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Learning Squared

Three years ago, the School of Education and the M.J. Neeley School of Business forged a dual degree to train experienced educators to become better leaders. This summer, the program produces its first graduate.

By Rick Waters '95

Alison Tanner says she needs 10 lifetimes to fit in all the careers she wants. Part of her wants to teach. Part of her craves the fast-paced world of an Internet startup company. And she sees herself running a school or district.

Truth is, any one could be in her future. Or something altogether different. Either way, she's equipped to lead and succeed.

This summer, Tanner will be the first graduate of the dual-degree Educational Leadership Program that integrates a Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a Doctorate in Educational Leadership (Ed.D.), effectively combining the best of both disciplines.

Created three years ago in response to a shortage of business-savvy educators, the program helps develop leaders in school districts, educational foundations and agencies impacting students from kindergarten through 12th grade. Only Stanford University and Teachers College of Columbia University have similarly integrated programs.

"Education has become a complex, multifaceted enterprise requiring an array of skills," says program director Mike Sacken. "To aspire to excellence, superintendents, principals and curriculum developers must be proficient business practitioners as well as skilled educators."

Tanner says it's a program made for people like her.

With a wide smile and engaging personality, Tanner, a 1997 Brigham Young University graduate, was an immediate hit in her fourth- and sixth-grade classrooms in Utah. She showed a knack for combining technology with hands-on learning, making her a favorite among students, parents and colleagues.

Not long after she moved to Texas, Tanner volunteered to pilot new education software from an Internet start-up group.

"They taught kids how to interact with a spreadsheet, learning rows and columns, math formulas for cells and how to do graphing," she said. "It was the neatest thing. Kids that age often have a hard time representing their ideas in a way that's not sloppy. So they loved the cleanness of how they could organize information."

Company executives liked the results Tanner got and how she managed the program. They hired her to teach other educators how to use it.

"So off to the corporate world I went, and it was a great challenge," she recalled. "I quickly took on a side project of taking state-approved curricula and figuring how to apply technology to it."

Like most start-up Internet companies, soon began downsizing. "But the experience made me have the desire to get an MBA," she said.

With some grant money, Tanner was one of the first to join the new TCU program. While she relied on classmates and professors to grasp accounting and finance in the business school, she flourished in the independent study format in the education school.

Along the way were a pair of challenging internships. As coordinator of 7-11's Education is Freedom program, Tanner piloted a scholarship campaign to encourage Dallas school district students with a "B" average to pursue college. She also developed a Life Skills curriculum and started a base of mentors. When the executive director resigned, Tanner stayed on until her next internship at the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame, where she bolstered its education enrichment programs.

It too yielded a job offer, which she accepted in April.

"I think the combination of an MBA and a doctoral degree in education is invaluable," Tanner said. "There are a lot of businesses that want to make an impact in education but can't speak the language, and there are educators who really ought to be more open-minded about great business strategies. This degree developed my understanding of both sides, and now I can translate."

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