Cornell University Johnson at Cornell University

Featured Alumni

December 2008

Melissa Moore, MBA '05

Melissa Moore, MBA '05

Melissa Moore, MBA '05, director, National Institute Operations, Teach for America, and a member of Net Impact, credits her experience as a student consultant and a leader with the Johnson School's Community Consulting Group as strengthening her skills in both business management and nonprofit operations. As a member of Net Impact since 2003, Moore is committed to using her business skills to make the world a better place, something she does in her current position by developing efficient systems and processes related to both technology and finance operations for our teacher preparation program.

Cornell to host Net Impact Conference 2009
Preparations are underway for the 16th Net Impact Conference to be hosted in Ithaca November 12-14, 2009, with the Johnson School taking the lead in designing and organizing the conference.

"The better systems that we are able to create in our internal support structures, the easier it will be for this organization as a whole to continue driving toward educational equity," Moore says.

The following profile, written by Moore, originally appeared in Net Impact's "Social Impact Career Handbook." Used with permission.

A native of Winston-Salem, NC, I graduated from Boston University with a Bachelor of Science in journalism in 1995. After college, I spent a year working for Wachovia Bank as a trust assistant in the estate planning department. However, the rise of the tech boom drew me north to Weehawken, N.J., and Qwest Communications, where I worked for six years. Starting as a shift supervisor in the support call center, then as a supervisor in the operations center, I took on increasingly technical roles until my final role as a lead information systems engineer. At the same time, I was volunteering with the offices at a local domestic violence shelter. I realized how strong business skills could benefit a nonprofit organization's operations and help it focus more sharply on the important programmatic work that needed to be done.

It was this experience that would shape the direction of my time during business school. At Cornell's Johnson Graduate School of Management, I strengthened my skills in both business management and nonprofit operations by consulting for, then running, the Community Consulting Group – an organization of student consultants working on business projects for local nonprofit organizations in and around the Ithaca community. I spent my summer internship working for the office of the President at the International Fund for Animal Welfare, delving into a knowledge management project and performing introductory research into their risk management operations. After graduating from the Johnson School in 2005, I took on a director of institute operations role for the charter Atlanta Institute for Teach For America. After two years designing and implementing the operations for the Atlanta institute, I took a role with the national operations team, now serving seven training institutes. My current role is focused on the development of efficient systems and processes related to both technology and finance operations for our teacher preparation program.

How are you using your business skills to improve the world?

Moore: Particularly in nonprofit organizations, the operations and support structures are crucial to the success of a program. I see clear lines between my work on a new piece of financial technology and how that technology will help our corps members become better teachers, and therefore how they will impact the achievements of the students we serve. My ability to work with vendors to execute smart contracts that maximize our value and minimize our costs directly enables our organization to serve our students by making sure that every dollar is spent wisely, and that each logistic is efficient and purposeful. In a nonprofit organization, there is no room for budget mismanagement, and the scrutiny from our donors is justifiably intense. Because of our need to be especially thrifty with all of our resources, it presents a particularly exciting challenge to continually improve our systems. The better systems that we are able to create in our internal support structures, the easier it will be for this organization as a whole to continue driving toward educational equity.

Please describe a "day in your life" working at your company/organization

Moore: Teach For America is a geographically diverse organization. While our national office is located in New York City, our team members work all over the country; therefore, my day starts, ends, and is punctuated throughout by email. I spend approximately half of my day on calls or in meetings: management team meetings to discuss team progress and future projects, meetings with my staff members to check in on their projects, and meetings with my manager to check in on mine. Between meetings and email, I'll work on my own projects. Recently, this may include isolating the technical requirements for enhancements to our contact management software, tracking down financial documentation for a donor audit, and closing out the invoices and contracts for the vendors that supported the institutes.

What skills and disposition are needed to succeed in this field?

Moore: Perseverance, personal responsibility, and patience have been essential to my success so far. The ability to understand the big picture, and translate that into the fine details of a project, is also important. A healthy sense of possibility is critical to help generate creative solutions to situations. Strong critical thinking skills are essential, along with a high level of comfort with financial, quantitative and technical topics. In practical terms, it is very helpful to be extremely facile with Excel, both to generate quick analyses as well as more extensive modeling and projections. I've found that the most important skills, however, are related to relationship building – communicating effectively, working well with individuals and teams, and motivating and developing others.

Is there anything particularly difficult or frustrating about this area of work?

Moore: During particularly stressful times, it can be harder to see that line of connection between my work and the mission. Sometimes it's a game of six degrees of separation to link the importance of the details of staff reimbursement policies to student achievement. Because I work with this every day, it is second nature for me to see this connection. However, it isn't always so easy for the teams, staff, and other parties I work with. Therefore, it is vital to continually set that vision for those other teams – to be clear about why this is important, and how it will help our organization achieve our mission.

How has Net Impact enabled you to magnify your impact?

Moore: The conferences, newsletter, and website helped me understand the universe of business professionals and the nonprofit sector. Net Impact has helped me build a strong network while I was in business school, and remain connected since graduation.