Proverbs 27:17 says, “As iron sharpens iron, so one person sharpens another.” The Bible is very clear about the importance of mentorship in a community, and one organization that is living this out each day is Big Brothers Big Sisters(BBBS).
Big Brothers Big Sisters exists to see every child succeed and thrive in life by creating a mentoring network throughout the nation. The organization partners adult volunteers with students ages 6-22 from disadvantaged socioeconomic demographics. In 2021, the organization was in search of a dynamic individual to hire as an executive director in Orange County, New York.
Enter Mary-Kate Lowe, Grace College Online graduate with a master’s degree in nonprofit management. Confident, driven, experienced, and educated – she was a perfect fit for the role. But Lowe’s journey started long before she became the executive director of Big Brothers Big Sisters.
A Background in Social Work
Lowe grew up in Monroe, New York, where she got involved with a Catholic retreat center as a teenager. She participated in many retreats, service projects, and missions trips along the way that strengthened her nonprofit management skills. This kicked off her passion in nonprofit work.
“I saw and interacted firsthand with those who are most vulnerable and in need of support,” says Lowe. “At sixteen years old, this made a lasting impression on me.”
When the time came for her to decide on a college major, Lowe knew that her core values would guide her decision. Passionate about meeting the needs of those in underprivileged communities, Lowe chose to pursue social work at Millersville University in Lancaster, Pennsylvania .
Soon after she graduated, Lowe went back to the retreat center she was involved in as a high school student and entered a one-year AmeriCorp Volunteer Service Program known as the Cap Corp Program.
“This year played an instrumental part in shaping my professional career today. As a full-time volunteer, I got to walk alongside youth and families in their faith journeys and had opportunities to learn more about being a servant leader.”
Lowe appreciated the faith-based mission of the organization, which perfectly aligned with her values. After her year of service, she decided to further her education by getting a master’s degree in social work at Adelphi University in Poughkeepsie, New York. Ultimately, this degree led her to Big Brothers Big Sisters.
“I started at Big Brothers Big Sisters as a mentoring manager,” said Lowe. “I fell in love with the BBBS mission. In my time as a front-line staff worker, I learned a lot about nonprofits and how challenging they are to sustain, yet how incredibly important they are for our communities. This planted the seed for my future.”
A Master’s Degree in Nonprofit Management
It was finally time for Lowe to take the next step. After five and a half years at BBBS, she had to make a financial move, and transitioned to work in the foster care system as a family engagement clinician. Although the job was a good learning experience, she knew it was not a position she wanted to stay in long-term. However, looking back, she knows it was exactly where she needed to be. While in this position, she got the opportunity to pursue a degree in nonprofit management online
“I was blessed with the opportunity to hold a full time job and go back to school again with Grace College Online. Choosing a master’s degree in nonprofit management was an easy decision for my second masters degree because of my nonprofit experience with the retreat house and BBBS,” said Lowe.
The online master’s degree in nonprofit management came at a perfect time for Lowe. As the pandemic hit, she found that her caseload was lower than usual. This gave her the time that she needed to invest in her education.
“I enjoyed the program’s assignments that reflected simulations of real life that gave us practical knowledge,” Lowe shared. “I also appreciated the ability to connect with our professors as often as we did and share in discussions about how the content connected with leading a nonprofit.”
New Role, Familiar Place
After completing the nonprofit management online program, Lowe felt equipped to move forward in her career. She knew that she wanted to continue to work with children and families outside of the foster care system, so she knocked on some familiar doors from the past.
Since leaving BBBS in 2018, Lowe had maintained the professional relationships she built with her co-workers. These relationships connected her with the board president who remembered her from her time as a staff member with the organization.
“I met with the president to discuss the state of the agency and how I could get re-connected,” shared Lowe.
After a few informal meetings, Lowe was asked to apply for and interview for the executive director position. Soon after, she was officially offered the position, to which she gladly accepted.
As Lowe takes on her new role as executive director, she has confidence from her years of experience and is prepared by her degree from Grace.
“The master’s degree in nonprofit management online does a wonderful job at teaching students how to be great leaders,” said Lowe. “Grace’s curriculum gives you a full overview of the business of nonprofits and offers a comprehensive foundation for driving a mission into practice. Grace gave me the education and confidence I needed to be prepared to take on a leadership role at an agency I believed in.”
Ready to make a difference? A master’s degree in nonprofit management with Grace College Online can get you one step closer. Learn more about our nonprofit management degree today!