An innovative partnership that is equipping leaders with the skills to improve public schools throughout Ohio recently celebrated a milestone: the graduation of the inaugural cohort of fellows from the BRIGHT New Leaders for Ohio Schools program.

Thirty-one Fellows completed the 12-month program, which recruits, trains and places these dedicated leaders as principals and lead administrators at public schools across the state, with a focus on high-poverty areas. BRIGHT Fellows are demonstrated leaders from a variety of professions and industries who share a desire to close the achievement gap in Ohio’s schools.

“The BRIGHT program is a wonderful example of the power and the potential of strong partnerships and of Fisher’s dedication to our university’s modern land-grant mission,” said Anil K. Makhija, dean and John W. Berry, Sr. Chair in Business. “Throughout their BRIGHT experience these Fellows have demonstrated tremendous intellect and heart—skills that will positively impact countless school children across the state while also inspiring other teachers and administrators to build a better future for students in Ohio.”

Launched in 2015, BRIGHT New Leaders is an innovative collaboration between Fisher College of Business, the Ohio Department of Education and the Ohio Business Roundtable. The initiative combines an intensive 10-month immersion experience in an Ohio public school, where Fellows learn under the mentorship of an accomplished principal or leader, with a fully funded MBA from Fisher.

“I’ve been very impressed by this cohort and its passion for education,” said Tony Rucci, BRIGHT co-academic director and clinical professor of management at Fisher College of Business. “They’re very mission-driven people, and what sets them apart is their passion for making education better for children in the state of Ohio. This was a very challenging program, but these Fellows are an extraordinarily resilient group of people.”

Upon completion of a capstone project and graduation from the program, BRIGHT Fellows are certified by the Ohio Department of Education and hired as principals in public schools throughout the state, where they’ll work with staff members to ensure resources are available to improve the quality of education for the children at those schools.

Jennifer Vargo, who graduated with the inaugural cohort of BRIGHT fellows, said the program impacted her leadership style by making her a more strategic, collaborative and thoughtful leader. Now principal of Broadleigh Elementary School in Columbus, Vargo said she had wanted to be a principal at a high-poverty, low-performing school for four years before the BRIGHT program began.

“As a principal, you are the CEO of your school building,” Vargo said. “You have to lead and manage multiple stakeholders, programs and systems and ensure they are working together to accomplish shared visions and goals. The BRIGHT program has taught me to thoroughly assess the needs of the organization and to engage my staff as collaborative leaders and partners in establishing the shared vision, goals and plan for our school.”

BRIGHT New Leaders for Ohio Schools is funded by the Ohio General Assembly. Graduates were selected from a pool of more than 800 applicants when initial recruitment began in early 2015. The next cohort is scheduled to start in December 2016.