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Phoenix Forward magazine

President of Operation Troop Appreciation tailored University of Phoenix coursework to her career

Monica Orluk

Call it precision timing. For Monica Orluk, designing her University of Phoenix business management classes to mesh with her professional career allowed her to immediately apply what she learned at school to her corporate and volunteer careers.

“Very rarely do you have an opportunity to chart a course to make sure your life is going in the direction you intended,” says Orluk, a graduate and keynote speaker for the 2012 commencement at the Pittsburgh Campus.

“But it’s really a testament to how the University designs its [business] program. It really does help you solve real-world business challenges while you take the classes,” adds Orluk, a senior product manager for Fiserv, a financial services technology company. She’s also president and CEO of a volunteer nonprofit, Operation Troop Appreciation, which sends care packages, letters and supplies to deployed U.S. troops.

Orluk teamed with her school advisor to map a class schedule that would help her most effectively manage her leadership roles at her company and at the nonprofit. She followed that strategy throughout the years she pursued her University degree.

“There were a number of times that I was able to kill two birds with one stone because the knowledge I learned from class projects [also] helped me to complete my work projects,” says Orluk, who first enrolled in 2001 as a recently divorced single mother.

Very rarely do you have an opportunity to chart a course to make sure your life is going in the direction you intended.

At one point, she adds, the alignment of her class schedule with work projects seemed uncanny.

Two weeks after Orluk started her global business strategies class, for example, Fiserv assigned her first international project. Three weeks after she signed up for a quality management and productivity class, she adds, Fiserv asked her to lead an internal audit. Orluk didn’t know about such audits, but the class taught her the business theories she needed to help her understand how to complete her work assignment.

“I got an A on my paper, and we passed our audit,” she notes.

The way the business program seemed to naturally fit with her work assignments remained consistent even after her two-year hiatus from school to launch Operation Troop Appreciation. When she re-enrolled in 2006, Orluk took a strategic planning class to help the nonprofit’s board of directors formulate a long-term business plan for the growing enterprise.

The resulting strategic plan worked out “brilliantly,” she says, noting that the proof is in the 100,000 soldiers the nonprofit has helped to date.

Orluk also made it a point to take classes that helped address the nonprofit’s executive-level issues, including how to manage its volunteer workforce and revenues. Her plan, she believes, earned her the organization’s presidency.

“Every one of my accomplishments,” says Orluk, whom the University honored in 2010 as one of 10 recipients of its Volunteer Leader Award, “speaks to the credibility of the University and its online program, and the freedom it gives you to plan and execute your degree.”

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