Rev. Brandon Walsh was nearly 7,000 miles away from Fitchburg State University when he enrolled in the online Master of Business Administration in Management program.
But after he and his wife, Emily, and their three children left Rwanda a few months earlier than expected because of the coronavirus pandemic, he’s a hop, skip and jump from campus as he works toward a July 2020 completion date.
“We had to leave with about four days’ notice before they shut the airport and the country down,” he said. “My family had been planning to move back to the United States this summer after six years in Rwanda, but we had a last-minute decision to make that if we wanted to leave, we have to leave now. It was a little bit traumatic.”
The plan to return home and plant a church in Dover, New Hampshire, is still on. But for now, he is the interim pastor via Zoom at Church of the Cross on Beacon Hill in Boston.
Although Walsh has dedicated his life to the clergy, he grew up in a business family with a father who is an investment banker.
“The way I see business is how do we organize and effectively use resources?” he said. “The MBA brings together two strings of my life interests and ties together a secondary vocation for me.”
In addition to preaching, Walsh gained significant business experience in Rwanda. He built two organizations and ministries and helped the diocese start a preschool program that now includes 20 schools. He also helped with fundraising and creating financial models.
“I grew up in a business family and worked for my dad in the summers,” he said. “I took a bunch of business classes in college and when I was studying abroad in Lithuania. Business has always been a second vocation.”
Switching Zip Codes
Walsh is from Peterborough, New Hampshire, where he was heavily involved in his church while in high school.
“I did Young Life, and I felt early on that I was called to be a pastor,” he said. “I have a love for business and ministry. I have always seen resources as one more tool for accomplishing an end or a goal.”
After graduating with a bachelor’s degree in philosophy and theology from Point Loma Nazarene in San Diego in 2010 and a master’s degree in divinity from Duke in 2014, Walsh was recruited to be the ambassador to the archbishop of Rwanda.
“At 15 years old, I knew [the woman who would become] my wife, knew I wanted to marry her and knew I wanted to go to seminary and be a pastor,” he said. “I spent 10 years going to school and put my head down. At 25 years old, I had done all of those things. I married Emily, had been to seminary, got ordained and was living in Rwanda.”
While in Africa, Walsh and his family lived in the capital city of Kigali, which has a population of more than one million people. Alongside his other endeavors, he pastored an English service at the national cathedral.
“It was incredibly fascinating and extremely interesting living in Rwanda,” he said. “From a business perspective, living in a developing market puts you closer to everything because the market is smaller. I enjoyed it.”
Walsh chose the online MBA in Management program at Fitchburg State for the university’s reputability and affordable tuition.
“The fact that Fitchburg is a state school was attractive to me,” he said. “If somebody Googles Fitchburg State, they’re going to find that it’s a 125-year-old state university in Massachusetts. That means a lot.
“In business school, you learn about cost-benefit analysis. The truth is that making the decision to go to Fitchburg State was a cost-benefit analysis.”
The flexibility of Fitchburg State’s online MBA in Management program helped Walsh never miss a beat during the time he was living in Rwanda.
“I was working full time, and I was able to do it in significantly less time than anticipated, which was nice in terms of hours during the week,” he said. “I wouldn’t have been able to do it if it had been during a specific time frame like 6-8 p.m. I was grateful for that.”
Walsh had never taken any online courses prior to enrolling at Fitchburg State. In fact, he was required to live on campus for three years while earning his master’s degree at Duke.
“I adjusted quickly [to the online format],” he said. “This is the opposite end of the spectrum of what a graduate degree can look like. Now, I’ll have an arrow to add to my quiver.”
So far, MGMT 9170: Corporate Finance and MGMT 9020: Economic Theory and Managerial Decision Making are his two favorite courses in the curriculum.
“There were a number of courses I enjoyed,” he said. “In some sense, there’s a strong emphasis on tying our experience together with the concepts we are dealing with. That’s helpful, too. It’s all helping process past experience in order to understand what to do in the future.”
If there is a commencement ceremony later in 2020, Walsh hopes to walk the graduation stage with his wife and their children, Elsa (6), Ivan (4) and Iris (2), on hand.
Although the return home was sooner than expected, he and his family are happy to be back. Walsh believes having an MBA will help him lay new foundations for the future.
“I’m going to have to be bi-vocational,” he said. “I am going to be looking for a job and looking for a different skill set to provide financially while we’re doing our startup.”
Whether living in Rwanda or New Hampshire, Walsh is glad that he enrolled at Fitchburg State.
“You get out of the program what you put into it,” he said. “Investing and being curious about the topic is helpful.
“I feel very good about the decision. It was worth the money. Even now, before I have made any money from it, it was worth it. You can’t beat it. The state of Massachusetts stands behind it. That’s a big deal.”
Learn more about the Fitchburg State online MBA in Management program.