The sound of wedding bells is music to Monica Rutledge’s ears. In agreement are the many couples who choose to begin their married lives at her wedding and special event venue, Valley Mills Farm located in Swoope, Virginia.
As a new business owner who wanted some guidance growing her company, Rutledge is currently enrolled in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) online program at Longwood University. She is on track to finish the program in August 2021.
“It’s going to take me just over a year to complete my MBA while working two jobs,” said Rutledge, who plans to take one or two courses per term.
In addition to running her own business, she works full time for a healthcare risk management group. Her 20-year-old daughter helps her manage the farm whenever she is home on breaks from college.
Falling in Love
Earning an MBA has been on Rutledge’s list of career goals for as long as she can remember.
“It’s always been a personal goal,” she said. “I thought it would be a great accomplishment to achieve that along with owning my own business. Right now felt like a prime opportunity to reach for both goals. I knew higher education could help me grow my business, better engage with my clients and be more successful.”
Rutledge holds a master’s degree in public administration and an undergraduate degree in criminal justice with a minor in political science. She was recently inducted into Beta Gamma Sigma, the business honor society.
After growing up in a family that encouraged education, she now emphasizes that for her daughter who is going to college for aeronautical engineering and aspires to join the Air Force as a pilot.
“Education has always been a priority for me and my daughter,” she said.
Match Made in Heaven
The online MBA program at Longwood has been a perfect fit for Rutledge, despite her initial concerns about not having an accounting background.
“I wasn’t sure how successful I would be with this program, but it’s been better than I could have ever expected. I already had business skills and leadership qualities, but Longwood’s program has allowed me to enhance those skills and really propel forward,” she said. “I’m learning to strategize for future growth and really forecast for things that could impact my business. The program has been beyond beneficial.”
Rutledge lives about two and a half hours from campus, so it isn’t surprising that Longwood’s excellent reputation caught her eye.
“My family said, ‘If anybody can do it, you can.’ They know I like to challenge myself with lots of irons in the fire at a time. Working on an MBA was a new challenge and something that I wanted to take on,” she said.
In addition to the program’s flexibility, its affordable tuition and seven-week sessions sealed the deal for Rutledge.
“The pricing for the program is very reasonable, especially if you’re the one paying out of pocket,” she said. “I knew it would be an intense seven weeks, but it’s not drawn out like regular, in-person programs. I can complete two courses within a semester, whereas before I would only be able to complete one.”
While she used to be apprehensive about reaching out to an instructor to ask questions, she quickly learned the value of getting help.
“All the professors have been extremely approachable and want to see you succeed,” she said. “My statistics professor even did Saturday morning coffee chats via Zoom for students to drop in and say hi or ask specific questions.”
Rising to the Occasion
The Leadership, Group Dynamics, and Team Building course was a favorite for Rutledge, as it made her more aware of skills she already possessed and allowed her to build on them from there. She also enjoyed the new perspective she gained from the Negotiation course.
“Even as a trained negotiator, I still walked away with skill sets that I hadn’t tapped into yet,” she said. “The course made me more aware in general and taught me to never go in with the mindset that it’s a win or lose situation — both parties can win with outcomes.”
While Rutledge had thought she might use her criminal justice background to serve as a parole officer, she instead worked in loss prevention and risk management in the private sector. The techniques she learned minimizing risk within an organization allowed her to transition from retail to healthcare.
“Now I do a lot of healthcare risk management and claims management while looking for ways to mitigate risks within a hospital so that we can ensure our patients encounter the safest environment possible,” she said.
Rutledge plans to make the drive to graduation to see her classmates and professors in person. A shared aspiration to work in the event industry helped her connect with a classmate early in the program. The two decided to take most of their courses concurrently.
“People think you don’t make connections with online learning, but you really do get to know your classmates through group projects and assignments. It’s a great support system,” she said.
Developing new skills may be the icing on her professional cake, but Rutledge also offers her baked creations as an upsell to couples who book at Valley Mills.
“When I finished my last graduate degree, I was so used to filling my time that I started going to a technical school and learning how to create cakes and cupcakes,” she said. “I’m looking forward to picking that back up.
“When I’m not in the office, you’ll see me working around the farm or hiking the trails in the Shenandoah Valley. We’re always doing something outside. Two master’s degrees is enough. My next objective is to really go all in with my business and focus on building the best venue in the area.”
Learn more about Longwood University’s online MBA program.