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Lifelong learner levels up with MHI

Edson College Alumna and current Faculty Associate Jennifer Bonilla shares some of what she learned during her MHI program and her advice for anyone else mid-career itching to try something new.

By all accounts, Jennifer Bonilla was incredibly successful. She’d earned an MBA and was two decades into her career creating and executing growth strategies for global business process & logistics companies in North America. 

But as a self-described lifelong learner, Bonilla became interested in changing sectors, intrigued by the many challenges that her health care and pharmaceutical clients were faced with. She also wanted to make a difference in the rapidly-changing field of health care. 

“I searched nationwide to find a really unique graduate health care curriculum, and it was in my own backyard at Arizona State University,” she said. 

The program she found was the Master of Healthcare Innovation and she never looked back, enrolling in 2012, when the program was just evolving into an online program. 

It was an especially unique time to be diving into the health care sector. 

“With so many health care organizations focused on transformation due to the Affordable Care Act, recovering from the Great Recession, and all the industry consolidation within health care systems prevalent at the time, the program content was so in-tune with industry needs.”

Bonilla said in addition to learning all about her new field, the concepts were also applicable to the role she held at the time as Division President of Sodexo Healthcare, providing consultative and ancillary services to 400 hospitals and senior living facilities. 

She graduated from ASU in 2013 and, in addition to finding success outside of academia, she decided to remain a part of it. Bonilla has been a faculty associate in the MHI program for the last six years, teaching Financing in Innovation, Outcomes Evaluation and Complexity Science and Systems Thinking. 

Her talents as a highly-innovative leader, driven by her MHI experience has expanded her depth and breadth in multiple roles. 

In fact, she’s been so successful in growing businesses and leading teams as large as 22,000 people as an executive, that she was most recently recognized by ASU as a Sun Devil 100 and also by Diversity MBA Magazine as a Top 100 Women of Influence leader.

We asked Bonilla to share some of what she learned along the way and her advice for anyone else mid-career itching to try something new. 

Question: What part of your journey so far do you think is most important to share? 

Answer: I am a lifelong learner and really appreciate how much I learn and grow every year. At this point in my career, I love being able to mentor students – many who are mid-career professionals and I am able to support them in planning their career paths, resolving workplace challenges, and learning how to utilize candid conversations and constructive feedback to excel in their careers. 

Q: How did your degree program help you in advancing your career? 

A: I was interested in changing sectors to specialize in the health care field and it allowed me, leveraging my extensive leadership experience, to get hired as a health care president and quickly have credibility in peer consulting with hospital CEOs, and secondarily, it was a stepping stone to completing my Ph.D. in 2018, researching clinical burnout, turnover and employee engagement.

Q: What were some unique challenges, if any, you had to overcome while pursuing this degree? 

A: I was working 70 hours a week and traveling extensively. I appreciated the online flexibility and the opportunity to work with Boston Children’s Hospital, a client at the time, for my capstone.  Being able to combine my educational and career pursuits increased my commitment to the program and was also a win for my client and employer. 

Q: What advice would you give to students who are currently enrolled in the program?   

A: Focus on how you can hone core leadership competencies and apply these learnings in the workplace. Employers value this much more than a grade on your transcript. There may be courses where you really have to push yourself just to earn a B. It is likely that you will learn more from this experience than the courses that come naturally to you. Also, push yourself to develop your emotional intelligence. Technical skills become less relevant as you advance in leadership. Your ability to manage key stakeholder relationships, resolve conflict, and influence without formal authority will take you much higher up the ladder than will your technical skills. Finally, don’t be afraid of finance!  Every health care leader needs financial skills to be effective in a cross-functional team and to help hospitals survive these difficult financial times.