EWU Graduate AnnMarie Harrell Builds Family and Community Resilience With Her MS in Organizational Leadership

EWU graduate AnnMarie Harrell believes the best leaders have more than authority on their side when it comes to achieving goals and finding success. She argues that effective leadership relies on good relationships and soft skills such as listening, mentoring and collaboration.EWU MS in Organizational Leadership graduate AnnMarie Harrell smiling in a professional photo

“It isn’t about power, it’s about influence. And that’s different,” she said. “It’s not about forcing people, it’s about inspiring people. It’s not about pushing people, it’s about lifting, it’s about gathering … that idea of beckoning people on this journey.”

Whether Harrell is working as a personal coach, nonprofit board member, business owner or church volunteer, her leadership focuses on serving others and meeting their needs. After earning a bachelor’s in family and consumer sciences education from Brigham Young University in 2019, she looked for a master’s program where she could enhance her coaching skills and career options.

Harrell was drawn to Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Science – Organizational Leadership program because she could tailor her degree to her interest in family studies. She also liked its emphasis on personal development and intersectional leadership.

Harrell graduated in December 2022 and continues to value her experience in the program. “Not only did it support and validate my intuitive sense as a leader,” she noted, “it also helped me to see the structures, the ideas that I could use that have been proven in research.”

Lessons in Leadership

Harrell believes that the journey to becoming a leader begins at home.

“One of the things that’s really fascinating to me is the study of the family as the organization, one of the most basic organizational units in society,” she said. “And how important it is that we have leaders in families.”

She and her husband, Collins, have often used their own professional experience to teach their children management skills, relationship building and self-sufficiency. As a result, their sons—Jaron (25), Dallin (23), Evan (20), and Cameron (17)—became entrepreneurs well before graduating high school.

In 2014, the family founded WaxTrak, a small business inspired by their love for surfing. Jaron took the lead in developing the main product, a long-lasting wax traction adhesive: Textured patterns in the product make applying surfboard wax easier and also speed up wax removal and cleanup. He helped run the company out of the family’s garage in San Clemente, California.

“As we began to produce and distribute the product, all of our boys were involved,” Harrell remembered. “We all went to trade shows together and worked together doing things like order fulfillment and marketing.”

Her younger sons took over the operation once Jaron went to college. The experience of starting a business together confirmed Harrell’s theory that mentorship within the family unit can give children the confidence to lead as adults.

Working with her kids on the project also encouraged her to keep building her own knowledge by pursuing a master’s.

A Path to Growth and Change

“What is so fun about the Organizational Leadership program at EWU is that it’s very intuitive,” Harrell said, noting that she enjoyed coursework on emotional intelligence, ethics and team dynamics. Studying diverse leadership styles and models led to a few revelations as well.

“Something that was really powerful for me was recognizing that as leaders, we all show up with different strengths and with different perspectives and with different backgrounds,” she recalled.

Looking at concepts such as identity, culture and social justice through the lens of leadership gave Harrell useful insights she could apply to her coaching and humanitarian work. Meaningful conversations about empathy and authenticity also helped reframe her approach to serving others.

“I think it’s really amazing that EWU [is] providing opportunities for people to challenge their ideas and challenge who they are to become better,” she said, “to show up better for other people.”

Harrell appreciated the fact that discussion boards were inclusive and engaging, and that learning online allowed for ongoing contact with her professors, even while traveling.

“I logged on from everywhere, from San Diego to Dallas to Florida,” she said. “I was all over the United States during the program, and it was not a problem at all.”

A Renewed Commitment to Service

During her time at EWU, Harrell most appreciated the chance to study resiliency, a subject that’s become more important to her in recent years.

“There are hard, difficult things that are traumatic and heartbreaking that happen to us in our lives and people’s lives all over the world,” she said. “We can become better or bitter.”

Resiliency-related coursework and projects throughout the program gave her new tools for helping others take action, adapt to change, achieve growth and move forward. During the final capstone course, Harrell also had the opportunity to refine her personal leadership philosophy and reflect on what she learned.

“I would say that this experience has helped me to become a more confident human being,” she said. “It’s made me become more of a proactive, aware, responsive human being that shows up intentionally.”

She now works in San Clemente as a health coach as well as a family and relationship coach, approaching this stage of her career with a renewed sense of purpose. Harrell suggests that studying organizational leadership can benefit anyone who wants to have a positive impact on the lives of others.

“I feel like this program really does open your mind and your heart to what is possible,” she said, “in spaces where we can lead, in all different areas of our lives.”

Learn more about Eastern Washington University’s online Master of Science – Organizational Leadership program

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