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The VCU School of Business December 2021 commencement ceremony marked the first in-person graduation the school hosted in two years, with graduates from the classes of 2020 and 2021 in attendance.

Commencement speaker Linda Hines, the Medicaid plan president for Virginia Premier Health Plan, Inc., delivered a powerhouse address – “How to Build a Better Community” – that was pitch perfect for the COVID era.

Hines outlined three ways graduates might strengthen their communities and described how the three degrees she earned from VCU – the most recent being an Executive MBA – had powered her own community service and propelled her to her first CEO position.

The value of continuous improvement

In his introduction, Dr. Doug Pugh, interim dean of the School of Business, described Hines as “an everyday hero” who had attended segregated schools in rural Virginia through seventh grade and earned scholarships to pursue a bachelor’s degree in nursing from VCU that launched her career in healthcare.

Nineteen years later, after being overlooked for a desired promotion, Hines took full advantage of tuition reimbursement offered to employees of VCU Health System to earn her master’s in nursing administration. The next time a management position came available, Hines got the job, even though she was still in school.

“If you want to build a better community,” Hines told the commencement audience, “continuously build a better you.”

Follow your heart and don’t be afraid to take risks

The most memorable parts of Linda’s story featured her career choices. Despite countless opportunities for even greater personal success, Hines was always most focused on helping others. Despite taking a risky demotion and pay cut to join Virginia Chartered – a health managed care company also dedicated to literacy, job coaching and community empowerment – Hines quickly rose from staff utilization review nurse to manager, director and then vice president.

“If you want to build a better community, sometimes you need to follow your heart, even if that means taking a risk,” Hines told the graduating classes.

“Having an MBA opened up a multitude of opportunities”

At Virginia Chartered (later renamed Virginia Premier), Hines found a mentor and ally in CEO Jim Parrott. When Hines, then a vice president, shared with Parrott her desire to earn a MBA, he agreed that the company would completely fund her VCU Executive MBA.

“That was huge,” Hines explained. “But even more huge was the return he got on that investment. In fact, since then, the managed health care company has fully subsidized 15 employees to go through VCU’s EMBA program.”

Two years ago, when VCU’s Executive MBA Program graduated its 25th class, Hines stated that having an MBA and financial management experience gave her more credibility as a business person within the healthcare industry.

“Sometimes, when you have a clinical degree, you get pigeonholed. People say, ‘Oh, you’re an R.N.?’ And they think that’s your lane and that all of your job options must be in some type of clinical role. Having an MBA opened up a multitude of opportunities where I could stay in healthcare and do so much more or leave the industry and do something else.”

When times get tough, emulate people with character

Years after Hines earned her MBA, Jim Parrott died unexpectedly. Hines ultimately was selected to assume his position as CEO. Three years later, VCU decided to sell its majority interest in Virginia Premier to Sentara. Unfortunately, as is often the case with mergers and acquisitions, Hines’ contract soon came to an end.

“At that moment, when things looked darkest, I thought back on all the people who had instilled their values in me, who had seen the promise in me and helped me. I reminded myself that my purpose has always been about helping others.” So, Hines pressed on, working to help save her colleagues’ jobs and to fulfill her company’s mission. Impressed by her selfless leadership, Sentara ultimately invited Hines to stay on as president of Virginia Premier.

In her remarks, Hines invited audience members to take a moment of silence to think about the people who had believed in and mentored them.

“If you want to build a better community,” she concluded, “when times get tough, emulate those people you were just thinking of, the people who changed your life for the better.”

Executive MBA, the choice of working professionals

Certainly, Hines’ own character and persistence paid off. When applying to the VCU EMBA program, she wrote that “Our communities will thrive and grow only if we have committed and qualified leaders.” She was convinced that an MBA would help her better serve her community. Today, as Medicaid plan president for Virginia Premier Health Plan, Inc., her organization serves 340,000 Medicaid/FAMIS and Dual Special Needs enrollees in the Commonwealth of Virginia.

Hines chose the VCU Executive MBA program because it was specifically designed for working professionals. She earned her MBA in 2009, 10 years after her master’s in nursing administration. 

Today an even wider array of VCU EMBA options exist, including a hybrid program that follows an alternating weekend schedule. On the first class weekend of each month, students attend class in person. The second class weekend of each month is HyFlex, and students may attend in-person or virtually.


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