Rebecca Byrd Musser headshot

Rebecca Byrd Musser, Master of Nonprofit Studies

May 5, 2023

SPCS Commencement Feature

Rebecca Byrd Musser is one of two students in the nonprofit studies program graduating with distinction in 2023. She is a 36-year-old former Collegiate School student who works for a faith-based charity in Harrow, London. She started the Master of Nonprofit Studies (MNS) program at SPCS in Fall 2017 after earning a bachelor of arts in art history with a minor in Russian studies from James Madison University.

We asked Rebecca to answer several questions that we regularly pose to graduating students as they complete their programs of study. Here are her responses in her own words.

Why did you decide to return to school?

After taking a few years off of work while having young children, I wanted to re-enter the nonprofit sector but knew I needed additional training. My work experience had been in nonprofits, but due to the challenges I experienced at work, I was hoping to gain a better sense of best practices and a more comprehensive understanding of the sector. My ultimate objective was to be an employee and leader that could genuinely support and serve organizations in the best possible way. I believed further training would support this goal.

Why did you choose SPCS and the University of Richmond for your degree program?

I liked how SPCS made it clear that you could both pursue educational goals while continuing in your other commitments. The class schedule and flexibility offered meant work and home life would not be entirely disrupted. I also liked the sense of camaraderie with other adult students and enthusiasm from professors.

What’s the biggest challenge you faced as an adult student?

The two greatest challenges I faced were a severe decline in my health during the pregnancy of my third child. I had to drop a class during my pregnancy and then take a second semester off when she was born. The support and understanding shown me by Dr. Schoenemen made me see this is as a hiccup, not an end to the program. Once she was five months old, I was able to return to being a student. Second, due to work, we moved to London in 2020. At first I thought this again was an end to the journey for me, but Dr. Schoeneman once again encouraged me to take it a class at a time and gave me the courage to keep going even when it meant trying an independent study or attending late night classes online due to the time change.

What’s the thing you like best about studying your major?

Not only have I received good foundational training in nonprofit leadership, but being able to pursue my particular area of interest and passion leading up and culminating in my capstone has been truly life-changing. I have many interests, but this course work and running my study has allowed me to see how they can beautifully overlap in a way to serve others. I have brought all of myself to this final semester as it is the marriage of my passions of cross-cultural work, art history, and empowering women.

Tell us about the faculty you’ve had.

While all have been good, several have been exceptional. I have had professors who care about not only our success and growth as students but also as leaders in the nonprofit sector. They come into the classes with work expertise that rounds out the academic lessons. Two professors who have stood out are Dr. Schoeneman and Dr. Haggerty. Dr. Schoeneman leads with integrity, energy, and creativity. I worked with him on an independent study and always left our dialogues enriched. He asked thoughtful questions and helped guide my research in such helpful ways. This past semester I have been taught by Dr. Haggerty as she guided us through the capstone. She has been incredibly flexible and insightful, recognizing we are all balancing so much as we finish this program. Her help has been practical and directive, making this last leg of the journey possible.

What have you learned about yourself as an SPCS student?

First, I have grit. I didn’t know the program would take me six years. I didn’t know I would have health issues followed by an international move and job change when I began the program. But I did find a way to keep going, even slowly. But my grit is made possible because of the dedication and service of others.

Second, community is essential when an adult student. Professors had high expectations but also made themselves available to offer assistance. My husband stepped in to help with family and extra domestic duties to make my studies possible. Other students provided encouragement and inspiration as I saw how they offered their whole hearts to the process.

Finally, I have flourished as I surrendered to the ambiguity in the process of being a student. I did not know the topic of my capstone and final research when I began the program, but it is absolutely a perfect fit for me. I needed time to let ideas germinate while cultivating interests in and out of the program. This has led to a season of blooming and delight.

What will you miss most about being a University of Richmond student?

I will miss the classroom as I do love learning and being able to discuss ideas with others. I will miss the camaraderie with fellow students. I am privileged to be part of the Spider community and legacy, so I hope to find ways to stay connected, even from abroad.

Is there anyone you’d like to thank for helping you reach this milestone?

Yes! This goal, this achievement may have my name on the diploma but it is only possible because of the incredible kindness of others.

First, I have had excellent professors throughout, and I would like to express my particular gratitude to Dr. Schoeneman for his encouragement and guidance throughout my time. I’d also like to thank Dr. Haggerty and Dr. Lundberg for their assistance with my capstone project.

Second, I have a servant husband who has been my behind-the-scenes cheerleader this whole time. I wish his name appeared on the diploma too.

Third, there are countless family, close friends, and colleagues who have been a steadfast and understanding presence throughout the six years that this took me to complete.

What does graduation mean to you?

When I think of it, I get a bit teary actually. When I began the program in 2017, I had no idea how long it would take me, but I also had no idea how much it would end up meaning to me. What began as a means to further my education has resulted in a passion project. Dr. Schoeneman always said it was okay to start the program without knowing what you wanted to focus on. As a planner by nature, this was a challenge. But now having lived through it, I can see he was absolutely right. The classes gave me the foundation to enter with confidence into work environments while also explore how I might want to contribute to the nonprofit studies field. There were times when I did not know if I would finish but I am beyond thrilled to be at this stage.

In the near future, Musser will head back to London and boldly look for ways to use what she’s learned to improve her community work. She believes program design and evaluation will be the next focus for the charity she works with. Her hope is to assist in innovative projects that will better meet the ongoing needs of her borough.

She’ll graduate on May 6, 2023, with a Master of Nonprofit Studies degree.