May 25, 2017 at 12:30pm
Dane Lisser

Graduating Together

Justin and Michelle Burns

Justin Burns and his wife, Michelle '13, have had quite the support system for one another during their journey to academic success. Balancing work and school, both recently earned degrees from Millikin University at the same time; Justin receiving his Bachelor of Science in Organizational Leadership (OL) on May 21 and Michelle receiving her Master of Business Administration (MBA) on May 20.

Justin earned his bachelor's degree through Millikin's PACE Program. The program is designed for individuals who want a more flexible way to earn a degree with accelerated classes offered online, during evenings and weekends.

Justin, who works at Archer Daniels Midland Co., said, "The program provided a lot of teamwork activities and the experience helped me with project management. I learned a lot, and it wasn't strictly business, there was a lot I learned about human aspects. There was coursework that allowed you to understand how people interact with each other."

Students enrolled in Millikin's Organizational Leadership major learn team-building exercises through a capstone project that makes a positive impact in the local community. This year's project addressed the homelessness issue in the Decatur, Ill., area.

The students started a program called Decatur's Better Way, a program that emulates a similar project in Albuquerque, N.M., that encourages more effective charitable giving to help the homeless. After developing the program for Decatur, the students turned a written proposal over to the city council for future turnkey implementation.

"The students hope one of the Organizational Leadership cohorts behind them will pick up the project and carry it forward to a pilot once the city gets behind the effort financially," said Elizabeth Lahey, chair of the Department of Sociology and Organizational Leadership at Millikin.

Justin's leadership within the OL Program didn't go unnoticed by his peers as they voted him this year's PACE Student of the Year.

"Justin was one of the best OL student leaders I have ever taught," Lahey said. "He has been the class leader since the first couple of weeks of the cohort and personally got the OL Club up and running. He was named the PACE Student of the Year for all his efforts to promote OL and adult education at Millikin."

We knew what we were going through and it helped that we had the same experience.

Michelle earned her MBA from Millikin's Executive MBA Program, a 17-month program that includes an international immersion experience.

"I felt that an MBA would be a good way to break down future barriers when it came to my career," said Michelle, who works at Tate and Lyle.

This year's Executive MBA cohort worked with G&G Plant Protection and Trade Ltd., a company that specializes in chemical weed control on railway tracks. The MBA students were tasked with creating a market entry strategy to help G&G sell their innovative railway weed control technology to the U.S. market. The students traveled to Germany in May and presented their strategy to executives from G&G.

"Working with a team on a real-world problem and learning about how railroads work and international market issues was eye-opening for me," Michelle said. "The Executive MBA Program has put me in the position to take the next step in my career and I feel like I've grown substantially over the last 17 months."

Michelle earned her Bachelor of Science in Marketing from Millikin in December 2013.

During their time at Millikin, Justin and Michelle's schedules were opposite when it came to class times. Justin would be at home while Michelle was in class, and Michelle would be at home when Justin was in class. The couple made Crock-Pot meals and prepared food for the whole week so they would both have lunches and dinners already made.

"We knew what we were going through and it helped that we had the same experience," Justin said.

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