A man stands in front of a wall made of wood
Chad Gilligan, lead pastor at Calvary Church in Maumee, found the University's Executive Master of Organization Development program offered instruction in exactly the places that as a leader he felt he needed to grow.

Diverse cohorts lead to '360-degree learning' in BGSU organization development master's program

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Leaders from all walks of life find common ground in education

When a surgeon, a school administrator, a firefighter and a preacher walk into a classroom, it’s not the setup line for a joke – it’s the reality for the Bowling Green State University Executive Master of Organization Development program.

The unique and eclectic mixture of backgrounds and occupations is a routine occurrence and a strong part of the strength of the innovative initiative.

“We see people with a wide array of diverse experiences and diverse knowledge all enter that space with a desire to learn from each other,” said Dr. Deborah O’Neil, director of the EMOD program.

“It is not a traditional format where you think you will learn just from the faculty. They learn from us and from the richness of experience that is sitting there in the same room with them. It is 360-degree learning.”

Chad Gilligan '21, who has been the lead pastor at Calvary Church in Maumee for two decades, was looking for just that type of pathway to enhance and expand his leadership skills.

“I found it to be ideal because no matter what the organization or business is, the challenges we face are essentially the same – we were all walking through this journey together,” he said.

Gilligan said he had wanted to complete a master’s program for some time, and had looked at different options regarding theological studies, but after researching the BGSU EMOD program, he saw an ideal fit since it offered an emphasis on strategic decision making, something he is called on to do frequently as a pastor.

“I realized that the EMOD degree had a lot to do with building teams, organizational change, the aspects of how you develop a healthy organization, being strategic and how you navigate conflict,” he said. “It was a no-brainer for me. It hit me that this master’s program offered instruction in exactly the places that, as a leader, especially in the church, I felt I needed to grow.”

The BGSU EMOD program, housed in the nationally ranked BGSU Schmidthorst College of Business, aims to equip emerging leaders with a fast track to organizational insights and management skills to drive positive change in their organizations and communities.

Gilligan’s experience was unusual in that soon after he started the EMOD program in Fall 2019, the pandemic hit. But despite the necessary adjustments to the format, the value of the education was evident.

“I was able to take a bunch of the projects we had to do and use those to help our church navigate the pandemic,” he said. “Throughout the program, I could see my abilities as a leader grow, both from the unique cohort experience and from the professors we had. You come away with a skill set that anyone and everyone can use. I was taking things from the program and immediately putting them into practice.”

Gilligan said he liked the melding of so many diverse occupations and backgrounds, which he said produced a rich experience for everyone.

“First, since we all have a professional life beyond what a traditional full-time student would have, this program is designed to fit into our schedules,” he said. “And it seemed like I would come out of a weekend session and have something new in my tool kit that I could apply here in my work at Calvary. It is very rewarding to learn and then immediately put what you have learned to use.”

Gilligan said one of the projects he worked on in the program involved strategic planning for his church, and the input of his cohort was extremely helpful.

“Professionally, it was very beneficial. One member of our cohort said: ‘I think you know what you need to do,’” Gilligan said. “I’ve been a part of this church for more than 20 years, but this gave me the ability to see the organization that I lead through a fresh set of eyes.”

Gilligan said he continues to lean on the lessons learned and the information he gained from his fellow program participants.

“Through the relationships you build and the regular interaction with each other, you do learn what someone else’s professional life is like and that enables you to sharpen your own,” he said. “You build those friendships during the program, and then you can reach out and get their advice and input as you face the challenges of your leadership role.”

O’Neil said Gilligan’s experience was quite typical.

“What happens is when you start the program there might be some trepidation since many of these people have not been in school in many years, and you find yourself sitting in a room with a bunch of strangers,” she said. “But then you quickly realize that these are people you will learn a lot from. The cohort learning method has proven to be very beneficial.”

There was one additional bonus Gilligan gained following his completion of the EMOD program. His daughter completed her bachelor’s in education at BGSU in 2020, but there was no formal ceremony due to the pandemic. So, when he finished his program in 2021, father and daughter were able to walk across the graduation stage together.

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Media Contact | Michael Bratton | mbratto@bgsu.edu | 419-372-6349

Updated: 07/08/2024 09:08AM