Passion is what gets you out of bed in the morning. That’s what raises dollars for vital causes. Authentic passion is contagious.

To explore your passions and get a foot in the door, you may have to volunteer or do informational coffees or interviews. But over time you will build your network and your experience, and then one day you’ll realize you’re doing the things you always dreamed about. At least that’s how it’s been for me!

How do you feel that the Professional MBA program enabled you to reach your professional goals?

Many of the individuals who invest their time, networks and resources in the nonprofit sector are influential business and civic leaders. I love that my work allows me to navigate the intersection between business, nonprofit and community impact for mutual betterment. That’s my passion. For this reason, I decided to pursue my MBA at SLU.

My master’s in business has enabled me to understand the foundations of business which is a great complement to my undergraduate degrees in arts and sciences. Even in the nonprofit sector, core business knowledge in accounting, finance, marketing, operations, data analytics, economics, and sales are very relevant. There are differences between managing a business and managing a nonprofit, but many of the skills are transferable.

I have loved my four-year journey of personal and professional growth as I pursued my part-time MBA at SLU. Juggling evening business classes and full-time work in the nonprofit sector allowed me to bring real-world examples to class discussion, as well as apply new learning from school to work in real-time. SLU has provided not only an excellent faith-based business curriculum, but also a wonderful network of professors, mentors and friends that I will maintain for years to come. I wouldn’t trade it for the world!