Jordan Ely wanted to expand his brain. So, he followed sound advice and enrolled in the Master of Business Administration with a Concentration in Business Analytics online program at Southern Oregon University. Ely is on track to graduate in Summer 2019.
"I know several graduates of the MBA program," Ely said. "They all reported that while SOU is focused on academia and academic principles, the professors tie in the curriculum to real-world application. Most of the professors also have industry experience outside of education. I consistently heard about the applicability of making links between the classroom and your profession. That's certainly been my experience."
Ely is Chief Finance and Operations Officer for Ashland School District. He has been promoted twice since starting as director of business services in July 2016.
"I outpaced my undergraduate education," he said. "I was being asked to do things that I hadn't learned in academia. I could probably learn those things on the job, but I see a master's degree program as expediting the learning process. I decided now is the time for an MBA."
The timing was also right because Ashland passed a large bond package in November 2018 that allows the district will start selling bonds in 2019. Plus, Ely and his wife, Bonnie, have two children, Liam (6) and Kinley (5).
"I knew there was no way I was going to do a master's program while trying to manage a bond campaign," he said. "Then, I'm looking at the end of that six-year process and saying, 'Hey, my kids are going to be 11 and 12 years old. They're going to be starting sports and speech and debate or whatever they're going to be interested in.' I'm probably not going to want to do an MBA program then."
South to Oregon
Ely worked in supply chain management for ConocoPhillips in Kenai, Alaska, when he graduated with a bachelor's degree in operations and project management from Southern New Hampshire University in 2015. After the company sold the plant Ely worked in, he transitioned to a career in education.
"I had a mentor, Brendyn Shiflea, when I worked in Alaska whose philosophy was to only get a master's degree once you outgrow your undergraduate degree," Ely said. "He didn't believe in people going to college just to go to college. I took that to heart. He has been very successful, and his guidance has helped me in my career."
With some online education experience in undergraduate school, Ely made a smooth transition and knew what to expect in the SOU online MBA program.
"I always tell people that online isn't the way to go for people who want to be lazy," he said. "It's for people who can manage their time and recognize that they have to treat it like a normal class. You'll be held accountable. I do my reading and review the lectures every week at consistent times for each of my classes.
"I set a new schedule every time I start a new set of classes. I follow that schedule just like I would in a traditional setting. It's just that I get to pick when those classes happen and work them around my schedule and what's going on with my kids and my wife."
Because Ely is so passionate about data analysis, he enjoyed the courses focusing on that subject the most. Even in tougher courses, he appreciated the way the professors handled their business.
"I did an accounting course with Dennis Slattery," Ely said, "I liked how he pushed us hard. Accounting has always been difficult for me. He had a great deal of compassion and empathy, but he didn't lift off of the pedal. He said, 'You're going to get this stuff. I understand that this is hard and that you're struggling but we're going to get there. You're going to stretch and you're going to grow.'"
Ely also enjoyed his final project in MBA 515: Information Systems, taught by Dr. Joan McBee.
"Her ability to challenge us to make the information relevant to our careers and guide us in figuring that out was excellent," he said. "We had to demonstrate proficiency in using Geographic Information System (GIS) mapping technology. My project was related to what we're doing with the bond campaign. I utilized about 36 resources for a six-page paper. It was heavy on research, which is super exciting to me."
The main reason Ely is able to manage a full-time job and a graduate degree program is the constant help of his wife.
"The decision to go back to school was as much hers as mine," he said. "I wasn't going to do it if it was going to cause too much stress in her life. She puts in a lot of work to make it so I can put in this work."
Bonnie also recently enrolled in a degree program. The Elys hope their example of valuing higher education rubs off on their children.
"It's really important to me and my wife that our kids understand education is fun and a good thing," he said. "It's not something we have to do -- it's a privilege. Our kids see me doing homework. Even when I don't want to be doing homework, I make an effort to say, 'Hey, look, Daddy gets to learn something new today.'
"It has been huge because my kids come home, and we try to make it cute for them and tell them that daddy's brain is growing. My daughter comes home with work and says, 'My teacher gave me something to grow my brain tonight.'"
Both of Ely's parents, Sherry and Doug, have backgrounds working in education. Sherry is Chief Finance and Operations Officer for Grants Pass School District and an alumna of the SOU MBA program. Doug recently retired as the Director of Student Services in the same district.
"My parents asked, 'Are you sure you want to do this? You have a huge job that you're still trying to learn. Is this really the right time?'" he said. "For the most part, everybody understood and supported me."
Ely plans to further his education career for the foreseeable future. However, he's counting on the MBA to help him make his other aspirations a reality.
"I enjoy what I'm doing," Ely said. "Most people I work with know that I probably won't stay here forever. I'd like to move either into higher education finance, to a larger school district or into the department of education itself. I'd like to move into a place where I have more influence. The dream I've had for a long time is holding elected office.
"I got into government and realized how many people here are extraordinary human beings who could absolutely go into the private sector and make money hand over fist and choose not to. It's not like government is completely broken, which is the biggest thing I have learned. There are things that we can do better."
No matter where the road takes Ely, he believes an MBA from SOU puts him in the driver's seat for greater success. He plans to join a growing list of graduates who recommend the program.
"Even though it's academia, the people running the MBA program at SOU are down to Earth," Ely said. "Sometimes in movies or at universities, people are really into themselves. At SOU, you don't have that. It's not a snooty program. For me, it's a great thing."
Grow, brain, grow.
Learn more about the SOU online MBA program with a Concentration in Business Analytics.
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