Wednesday, April 08, 2015

SOE alum blends interests in business, education

Tags: current students

When Andrew Garland looked for a graduate program to combine his interests in business and education, he didn't realize he'd be the first student in U-M's formal dual degree program of an MBA at the Stephen M. Ross School of Business, and an MA in educational studies at the School of Education.

"There were students who had done both MBA and MA Ed. degrees simultaneously before, and they were the ones who got the dual degree program officially approved by the Regents. I was just the first to benefit from their trailblazing," Garland says.

"I was looking for different opportunities to apply research, and it was wonderful to get both sides, comparing and contrasting what I was interested in. I learned how to approach problem-solving, and how to apply it in education."

Bringing those interests to U-M (Garland started classes at SOE in 2004) had its genesis years earlier. With a bachelor's degree in English from Princeton, Garland got a position with a high school on the west side of Chicago, Illinois. "I was supporting teachers in the drama and literacy programs," Garland remembers. "That's what got me into education. Then, after a year, I had the opportunity to go on an adventure."

Garland traveled to Ethiopia with his partner and got work on a food relief program for a nonprofit organization. That's what began to get him interested in business. "I saw that the program wasn't organized very well," he says. "The food was delivered, but oversight was minimal, and staff development was non-existent—and I saw the unintended consequences of that."

Returning to the United States, Garland worked on the 2000 U.S. presidential campaign, then went back to Africa to work with a non-governmental organization. "They had better long-term thinking, but in terms of supervision, they needed better evaluations of their staff."

Those experiences got Garland thinking about returning to school; to find a program somewhere that could give him a solid grounding in business while nurturing his interests in education. "The University of Michigan was the best school for both," he says. "It had everything, including a top-notch law school that my partner was looking for, the business school, and the best school of education in the country. Great courses, great community, and the campus culture was friendly and collaborative."

Garland spent his first two semesters at SOE, the next two in the Ross School, and a final semester taking classes at both. Garland studied subjects as varied as finance, law, funding, policy, management, research methods, educational history, and philosophy. Along the way, he helped start a club that was a precursor to the current Education + Business club at the Ross School.

"I wanted to learn about what skills I should bring to education," Garland says. "From my work in nonprofits, I knew they weren't always structured well, and I felt that best practices in business could be used in educational contexts."

After earning his degrees, Garland circled back into the nonprofit sector, to put his interests in business and education into practice. He joined the staff of TNTP, formerly known as The New Teacher Project. TNTP describes itself as "a national nonprofit founded by teachers that helps school districts and states fulfill the promise of public education by ensuring that all students—especially those from high-need communities—get excellent teachers." Garland says the organization has a three-part focus: training great teachers, focusing policies and practices on effective teaching, and advancing the teaching profession with new ideas and innovations.

Recently, Garland returned to SOE to give a talk on "Knowledge Management, Use of Education Research in Practice: A Nonprofit Perspective" where he discussed how TNTP's work is shaped by education research. He admits that some question the role of "private business" in public education.

"I think that too often, the application of business principles in education gets taken wrong," Garland says. "It does a disservice to business and education, because there is so much that they can learn from each other. I always look forward to learning from various sectors. Right here, for example, is [SOE's] Clinical Rounds project—it's fascinating."

Garland says his aim is to channel his knowledge of twin disciplines for the good of students. "I know there are teachers out there who want to work in low-performing districts, but get no support. However, it can be done."

Garland says he appreciates the opportunities that have come from his experiences at SOE. After all, "I got to bring my interests to school!"

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