Student Interviews

The CNM team sat down with a few current and former students to discuss the students’ career goals and aspirations. We invite you to explore the CNM community of students and alumni by reading their stories below.

Aaron O.

Photo of Aaron O'Brien

Aaron O.

Site Director, Catholic Charities of the Archdiocese of Chicago

Aaron likes a challenge. The site director for Catholic Charities’ WIC (Women, Infants and Children) program in Chicago’s Humboldt Park and Logan Square communities manages 24 employees who staff a full service food distribution program 24 hours a day. In partnership with the Illinois Department of Human Services, the Chicago Archdiocese of Chicago’s Catholic Charities program serves more than 3000 community residents a month – at Aaron’s site(s) alone. Aaron plays a key role overseeing the provision of food for senior meals, farmers market, summer lunch programs and other initiatives. He is especially proud of his site’s 24/7 schedule because it allows more people to participate, such as those coming off the midnight shift.

A native of the south side Chicago community of Beverly, Aaron finds it challenging and enjoyable to work with people from all different backgrounds. “People come to us for the nutritional value and it really helps save them money,” he noted in a recent interview with CNM staff.

Earlier this year, Aaron enrolled in the CNM program despite his busy schedule. Determined to advance professionally, he looked closely at the credentials of senior management and found that many hold certificates in nonprofit management. With a BS degree in management from Southern Illinois University (SIU) and a five-year old son named Jaylen he recounted, “I wasn’t gung ho about going back to school, but CNM is built for the working adult.”

After a web search led Aaron to the CNM program, he found the course descriptions interesting. Aaron contacted UIC Extended Campus for an academic advising consultation, then enrolled in the Fundraising Management class with instructor Margo DeLey.

“At first, I thought the students were just from Chicago, but then I saw that they are from everywhere in the U.S. and sometimes internationally,” noted Aaron. “The professor was fair and provided excellent feedback. I also learned so much from the people in the class. If you have a problem on the job you can bring it to class.” Aaron has already used examples of situations other people shared in class to help him do his work. “What I learned last night in class, I use today at work,” he said. When asked what he learned in the fundraising class he quickly replied, “I didn’t know where my paycheck [at the agency] was coming from. I learned how difficult it is to raise money.”

When Aaron subsequently enrolled in the CNM Financial Management class, it was during his agency’s budgeting season. “I’m getting an opportunity to connect what I’m learning in class with what I’m learning about the agency’s budget.”

In the future, Aaron envisions moving into a role that “involves more creativity, where I can do training and motivate others.” “I’ve learned so much on the ground level,” he noted. In the meantime he’ll continue to challenge himself “the way my directors do.”

Ushasri M.


Photo of Ushasri MunuktlaMoving up the corporate ladder at a Fortune 500 company is the American dream for many people, but Ushasri Munukutla is not one of them. After completing her BS she began a career in programming and found herself moving up the management chain, eventually managing four projects and 25 people. Today Ushasri is busily planning a new career in the nonprofit sector. CNM staff recently spoke with her to learn more about her journey to the nonprofit world.

Born in California and raised in St. Louis, Ushasri currently lives with her husband, 11 year-old son and 8 year-old daughter in Naperville, IL. Volunteering and service has always been an important part of her life. When she was younger, Ushasri volunteered in many organizations through school, at local hospitals, and at the Hindu Temple of St. Louis. Ushasri quickly advanced in her career in information technology at AT&T to a Technical Director, however she explained that managing in the corporate world is all about meeting the bottom line. “At the end of the day, it is not for the greater good. You never have that feel good feeling,” she said.

