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How This Senior Manager of Student Success Is Practicing What She Preaches in the MBA@Rice Program

Written by Bannon Puckett on Apr 5, 2021

Related content: 2U HQ, Graduate Programs, Leadership

At first glance, it may seem like Kris Galligan does it all.

As a senior manager of student success at 2U providing support for the Harvard Business Analytics Program, she balances working full-time with completing her final term as an MBA@Rice student—while also raising two young children. Crucially, Kris doesn’t do it alone. Her husband, himself a 2018 graduate of the 2U-powered online Master of Arts in International Relations from American University, is with her every step of the way.

“I always bristle when someone calls me a ‘superwoman’ after learning all that I’m balancing,” Kris explains. “Because I think this undermines the hard work required by my entire support system. I’m the one who will cross the finish line, but many have carried the baton for me.”

Read on to learn how Kris has cultivated a community that helps her excel both personally and professionally—following the same advice she’s always shared with learners as a student success advisor.

Kris geared up in Rice wear and holding her daughter before taking an exam

Let’s start at the beginning. What led you to 2U?

Access to quality online education has always felt really personal to me. My husband is a U.S. Navy officer, and we married in 2011. That year, I had planned to enter my dream graduate program in New York. It was an on-campus program near where he was stationed, but he was unexpectedly reassigned before I could start. I had this terrible choice to make: either quit my job, leave my dream program, and move across the country to be with my newlywed husband—or stay put, continue working, and do the program, but live separately from him, possibly for a few years. So I quit school, moved, and entered a graduate program that wasn't the right fit for me.

But all the while, I felt really tied to the choice that I had previously made. In 2014, we moved back to the D.C. area. Soon after, I learned about 2U and jumped at the opportunity to work as a student support advisor. I wanted to make sure that others didn't have to make the same choice that I did—that they could continue their careers and be with their families or their communities while still receiving world-class education.

Fast forward to 2019, and you enrolled in the two-year Rice@MBA program powered by 2U. What inspired you to pursue this path?

While overseeing student success for the Harvard Business Analytics Program launch, I became more exposed to other business functions across 2U—such as demand generation and feature implementation—that I hadn’t interacted with in previous managerial roles. I believe in building the talent bench. I recognized that I needed to deepen my knowledge of core business concepts in order to become the leader 2U would need me to be in the future.

A pregnant Kris and her husband at his American University graduation

At 2U, you’ve spent more than six years guiding student success. How has this experience enhanced your own educational journey at Rice@MBA?

I'm really fortunate that I entered an online graduate program after having spent years coaching online learners. It was a time to practice what I preach. When students are considering graduate school, I always tell them it’s especially important to have realistic expectations for yourself and to learn as much as you can about your resources and next steps. I advise them to specifically prepare for success and never underestimate the extent to which they need to plan.

I don’t think most students would choose to start a program and have two children before completing it, but specifically preparing for success has helped me achieve balance. Before I started the program—and routinely throughout—my spouse and I discussed our list of non-negotiables and nice-to-haves, and then we shifted our routines, finances, and priorities accordingly.

For example, one of my non-negotiables was getting fairly consistent sleep during the workweek. My husband's work schedule is a little bit more flexible, so his priority is getting up with our infant at night as often as needed. His non-negotiable is Saturdays off for his friends and hobbies and such. Again, we set up structures to support that—like getting a babysitter if I have coursework to do that day.

I have similar conversations about non-negotiables and nice-to-haves with my boss and team at 2U, and we plan for any necessary shifts in ownership, communication, or scheduling.

Continuing education is a way for people to unlock their full potential and lead a more satisfying life. Having to practice what I preach has made me more purposeful and competent in getting other people to a similar place.
— Kris Galligan, Senior Manager of Student Success, 2U

How has your experience in the Rice@MBA program helped you be an even better leader at 2U?

The Rice faculty really promote a growth mindset, which helps me approach new concepts with the confidence that I can master them. Since starting my MBA, I’ve also noticed that I can drive solutions more efficiently, at a broader scale, and with higher impact. I attribute much of this to the entrepreneurial curriculum at Rice.

I was attracted to Rice partly because it has been a consistently top-ranked entrepreneurship program. I’ve learned that the entrepreneurial toolkit is not isolated to the creation or acquisition of business, but that one can be entrepreneurial within an existing organization. For example, entrepreneurship is often about evaluating a potential customer’s pain point, evaluating if that customer will pay money to solve it, and whether you can facilitate that monetized solution. Therefore, at its root, entrepreneurship is about understanding others’ motivations. When you become more skillful at evaluating and activating another’s motivation—whether that’s the end user, your colleague, or a direct report—you can drive better solutions.

Kris's son prepping for his own bright future with a finance textbook

Speaking of motivation, as I’ve found success moving through the MBA program, and as I’ve felt more confident as a working parent at 2U, I’ve been motivated to have more intentional conversations with my direct reports and mentees related to their career paths and goals. My team knows that at a certain time each day I’m in the car going to daycare and I’m not going to be able to respond to email anymore. This has helped me be purposeful in upskilling my direct reports and say to them, “I want to expose you to this meeting and these stakeholders, and in a month’s time I’d like you to be able to do XYZ because I can no longer own that in my current world.” That’s actually been very empowering for both me and my team, as I’m able to transform some of the boundaries I need for myself into growth opportunities for others.

My MBA experience has also reminded me that everybody is on a unique path. I really believe that continuing education is a way for people to unlock their full potential and lead a more satisfying life. Having to practice what I preach has made me more purposeful and competent in getting other people to a similar place.

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