Social Impact MBA

Joel Pugh, MBA'20

Joel Pugh, MBA'20
Joel Pugh, MBA'20

Recipient of the Heller Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship

AmeriCorps alumnus

Joel Pugh grew up in a rural town in central Pennsylvania called Altoona. After spending some time working on his wife’s family farm, he decided to switch tracks and signed up to serve with AmeriCorps, where he worked as a teachers’ aide in schools.

“I did two terms of AmeriCorps, and I absolutely loved it. It completely changed my life,” says Pugh. “It was my first job, and I got to meet people who were different from me, which was a big deal having growing up in this very rural, shut-off part of the country. It taught me about myself, about other people, about intersectionality. That experience instilled a sense of social justice in me.”

After AmeriCorps, Pugh moved to St. Louis to attend Washington University, where he worked briefly for PNC Financial Services. He majored in Political Science and Public Policy and minored in Global Leadership and Management. Throughout his program he also worked: banking on his past experience in education, he got a job as a paraprofessional at a charter school in St. Louis, working as an aide for students with autism. At the charter school, 98 percent of the students qualified for free or reduced lunch.

So why a Heller MBA, rather than a master’s in education? “I had enjoyed my previous jobs in education and loved the school culture, the population I was working with, loved having a social impact—but didn’t see a career for myself as an educator,” says Pugh. “I also really enjoyed certain aspects of my business education, but didn’t like the culture I’d experienced at PNC. I wanted to take the best parts of both, and combine the two. Then I learned about Heller’s Social Impact MBA program.”

Pugh graduated from Washington University in May, and immediately enrolled in the MBA program in August, for which he received the Heller Diversity and Inclusion Scholarship. He and his wife moved to Massachusetts over the summer, and it’s been a roller coaster ride ever since.

“There are so many things about this program that I’m looking forward to,” he says. “Just this morning I had to tell myself, ‘it’s okay if you don’t do everything.’ I’m looking forward to the Board Fellows program, and I’m really excited about the entrepreneurship competition series. The thing I’m most excited for is being surrounded by people who have similar ideas about wanting to make an impact. I haven’t experienced that before coming here, and it’s really exciting to me.”