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ALUMNI PROFILE: Susan Gergely (MBA ’88)

by Christine Cox

April 1, 2014

Tags: Alumni, Careers, MBA

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Susan Gergely (MBA ’88) has welcomed the divergent path.

A business degree over a music degree.

A job with a hospital over a top ad agency.

A sofa bed in a shared living room over a comfy place of her own.

The path has led to her current position as American Hospital Association (AHA), vice president and chief operating officer of its subsidiary the American Organization of Nurse Executives (AONE). This year, it has led her to membership on the Mendoza Graduate Alumni Board.

The divergence started with music, Gergely’s intended undergraduate major at Indiana University. She had taken piano and music lessons since the age of six. However, her father was very practical and challenged her ability to secure a job after graduation. “I agreed to enroll in some business courses, and to my surprise, I found they were a good fit,” Gergely says. “After that, I switched my major to marketing and advertising and never looked back.”

After graduating from IU, she got married, took a job with a bank and was clicking along with her career for several years before deciding to return to school.

“I always knew I wanted to pursue a graduate degree, and I wanted a school with a national reputation within commuting distance from home in Valparaiso, Indiana.” She was accepted into several schools and started visits. “Like so many other alumni have expressed, I felt Notre Dame was a perfect fit for me. It immediately felt like home,” she says.

Gergely chose the one-year MBA program, a degree aimed at experienced business professionals with business undergraduate degrees. Gergely had both. Because the program is so rigorous, she decided to stay in South Bend rather than commute. She spent the year sleeping on a sofa bed in the living room of an apartment with two other students, an arrangement that didn’t diminish her enthusiasm for the program.

“It was very demanding completing the whole first year curriculum in the summer, but it was a great experience,” she says, referring to the comprehensive 10-week program before one-year MBA students join the second year of the two-year program.

After graduating, Gergely landed her dream job in marketing and advertising with Leo Burnett in Chicago, working mostly on Kraft Foods and Miller Brewing Company products, as well as a stint in media research.  “I loved it,” she says. “But it was very demanding, especially with the commute and a growing young family.”

She took a communications job at a hospital near her Indiana home. That paved the way to her current role with the AHA and position with AONE, which represents 8,900 nurse leaders nationwide and has a mission to shape health care through innovative and expert nursing leadership. It’s been a great fit. “I thoroughly love my work and the mission-driven focus of my organization,” she says.

Today, her Irish connection remains strong. Her daughter, Kacey Gergely ’12, earned a bachelor’s in environmental science from Notre Dame and currently serves in the Peace Corps in Tanzania. “We moved Kacey into Lewis Hall exactly 20 years after I graduated. It is amazing how sometimes life comes full circle,” Gergely says. She is equally proud of her son, Alex, who is enrolled as a biology/pre-med major at her other alma mater, IU.

Gergely, too, is considering heading back to school. “I am studying for the GRE, which has required me to relearn the Pythagorean Theorem among other formulas I have long forgotten!  I am exploring a number of master and doctorate programs in public health. I am a strong advocate of lifelong learning, and would complete this degree for the sake of a new academic challenge” she says.

She is similarly excited about her new role with the alumni board. “I’m at a point in my life where I welcome the opportunity to contribute to organizations that have shaped my life,” she says. “Notre Dame is at the top of that list. The education I received at Notre Dame and the connections that I have maintained over the years have had a tremendous impact on my life.”

Of course, joining the alumni board has other advantages, too. “I hope to carve out time to just reflect and recharge, walk the lakes and go to Mass in the Basilica. In so many ways, the Notre Dame campus has always been my happy place,” Gergely says. 

A divergent but blessed path, indeed.