Chamber VP shows it’s possible to juggle work, life and school thanks to Brandman MyPath™
Getting a college degree wasn’t part of Jessica Welch’s game plan when she was growing up in Washington state.
Her family, both for economic and religious reasons, didn’t make it a priority. When she graduated from high school and moved to Southern California 16 years ago, a booming economy and a good job in the mortgage industry didn’t require one either.
Marriage, a couple of children and a new career with the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce moved it even further off the priority list.
“The chamber industry is unique. You often have the opportunity to progress on your experience. I was able to grow just based on that,” said Welch.
Bryan Starr, who took over as CEO for the Irvine chamber 18 months ago, recommended as a next step she look into Brandman MyPath™.
“It’s a perfect fit,” said Welch, who began the program about a year ago. “Knowing that it was 100 percent online was a big draw for me. So was the flexibility.”
Challenging herself to get a degree also sets an example for her children, she said. That’s not a surprising reaction to those who work with students in the degree program.
“Students gain so much, both personally and professionally, when they go through the Brandman MyPath™ program. Just by enrolling and doing the coursework, they show their family, friends and employers that they have the desire to learn and grow, and they set a good example as well,” said Margaret Moodian, Ed.D., a tutorial faculty member in the program. [Read a recent article by Moodian about her tutorial experience.]
How MyPath™ works
Brandman MyPath™ is a competency-based program that lets students set the pace for completing each required competency. Rather than students being required to turn in assignments at specific times and days like most online programs, the competency-based program flips the “time is fixed and learning is flexible” credit hour model to one where “time is flexible and learning is fixed,” as described by Brandman Vice Chancellor Laurie Dodge in her recent book.
Welch said it’s the only way she could go to school and juggle a schedule that includes sports and school activities for her children, ages 11 and 7, support her husband’s Ultimate Custom Car Care business and fulfill her growing responsibilities at the chamber.
Her Bachelor of Business Administration studies, Welch said, gave her the business standards for things she was already doing, such as strategic planning. It also made her aware of what she needed to improve.
“One thing, in particular, that wasn’t a strength was my business writing. Learning how to write while keeping it fact-based was a big learning curve but valuable,” Welch said. The congratulatory notes that line her spacious desk in Irvine prove the point. The chamber recently promoted her to vice president of operations.
Competency-based lessons on the human experience also influence her management style. “You look at trends and how you grew up and how that shapes you. It was a heavy class mentally, but it helps when you manage a large group of people,” Welch said. Understanding how other people think taught her to be flexible in her communication style.
It also made her look at the family and cultural norms that shaped her life. “I adore Dr. Moodian. I was able to talk to her about things I wrote. There was a lot of self-reflection, so talking about my childhood and upbringing and how that shaped me. She made me comfortable talking about those things,” Welch said.
“We as faculty are there to support and encourage them throughout their learning journey,” Moodian said. “One of my favorite activities to work on with students is crafting their mission statements for “Behavior and Cognition.” This sets the stage for their continuous growth.”
Finding her pace
Initially, Welch was so delighted with the progress she was making that she was literally speeding through the competencies. She’s slowed down – “I realized I need to sleep” – so she’s at her best overseeing the chamber’s membership, events, administration, strategic partners and investor relations activities. She credits her staff with making operations run smoothly at the chamber.
Others are happy to give the credit to Welch. Brandman Vice Chancellor Shelly Neal, Ph.D., who serves on the board of directors of the Greater Irvine Chamber of Commerce, paired with Welch when the chamber began its mentoring program for young professionals.
“I was the guinea pig,” Welch said.
“She was already a dynamite project manager. I think Brandman MyPath™ is helping her apply those skills to her personal goals as well,” Neal said, adding that in as in all good mentoring programs, the opportunity to work with Welch was mutually beneficial. “It’s a great opportunity to support women in leadership.”
“We’re very fortunate (at the chamber) that Bryan as CEO is a big proponent of continued education,” Welch said. That includes a partnership with Brandman University that provides educational benefits to chamber employees and members, a partnership that is CEO-driven, Welch said. “What I can do, in turn, is look for ways for my staff to develop professionally. You always have to pay it forward.”
Potential students, who might be wondering whether Brandman MyPath™ fits their lives, would benefit from Welch’s advice as well.
“I would tell them that it is the most convenient, low-cost way to continue your education that I’ve ever heard of. The content is designed specifically for you to succeed. The instructions are clear. The faculty is always available to answer your questions. They want you to succeed. You’re not alone. There’s a great misconception that college is expensive and not available. It’s really so doable.”
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