Category: PNP Graduate Profiles
The World is Her Stage
Parminderjit Bhullar (MBA PNP ’13), known as Pammi, is an actor, a world-traveler, and an education advocate, but she found the path to her future by chopping vegetables.
The acting, travelling, ledgers, and passion for education have all pointed her towards a career in education management. The vegetables brought her to the Public and Nonprofit (PNP) Management program at the School of Management.
Dedicated to facilitating innovative educational opportunities for others, Bhullar’s most memorable educational experiences have occurred on stage. In high school, she acted in a Humane Society play that showed elementary school students how to care for their pets.
“The auditorium was so small,” she says of the rural school she attended outside of Pittsburgh. “You really got a feel for how your presence was affecting the students. It was so personal.”
As a theater minor at the University of Pittsburgh, she participated in four plays, including one that immersed her in the Suzuki Method of Actor Training, which emphasizes strenuous, martial arts-like preparation for roles.
“It was difficult work,” she says. “I was sore every day.” But she also bonded with the other members of the cast in a way she hadn’t in other plays. She maintains those friendships to this day. “I learned how much camaraderie you can build through hard work and pursuing a common goal,” she says.
She found camaraderie again while researching graduate schools. Bhullar had been fast-tracked as an employee at an investment firm. However, she realized that although theoretically successful, her career was not fulfilling her dream to use her business skills to support innovative education.
During her graduate school search, she attended an SMG Public and Nonprofit Club community service event at a Boston-area organization that delivers meals to the homebound. Bhullar joined the club members in chopping vegetables for the day’s meal and touring the facility.
The people were warm and friendly, and Bhullar realized that at the School she would be surrounded by other students who share her values.
Among the shared values are an international perspective and a zeal for foreign travel. As an undergraduate, Bhullar studied for a semester in France, and before starting at SMG, she and her fiancé, Eric Tracey, taught English to Tibetan refugees in India for four months. On a volunteer basis, she was also able to help a few organizations in India clarify their financial statements.
“I realized, ‘this is where I can contribute,’” she says. “It helped form my path more clearly.”
Over winter break, that path led her to Honduras with the BU group Students Helping Honduras to build a school and work with a micro-finance program. Bhullar will participate in SMG’s European Field Seminar in her second year to learn more about European education.
After graduating, Bhullar plans to combine her globetrotting ways with her fervor for education. She intends to collect the best educational ideas from around the world, then put those ideas to work in a government or nonprofit organization that improves communities through education.”I see myself contributing to an international educational organization, and then bringing that knowledge back to the US.”
By Madeline Bodin
A Grassroots Developer
Jessica Friesen, a first-year fulltime MBA student in BU’s Public & Nonprofit Management Program, grew up in an environment devoid of clean water, plentiful food, and general safety. With both parents working as teachers in Southeast Asia, she was born in Thailand, but spent her childhood in Malaysia. It was a background that focused her views on what’s truly important in life, and how people should treat one another.
“I think that growing up where people couldn’t avoid these challenges—because they’re always present—embedded in me a desire to get involved to try and find solutions,” she said.
After completing high school, Friesen moved to the United States to study theology at Wheaton College in Illinois. For one summer, she interned in Malawi with World Relief, an international development NGO, which reinforced to her the real world challenges a majority of the population is forced to endure. The experience motivated her to get even more involved in community development.
Upon graduating in 2008, Friesen spent a year and a half participating in the AmeriCorps VISTA program in Chicago. Again, her interest in the nonprofit industry grew, and she decided to go back to school to study nonprofit management from the business angle.
“The way that the world’s moving towards disintegration between the public sector, the nonprofit sector, and for-profit sector, I really felt an MBA would equip me for all the changes,” Friesen said.
In her first year as an MBA student at BU, she’s come to appreciate a few things about the school that she wasn’t expecting. One of them is the varying backgrounds of her classmates, both professionally and culturally. She has classmates from the health sector, from finance, and from manufacturing.
“The relationships between people whose social and professional skills cover a wide range,” she said. “I’m really impressed, and I’ve benefited from that a lot.”
Apart from the rigorous life she has earning her degree, Friesen is on the board for OneWheaton, a nonprofit organization that provides support for LGBT Wheaton College alumni and students. On Columbus Day weekend, she helped organize a homecoming for LGBT alumni who wouldn’t normally feel comfortable going back to the school.
“Wheaton is a very conservative, evangelical school,” Friesen said. “Our homecoming was a very healing event for many us alumni that also allowed us to provide an important presence on campus for LGBT students who may be struggling. It’s something that’s close to my heart.”
Once she gets her degree, Friesen hopes to work in upper management at a grassroots community development organization, helping in both the strategy and operations side.
“I believe that the solution to many of our world’s most pressing challenges reside in the communities where they exist,” she said. “I want to use my skills and experience to help nonprofits gain access to resources to run effective programs and achieve real results.”
By Michael Pina
Learning to empower others
About 10 years ago, Anya Thomas wanted to be a player in the movie industry. Majoring in film production at the University of Southern California, Thomas began to have second thoughts during her senior year when she came to a realization that the profession wasn’t as much of a useful outlet for her outgoing personality as she originally thought.
“I did a lot of film editing, sitting in front of a computer” she said. “I’m people oriented and I wanted to try something that had interactions with lots of different kinds of people.”
So Thomas struck off in a new direction, taking a job with Christian Challenge, a faith-based nonprofit that organizes conferences for college students to help them experience spiritual growth.
While there, Thomas took students on service trips during the summer. Three years in a row they went to teach English in Ethiopia. What happened there made her reassess her life’s path for a second time.
During the trips she encountered several Ethiopian university students who, despite having an advanced degree, couldn’t find work due to their country’s poor economic situation.
“Ethiopia’s economy is in a state where there aren’t any jobs for people; it doesn’t matter how qualified you are,” she said.
These dire circumstances are forcing well-educated Ethiopians to emigrate from their homes to look for work in the United States or Europe, stripping the country of its most brilliant minds and preventing them from improving Ethiopia’s communities.
At this moment, Thomas, like the rest of the world, doesn’t have a proven way of digging large groups of people out of impoverished living situations. But she’s absorbing and filtering as much information on different helping strategies as possible.
“I don’t know what exactly it will look like, and I don’t know how long it will take,” she said. “But I’m really passionate about giving people access to education and opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise. That’s why I’m getting this degree. It’s more of an entrepreneurship in giving people a livelihood.”
Having spent the last 12 years of her life in California, Thomas wasn’t sure traveling across the country to BU was the right fit, but the turning point was when she came out for Open House on campus.
“It’s such a supportive environment,” she said. “I really felt welcomed by the community.”
Recently, Thomas was named an MBA All-Star by the Boston Business Journal, based on a recommendation for the School of Management.
After graduating from BU, Thomas would like to put her knowledge to use back in Africa.
“I want to work with organizations that take a more holistic look at international development, but at the end of the day I’m going to look at more income-generating activities,” Thomas said. “I would really like to help Ethiopians—especially women—develop small businesses that would not only provide for them, but really help revitalize their communities.”