For two weeks each summer, credit union leaders gather at Pomona College in Claremont, Calif., to immerse themselves in a rigorous, all-encompassing credit union education. The program is known as Western CUNA Management School (WCMS), and the powerful tools it offers have had a lasting impact on the credit union movement.
As the WCMS website states, “It is more evident than ever that the long-term success of our credit unions depends on the professional development of our people.” With that in mind, WCMS has worked for more than 50 years to offer a powerful, ever-evolving education to give credit union people the tools they need to truly lead the movement.
The school is designed for managers and upper-level operational staff, and students attend two-week terms over the course of three consecutive summers. The faculty is composed of professors and attorneys as well as respected credit union professionals and consultants. To encourage full immersion in the educational atmosphere, students live in the dorms at Pomona and eat in its dining halls.
“WCMS is a tremendous experience and opportunity for anyone that is able to attend the two-week school,” said Jeanne Pickens, Vice President of Marketing for Rogue Federal Credit Union, who will complete her WCMS education in 2012. “The school not only teaches you all aspects of your credit union over a three-year period, but it gives you the gift of lifelong friends. The relationships I developed in Year One were called upon throughout the year for knowledge and expertise. I look forward to going back next year for the final leg of the journey.”
Students are also asked to complete a written project during the months between each of the annual summer sessions. The first project involves an analysis of the student's credit union, while the second builds on the first, asking for strategic planning for the future of that credit union.
To get an idea of the true breadth of the WCMS education, one needs only glance at the curriculum, which covers business development, business law, communications, finance, human resources, lending, marketing, operations, strategic planning and technology, among other things.
An intensive exam follows each of the three sessions, all of which have their own general focus. The first summer session hones in on modern management practices and principles in a context that is specifically tailored to credit unions. The second summer then sees students immerse themselves in the operational side of credit unions and the broader financial sector, and the third session uses a variety of tools to help students apply their knowledge and map out the future of their own credit union.
Scholarships to attend WCMS are offered by Western CUNA Management School, the Richard Myles Johnson Foundation, and various state and regional leagues and chapters. The WCMS scholarship application is available on the WCMS website, where you can also find registration information and a comprehensive list of frequently asked questions. Tuition information and registration forms for new students became available on Oct. 12, 2011, and as space is limited, interested potential students are encouraged to register as soon as possible.
But there is no better way to learn about WCMS than by hearing directly from one of the participants. With that in mind, read this heartfelt, insightful letter from Valley Credit Union’s Vice President and CFO Chris Monti to truly gain an understanding of the nature of the WCMS experience:
Our First Year, Western CUNA Management School
As I sat at my desk the week prior to attending Western CUNA Management School, I do not believe that I fully understood the charge being placed before me. Inundated by work and juggling all of my remaining tasks and details (not completely successfully!), I was trying to prepare for an education I knew nothing about. I was lucky enough to speak to several of the team from Rogue Federal Credit Union in the few days before my departure and heard a simple and clear message. Keep your head high, fully engage, and either commit your heart 100 percent to the school, diving in head first, or do not plan on getting everything you can out of WCMS. Be responsible, develop the relationships, and give back—to the school, the students, and the credit union movement.
As I left Salem, Ore., and departed from PDX, I had no idea what I was in for. I was analyzing, scheduling study times, and trying to preempt, outline and frame an experience I did not understand. I had no idea…
I am a proud participant of the WCMS Lambda class, which will graduate in 2013. Ninety-seven strong, with all gifted leaders, we had the credit union movement’s best in a concentration I had not seen before. On the first day, I was nominated as one of the class officers, selected and voted on by my peers. I did not know what to expect, but I was chosen by them and determined to serve them well. Our schedules immediately turned into 18-hour days, with meetings in the mornings, over lunch, and after evening events. The amount of knowledge we took in, the school and class requirements, and the wealth of information handed down from the classes above was more than I could comprehend.
