Notre Dame MBA student finds it takes La Familia to raise a child

Author: Mendoza College

As Catholic elementary schools look to boost declining numbers, they are finding increasing Hispanic enrollment to be a part of the solution. Usually, efforts to grow enrollment focus around ways to change the school, said Joe Urbany, marketing professor at Notre Dame’s Mendoza College of Business and co-founder and current director of School Inc., a Notre Dame program that initiates MBA students into the problems and solutions of urban schools.

But in August 2008, Heather Burns, a 2009 Notre Dame MBA graduate, had an idea that looked at the challenge from the opposite direction. “Heather wrote a proposal that considered how we could create value by changing the families, instead of the church or school,” Urbany said.

The new social business model, La Familia Extendida, was born. As with any new business, Burns had to manage resources, budgets, facilities and people. She established a partnership with the Holy Cross College Teacher Education Program to provide assistance and brought other MBA students into the project. The program also recently received a grant to offset some of the operational costs.

La Familia has two primary goals. The first is to improve students’ comprehension and achievement in school by improving their families’ command of English and their ability to support their children’s academic success. The second goal involves helping families in their transition and integration into American culture.

The program pairs parents with volunteers to accomplish these goals. “We wanted MBA students to work one-on-one with the parents to identify what their needs were and then help them progress at a very comfortable pace and then (the MBA students) really become part of the family,” Burns said. “We’re not only building a partnership with helping the parents learn, but the children are seeing the potential of what could happen to them in the future and they can maybe see college now when they maybe could not have seen it before as an option for them,” Burns said.

Although using business students to organize an educational program might seem like an odd fit, it makes good sense in a larger way, according to Urbany. “MBA students are in training to become leaders, and teaching is a critical skill for leading,” he said. “In addition, they will be responsible for organizational performance metrics. The work in this program is to enhance a vital Catholic school metric today: enrollment.”

Burns graduated from the Notre Dame MBA program in 2009 and works for Morgan Stanley in Electronic Trading Sales where she’s responsible for order management systems. Her legacy of La Familia continues today.