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Networking with a Purpose

Ben Waltz's career in health care has been nothing if not fast-tracked. Shortly after graduating from the MS in Health Care Innovation program at St. Thomas, he was working his dream job driving social impact at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota (BCBS).

The backstory begins with Waltz's decision to get his master's degree after working at BCBS for a few years after college. His career was going well – in fact, he just got promoted to account manager.

While working in the commercial employer markets, he recognized an opportunity to integrate the social and economic drivers of health – think education, jobs, income, and interpersonal safety – into everything being done at BCBS.

Waltz was particularly drawn to the challenge of improving health and housing equity, so he enrolled in the MS in Health Care Innovation program to learn how to drive change from within his organization.

Solving business problems in health care

The master’s program was a natural fit from the start. "It was a one-year degree with a small-time commitment to dig deep into health care," Waltz says about choosing Opus College.

In the Practicum for Health Care Innovators course, he identified his career goals and objectives for the next five to ten years. Working with BCBS leaders, he outlined a project for the capstone course that addresses a real-world problem within the organization. Waltz picked a topic that mattered to him - evaluating the financial benefit of home modifications to help seniors live at home safer and longer.

But he couldn't do the heavy lifting on his own. After laying the groundwork in his first semester, he began connecting with people throughout the organization to help build his business case. The networking was instrumental for the next step in his career.

Less than a year after presenting his final project, Waltz accepted a new role at BCBS that addresses the housing disparities within their Medicaid population. Much of the work in health and housing from his final capstone project at St. Thomas brought everything together.

I was able to move around and explore career opportunities because of my degree.

Networking with confidence
It's no wonder Waltz points to relationships as one of the most valuable parts of the master’s program. "St. Thomas taught me how to network with a purpose," he says.

A first-semester course in Storytelling: Influencing Organization taught him how to tell stories and get people on board with ideas, which later helped him pitch his business case with confidence.

"I was able to go into these conversations with a pointed framework that showed them I wasn't just there to meet and greet and say hi," he explains. "I was proposing an idea on how we could work together and build something tangible in health care that improves the lives of everyone."

Building healthy communities in his new role
BCBS recently invested $1M in affordable housing– 31% of which has gone to BIPOC communities in Greater Minnesota, a state with one of the greatest homeownership disparities in the country.

According to Waltz, being intentional and listening to the community's needs was how they succeeded. "The core competencies I learned at St. Thomas about developing relationships have been critical to making sure we're putting that funding forward equitably through community empowerment."

For him, this accomplishment goes beyond a career milestone. He hopes it's one of many steps Blue Cross takes to address social determinants of health. "I hope that I can provide value wherever I am."

Waltz’s whirlwind experiences within the one-year program have shown him that networking is not about short-term or temporary connections. It's the glue that binds collective experiences together.

"If you bring something tangible to the table that provides value, that's how you create those connections," he says. "That's when it becomes networking with a purpose."

headshot of Ben Waltz

Ben Waltz

  • Program Manager at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Minnesota

Career Success Story

Getting an Early Start

Why get your master's degree within the first few years of your career? For Ben Walz, it's all about adding value.

What prompted you to get your master's degree two years after college?
I always knew I wanted to work in health care. The Health Care Innovation program provided the business lens I needed to grow my career.

Why Opus College?
I was already familiar with St. Thomas as an undergraduate student, and their mission of working to advance the common good resonated strongly with me.

How has your master’s degree helped with advancing your career?
You can have all the expertise in the world, but if you can't get people to come on board with you, you'll run into challenges. Learning how to influence others and tell stories have been huge takeaways for my career.