From Day Two forward, we received new challenges, goals, and requirements, for which we needed to adapt, execute and enjoy. After the first few days, we saw a few of our Lambdas begin to feel overwhelmed and inundated by the lectures, the amount of work, and the potential difficulty that the exam could present. Having built a small network of students that understood the materials clearly, we decided to reach out to the class with a challenge: Could we raise the bar on how well we all could do academically, and be able to help, teach, and pair any student with one able and willing to teach them? We further found many who were not getting as much from the lectures as others and felt a need and responsibility to help support them. Could we rise above the expectations set by ourselves and our credit unions to the competitive levels that our peers placed before us?
We decided to leave none of our fellow Lambda class without the resources needed to exceed their expectations. Individually, I agreed to summarize the notes I had taken while further reaching to those in classes that I had not attended or understood as clearly to compile information from all lectures and classes. Thanks to those who stepped up and clearly detailed the information from the professors’ presentations, we assembled a summary of knowledge each of us could pull from. As our class motto reiterated time and again, we were raising the temperature yet one more degree! The movement was an overwhelming success, allowing the class a body of information summarized by their peers as a tool to improve the success of everyone in class. We distributed the collective information the day before the exam. With approximately eight hours of work having been put into them, those who received them were overwhelmingly appreciative and it showed in many ways. We also facilitated a class-wide study session, which allowed those with strengths in some areas to demonstrate and explain concepts in review to the class, and to do so in a way that provided our classmates an opportunity to hear the information presented in lectures in a different light. It allowed another opportunity for review, recollection, and collaboration amongst our class. What an amazing event it is to see 97 individuals come together as one.
I entered WCMS under the belief that it would demonstrate the skills and education needed to operate a credit union. What they showed us is so much more than that. As a CFO, I tried to use my head to fully analyze the potential of the two weeks ahead. What I didn’t see was the opportunity for explaining how to organize, collaborate, and integrate as one from the heart. Their classrooms and events are filled with exercises which force organic collaboration. They emphasize that ideas should and will originate from all members of your team, not just those in the higher ranks. They further require so much effort and execution that it necessitates not only a diverse group, but the minds and efforts of 100 percent of the team. You get no time to think, but rather have to pull from your class as a firestorm of collaborative reaction. Each day, we were finding new drivers and details which needed to be completed, sometimes in no time at all, and we were able to execute them perfectly as a result of those powerful leaders pulling together as one. Our Lambda class created a phenomenal retrospective fundraiser full of emotion and energy as a result of more than half of our class pulling together to leave no detail behind. What an amazing group of leaders, all pulling together for the interests of each other, the school, and to show respect to the classes above us and the leaders who were there to serve and lead us to a higher calling.
At the end of the two weeks, we had assembled an empire—an empire which stood side by side and worked with the empires formed by the classes before us. We changed. We transformed from the shocked and stressed first-day students who knew nobody around us to an organic, ever-changing, well-executed consortium. We pulled together scholastically, in organization and execution, and became emotionally connected. We were now a family of peers each of us feels we could depend on.
As I leave WCMS, the experience of Year One has radically changed my life. It taught me more about myself and others than I could have imagined. I made a choice before I arrived: to run and jump, diving off the cliff headfirst and doing so in a way that would deeply immerse me in every aspect of WCMS. I did that, and so much more…
I want to mention again those from Rogue Federal Credit Union who paved my way to success. They know who they are and how grateful I am to them. I also want to thank each and every student for their immense effort and the attention that they applied to the program, their classmates and the experience itself. We have such a professional, talented and gifted group of leaders in our class that even if we went through the process 97 more times, each would yield a new set of leaders, a significantly different set of successful outcomes, and a uniquely successful experience for all of us.
Finally, I would like to thank the WCMS staff and volunteers, and specifically Dr. Liken, for showing me and the other 96 Lambdas that we need to run our credit unions from our hearts, while balancing our passions and emotions with our minds. We all carry a dynamic charge within us: to give back to the school, and the industry we are in, and to make an impact on our credit union movement. We all leave WCMS with an inherently sharpened image of exactly what we need to do. Thank you. Thanks to each and every one of you that made this, for me, a life-changing event.
Christopher Monti (Valley)
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