Ushasri is active with the Chicago chapter of Sewa International, a Hindu faith-based nonprofit inspired by the Sewa movement founded in 1989. (Sewa is a word in the Sanskrit language that translates to service above self – essentially Selfless Efforts for Welfare of All.) One of the chapter’s projects supports Bhutanese refugee empowerment by providing financial help, employment assistance and guidance on transitioning to a new environment while preserving their culture. She is also active with HSS Balagokulam, a children’s Hindu organization that teaches children Hindu culture and values, as well as emphasizes how to share Hinduism in the community. Ushasri is also the STEM committee chair at her children’s school, and coordinated the science fair for the last two years. Ushasri’s experience with SEWA, as well as volunteering with her children’s schools and religious groups, contributed to her decision to redirect her career to the nonprofit sector.

After looking into various nonprofit management programs, Ushasri selected the CNM program at UIC. “The CNM program had a lot of what I was looking for,” she noted. “Having the classes online was a big advantage. It seemed like a good fit.” When Ushasri learned that the CNM program offers academic advising to current and prospective students, she arranged an appointment with CNM Academic director, Kate Pravera, to discuss which of the 15 classes available would best meet her professional development needs. “Dr. Pravera not only advised me on which classes to take, but also provided thoughtful career advice and direction,” Ushasri noted.

In the fall of 2013, Ushasri enrolled in her first class, Program Design and Evaluation (PDE). “It was an amazing class,” she reported. “It should be a core course. Pieces of it can be used in so many areas.” To date she has taken Nonprofits Today, Strategic Management, Operations Management, Mastering Grantwriting, and Program Design and Evaluation. She plans to enroll in her final class and complete her certificate this summer.

Ushasri found that volunteering with a nonprofit organization concurrent with her CNM classes was especially helpful to her. “These classes helped open up different avenues that I didn’t really consider,” she claimed. Her next step is to “sit down and figure out where my skill set fits.”

“I’m trying to put something out there for the greater good, and that piece is always missing in the corporate world,” she explained.

Itziar M.


Photo of Itziar Marañón“I didn’t choose CNM because of the exchange with other students, but it is actually what I like most,” remarked Itziar Marañón, a Spanish journalist and mother of two young children now living in Switzerland. In a recent interview with CNM staff, she observed, “I have found really experienced and generous co-students. A lot of people are willing to share their knowledge and the American people are masters of kindness, which makes it very easy to have interesting discussions.”

Raised in the north of Spain, Itziar decided to be a journalist at age 11. She earned her degree at the University of Navarra, Spain, in 1999, and began working for a newspaper “one ocean away” in Argentina. Four years later, she co-founded Toumaï, a magazine for the migrant population in Spain. “We wanted to offer quality information that would be useful in their integration process. When I left Spain to go to Switzerland five years later, Toumaï had a monthly circulation of 100,000 copies.”

In 2008, she moved to Switzerland, learned German, married and began work as a freelance journalist – all while making plans to further develop her career. Attracted to the large nonprofit sector in Switzerland, Itziar set her sights on role in nonprofit communications.

“The CNM program,” she explained, “is part of a plan. I wanted to focus on something I really like: NPOs, working with women, human rights.” Itziar began looking for a program with “interesting topics related to nonprofit management” and enrolled in the UIC Certificate in Nonprofit Management program.

“I liked the topics, the method, “she said. “It’s great that you can choose six courses and do it over three years.” When asked how CNM classes have helped her career she noted, “The Fundraising course was very useful when I was looking for a job, as this is a very important topic for any organization. And Civic Engagement was a course that opened my mind and is an important foundation for my long term plans.”

Itziar finds the CNM program helpful for her volunteer work as currently president of the Spanish Women’s Association in Switzerland. “It is a very young organization and there are many things to start, improve or develop. I could implement some of the things I learned in the Strategic Management and Financial Management courses.”

When asked if she would recommend the CNM program to others she replied candidly, “I have recommended it already. I find that it can fit very well for people with different profiles and interests, as they can choose the courses they want to do.”

Today Itziar is realizing her goal. She now works for the (Migrants) Integration Department of the City of Bern, where she happily reports, “I can think, discuss, launch and develop strategies, communication campaigns and projects to promote the integration of the migrant population and to increase the awareness of the whole population about the importance of a equal and just society.”