Mendoza School of Business

Back to the frontlines

Author: Kelly (Chase) Rubey (MBA '16), Assistant Teaching Professor, Management & Organization Department

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What does the word “frontlines” mean to you? Traditionally, this war terminology refers to the troops advancing in battle. In 2020, it has become a reference to health care and essential workers battling the COVID-19 pandemic. For me, it has become a calling to serve as part of the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program.

While I had no intention of leaving Minnesota to pursue my MBA, I could not help but apply to Mendoza given what I had read of its BOTFL course that operated at the intersection of business and peace in service to communities suffering from conflict and deep poverty around the world. It’s no surprise that I found myself in South Bend during the fall of 2014 as part of the MBA Class of 2016. You can imagine my reaction when I received an email asking me to apply to become a first-ever teaching assistant for the course. This fateful email would only mark the beginning of my service to the program.

Finally, in the spring of 2016, it was my turn to take on the role of the student. I proudly served on Team Timor-Leste (or as we called ourselves Teamor-BESTies). It was on this project that the spark that was always inside of me was ignited as we spent our days exploring agriculture market linkages in the mountainous jungles and our nights cooking shoulder to shoulder with Timorese women.

Over the next few years, I would spend my days at IBM supporting clients on their digital transformation journeys and my nights and weekends extending the impact of BOTFL. I would accompany teams to Uganda, Colombia, and Honduras, working on challenges that felt impossible alongside partners who embodied what it meant to serve.

In 2020, I was called back to Mendoza as a faculty member and as a director for the Meyer Business on the Frontlines Program. It is in this new role that “Frontlines” evokes many meanings for me. Frontlines are the people, the places, the feelings, and the connections that make up our program.

At its core, it’s always about the people. The frontlines are communities who are often forgotten, overlooked, isolated and suffering from a myriad of challenges. It is to these frontlines that we are called to and whom we walk beside. Our partner organizations dedicate themselves to overcoming daunting barriers in order to provide the dignity of work in these tough places. Layered alongside the community and the partner is our team made up graduate students and alumni advisors. Together, they undergo a journey of transformation through their own experiences on the frontlines.

I have been on the “frontlines” so many times that the word conjures a visceral feeling in me. It is hot and sweaty, yes, given the proximity of many of these communities to the equator. But it is also a feeling full of emotion – of adventure and adrenaline that accompanies late nights of intense problem solving. It is a roller coaster between feeling frustrated and defeated and feeling like one’s heart could burst at any moment from the formation of deep human connections despite differences in language, culture, and life experiences.

During these moments of human connection, I have looked into the eyes of “the other” and have seen myself. Mother Teresa once said, “The openness of our hearts and minds can be measured by how wide we draw the circle of what we call family.” For many students, Frontlines presents the opportunity to draw wider circles as we strive towards a more united and inclusive society.

I believe that it is this widening of circles to which I am called to do through my teaching and through my service to partners around the globe and here within the United States. I thank God for this journey as I look forward to the continued impact that Mendoza will have through the creation of meaningful experiences and community impact on the frontlines.

Topics: Faculty, MBA