Implementing positive change

UB’s MBA/MSW program provides social workers with business skills — and vice versa

Kelly Zaky, Janelle Valentine, Cassidy Malough at Goodwill WNY.

Kelly Zaky, MBA/MSW ’22, current MBA/MSW intern Janelle Valentine, and Cassidy Malough, MBA/MSW ’21, at Goodwill of Western New York. Photos: Stephen Gabris

By Jana Eisenberg

From a distance, social work and business can seem far apart, like incompatible “apples and oranges.” UB’s MBA/MSW students see things differently. 

Jointly offered by the School of Management and School of Social Work, the MBA/MSW program helps students become change agents with competencies in leadership, teamwork, strategic thinking and communication. Graduates leave the dual degree program with the skills to manage service agencies, create new programs and provide social and economic value.

At Goodwill of Western New York, several recent grads illustrate the significant impact MBA/MSW alumni can make. 

Cassidy Malough, MBA/MSW ’21, opted for the dual degree after working at a nonprofit. 

“I wanted to broaden what I was doing,” Malough says. “I was leaning toward becoming a sole practitioner, but I didn’t have the business acumen. I ended up loving my MBA coursework and realized that social work and business could benefit from each other’s mindsets.”

Cassidy Malough, Janelle Valentine, Kelly Zaky and a wall of clothes at Goodwill WNY.

After graduating, she joined Goodwill as a senior manager for its Goodskills Career Builder program, a free workforce training program that prepares individuals for careers in advanced manufacturing and technology.

“Goodwill is a great example of an organization integrating both perspectives,” Malough says. “The work goes back to community, and it’s also a functioning business melding a social innovation model with the business necessities.”

Thomas Ulbrich, CEO of Goodwill of WNY and an executive in residence for entrepreneurship in the School of Management, agrees that the combined skill- and mindsets work well in a variety of settings.

“MBA/MSW graduates bring a unique perspective to a nonprofit. They have a good understanding of how to balance the human focus of social work with the operational excellence needed to run a business,” he says. “Cassie has used parts from both disciplines in building programs, managing budgets and managing people.”

Kelly Zaky, MBA/MSW ’22, also came to the dual degree program after experience in a related field. 

“I worked in nonprofits and witnessed a gap between those in administration and those who were client-facing,” Zaky says. “They had similar goals, but they didn’t ‘speak the same language.’”

While researching graduate programs, she learned that the MBA/MSW can open doors for graduates interested in opening their own practice, pursuing nonprofit management and beyond. “It felt like there would be more opportunities with knowledge in both sectors, as opposed to choosing just one,” she says.

“MBA/MSW graduates bring a unique perspective to a nonprofit.”

— Thomas Ulbrich, CEO of Goodwill of WNY

Though her work with Goodwill’s Goodskills program is business-oriented, she is able to be more effective because she has a social work background too. 

“During my MBA work, I took a data modeling course, learning how data can be applied within the social sector in beneficial ways,” Zaky says. “I now work in data analysis, and the information is used in reports, for funding and with measuring program outcomes.”

Ulbrich agrees: “Kelly uses skills from both disciplines and is becoming an excellent data analyst. Her work enables us to use deep data to track outcomes and progress, and to report out on and write new grants.”

And that “language barrier” Zaky had observed? “I can bridge the gap to help the client-facing team understand the importance of data, showing how we can be more efficient in serving clients,” says Zaky. 

“Efficient data collection and analysis also supported our efforts to pursue another grant opportunity,” she explains. “The additional funding enabled us to triple the size of Goodskills, increasing its community impact.”

With new funds in place for Goodskills, the team was able to expand the program into Niagara Falls and Jamestown. 

“Using more of our social work backgrounds, we had to research the areas — the populations, asking what they needed, how we could help, what barriers they face. Then we put the program in place,” Malough says. “It’s like solving a puzzle, getting the pieces to fit and finding what works.”

Today, Zaky continues to support Goodwill’s efforts to impact workforce development in the community with the power of data storytelling. She also is helping to prepare current student interns as their field supervisor. 

Meanwhile, Malough recently accepted a new position as a project manager at M&T Bank, demonstrating the need for her dual skill set in other sectors.

“In my new role, I’m involved with community banking,” Malough says. “Even though it’s a bank, it’s more than just numbers; the output is still measuring how we’re helping the community, making sure we’re investing to positively impact people.”