An Interview with Bryan Thomas, this Year’s Master’s Scholarship Recipient

The Credit Union Leader Master’s Scholarship is a $10,000 scholarship awarded to a Credit Union leader each year to help fund the completion of an accredited master’s degree program. The scholarship was instituted to support our leaders in their efforts to acquire the skills needed to lead our Movement into the future.

Bryan Thomas, Executive Vice President for Meridian Trust Federal Credit Union, is this year’s scholarship recipient. Bryan was selected because of his deep commitment to the Credit Union movement, his past professional accomplishments, and his future ambitions to serve Credit Unions in an even bigger role.

Recently, I spoke with Bryan about the experience of working through a graduate degree program while also managing a full-time job and family. This is our conversation.

Q: Tell me a little bit about your professional background and what led up to the decision to work towards an MBA?

Bryan: I’ve been in the CU industry for about 20 years and during that time I’ve served in a variety of executive roles including Chief Lending Officer for On Tap Credit Union. In that role, I worked closely with the CEO to develop and implement strategic initiatives and that work ultimately opened the door to move to Meridian Trust as their Executive Vice President.

Kim Withers, the CEO of Meridian Trust, has been here for about 30 years and is a tremendous inspiration to me. When I mentioned applying for an MBA program, she encouraged me to go for it. I hope that this endeavor allows me to grow in my career and with this organization. There is something special about Meridian Trust that I love being a part of.

Getting my MBA was always something I wanted to do, but until now the timing just wasn’t right. My wife and I have 4 daughters and when they were younger, there just wasn’t enough room in our lives for an MBA program. Our kids are a bit older now – in fact, our oldest just left for college. Also, my wife recently accepted a position with CSU, which means I receive 50% off tuition. So, everything came together in a way that let me know this was the right time.

Q: Where are you at in the program now and when will you graduate?

Bryan: I’m currently about 8 weeks in. I’m an on-campus student, which is a requirement for receiving the spousal discount at CSU. It’s a 2-year program, so I’ll graduate in the spring of 2021. So far, the program has been very intense, but in a good way. I wasn’t sure how I was going to squeeze out enough time every week to manage it, but so far, so good.

Q: Between work, family and an MBA program, it can’t be easy to juggle all those demands on your time and attention. How are you managing everything?

Bryan: Delicately. I’m on campus 2 days a week from 5:30 – 9:15pm. And then I spend anywhere between 10-20 hours a week outside of class time on assignments, projects, studying, etc. It’s made family time more challenging for sure.

Spending time with my family very important to me, so I do my best to relegate class work to just one weekend day. The other weekend day is reserved for family. I also usually spend a few hours on schoolwork one weeknight each week. The key is to plan my schedule as much in advance as possible, including study hours, and make sure that schedule is communicated with my family and not in conflict with anything else that might need my time and attention.

At the beginning of the program there was an orientation class with professors and former students and quite a few of them encouraged us to be very transparent with our families about the expectations that are put on us and the amount of time we need to accomplish everything. This has proved to be good advice.

My wife already has her MBA, so she knew what was coming, and my family has been incredibly supportive. And, I think it’s good for our younger daughters to see their older sister and their dad working hard to further their education.

Q: You mentioned that obtaining your MBA is important to your long-term career goals, but are there parts of the program that are impacting your work now?

Bryan: Absolutely. I’ve been amazed and excited about how so much of what I’m learning every week applies to my day-to-day goals and objectives. Within the first 2 weeks of the program I found myself offering suggestions in meetings with coworkers that were based on things I was already learning. I’m only 8 weeks in but feel that it’s already paid dividends.

You know, on some level, getting my MBA was just another asset for my resume. The next checkmark to cross off on my career path. But CSU makes it so much more than that. Not only are the professors top-notch, we’ve gotten to hear from several high-level executives from major corporations about what they’re doing in their business and how it might apply to what we’re doing in our businesses.

When I began the program, I hoped it would help me become a better leader, and in just 8 weeks that’s already happening. The impact of the program on my life and career is profound.

Q: How has winning the Master’s Scholarship made a difference?

Bryan: As you know, higher education is so expensive. Going into it, you want to make sure you can make it work financially. Between my spousal discount, partial tuition reimbursement from Meridian Trust, and this scholarship, the total cost to get my MBA is very minimal. And the ROI will be tenfold.

When I applied for the scholarship, I really thought it was a long shot. Earlier this year, I was in a strategic planning session with our board and during that meeting Kim announced that I was the winner. There’s only been a few times over my adult life that I’ve been completely, genuinely surprised – and this was one of them. It was fantastic.

Recently I was talking with one of the professional coordinators who assists one of my professors about what I could do to push an 87% in one of my classes up to an A. She expressed that an 87% is really good and you don’t really need to worry about your GPA when you’re getting an MBA. And, I understand that. But I feel so humbled and grateful to my employer and to the Foundation that I want to do the best I can. To be able to receive this level of education and be so supported through the process makes it that much more meaningful. It’s added a level of ownership and responsibility to excel.