Some new faces have joined UNLV’s Executive MBA team, and they’re not members of the latest student cohort.
Mary Ann MacDonald is now Program Manager for the EMBA, a role that sees the longtime educator taking the lead in day-to-day operations and involving herself in everything from event planning to tracking student progress. Joining her is Administrative Assistant Lori Spurk, who is responsible for ensuring students are taken care of and their needs are being addressed during what is commonly a stressful time in their lives.
Students who speak highly – and they always do! – of the EMBA program’s staff and its concierge service can thank Mary Ann and Lori for keeping things on track, and in the midst of their busy schedules, both women took a moment to talk about their roles and their shared love for higher education (and UNLV).
Can you talk about your career path and what led you to UNLV and the EMBA program?
Mary Ann MacDonald: When I was applying for graduate programs while finishing up my undergrad in Missouri, I received a postcard in the mail from UNLV’s math department. My roommate at the time was from Vegas, so it seemed like a sign that I should apply. I started my journey at UNLV as a graduate assistant, teaching for the math department. After I graduated, I moved back to Missouri, where I took a job as a high school math teacher while teaching evening classes at a community college. I eventually moved back to Vegas and taught for UNLV’s Math Learning Center for 8 years. I decided to make a move to the administrative side of UNLV last year at the same time there was a vacant position in the EMBA program.
Lori Spurk: My educational path has been a roller coaster, I guess you could say. I started taking college classes here and there at night over nine years when I was in the Army as an administrative specialist right out of high school. I eventually got my AA in General Studies because I didn’t know what I wanted to be when I grew up. After that, I had stopped due to funding and where I was living and working, but had always dreamed of going back to college and actually working at UNLV. So when I was laid off from my job in 2014, I applied to UNLV and started my career here as an Administrative Assistant 2. I have worked my way up to an Administrative Assistant 4 and have been at UNLV for eight years. During that time, I earned my BA in Psychology in 2020. The EMBA program has been the best place to work yet -- I had the amazing opportunity to join the program in September 2022. I was considering getting an MBA and found out there was an open position and jumped at the chance to work in the Lee Business School. Nadine and Mary Ann are amazing people to work with. I love working with the students as well.
How have you been able to impact the program so far? What’s new that cohort members can look forward to?
Mary Ann MacDonald: I joined the EMBA team in the midst of a complete administrative personnel change so I have been able to bring some organization and structure. Of course, the pandemic put a damper on social and networking events, so our office has been working hard to bring back fun events for both our current students and alumni. The current cohort just attended a UNLV basketball game.
Lori Spurk: I did manage to get a new Keurig machine for the EMBA suite so there’s that! But seriously, I think I bring a positive attitude and willingness to help out wherever needed. As far as the new cohort, the longer I am in the position and understand how the program runs I will be able to add new ideas and process improvements. That is one of my talents. Problem solving is another.
Why is continuing education so important as an adult?
Mary Ann MacDonald: When we become stagnant, we really miss out on rewarding opportunities. Continuing education, whether that is formally through higher education or more informal means like using apps or videos to learn something new, is great for our brain health and development.
Lori Spurk: It’s so important not only because of the knowledge one receives in the classes but the connections and the real world experience and life lessons that can be gained from others in the class. Many of my classes expanded my understanding and openness to explore more things than what was just under my nose. As an undergraduate or younger student, there is a different mindset than when you go through classes as an adult. The different perspective of life changes the way one learns and appreciates the knowledge given.
What do you love most about working in the higher education sector?
Mary Ann MacDonald: If I’m being completely honest, I love that in my new role, I no longer have to grade math tests. On a more serious note, I love working with a great group of people and students in Executive Education and the Lee Business School.
Lori Spurk: Higher education is an amazing place to work in my opinion. I have been in the corporate world and it was very rigid and cold (at least in the companies I worked for). UNLV has a welcoming and collaborative environment where I can reach out to colleagues I have worked with back when I started or ones that I just recently met to get things accomplished. Many people seem to truly care about one another on a personal level. It’s not just all about work, and that's important to me. I love the student atmosphere and the energy when I walk around campus. The EMBA is not like any other job. This position requires the administration part of course, but you also need to have a spirit of hospitality or the job will be miserable. Having to serve and clean up after 15 to 20 people for breakfast and lunch twice a week is not easy for most. I love serving people and helping make their day better. Coming into the EMBA suite and having a student brighten up with a smile and wanting to give a hug is the best part. Making personal connections makes this job worth it.