Growing up near the Lincoln Center campus, Daniel Hernandez-Cartaya always wanted to attend Fordham. So when it was time for a master’s degree, he knew where to turn.
“I had always wanted to graduate from Fordham,” he said. “It was one of those things that I had envisioned for myself…I made a promise to my mom and dad that that’s where I was going to get a diploma from.”
Growing a Business that Helps Others Grow
Hernandez-Cartaya, who moved to Florida to get his bachelor’s from Miami Dade College, founded a nonprofit school called Our Pride Academy for students with disabilities in Miami. He and his mother started the program with 27 students and a 5,000 square foot “cottage” and have grown it over the past 10 years to include more than 130 students, two buildings, and an adult and secondary program.
Watching his mom work as a special education teacher for years, Hernandez-Cartaya said, made him want to find a way to give students with special needs the skills they need to thrive. He also wanted to provide their families and caregivers with support.
“Our program runs from infancy all the way through adult[hood],” he said. “Independence is a big thing for us, so we transition from early intervention…all the way to the end where you’re trying to get somebody to be as close to independent as possible.hat’s really where the majority of our work gets done.”
Hernandez-Cartaya is graduating from the Gabelli School of Business with a master’s in management that he earned online. The Gabelli School launched the online master’s program—along with a master’s in strategic marketing communications—in 2019 as part of an effort to reach students outside of the New York area who were looking to gain the skills they need to improve their organizations.
Hernandez-Cartaya said that he’s been able to do just that by incorporating lessons he learned from class into his nonprofit. He said Professor Michael Pirson’s class has been particularly helpful, especially his lessons on the four “drive principles”—the drive to acquire, to bond, to learn, and to defend–as well the class’s focus on mission and purpose.
An Empowering Mission
“All my decisions now go back to the purpose of why our school exists in the first place, and empowering our employees that serve these people to allow them to operate within that framework,” he said.
When Hernandez-Cartaya hurt his back in jiu jitsu right before the pandemic and had to take time away from school, Pirson encouraged him and became his mentor.
“The medication was really impacting me so much that I remember calling Dr. Pirson one day and saying, ‘I can’t function and I don’t know what to do. I almost feel like I have to drop out of the program,’” he said. “At the time I had gotten straight A’s—I was doing well. And, man, he talked me off the ledge. And he took the charge, contacted my other professors and let them know … [and after]I was able to catch back up and I didn’t miss a beat.”
Pirson said that Hernandez-Cartaya proved his dedication and ambition through the program.
“He took the material on. He challenged himself. He saw what that material can provide for himself and his leadership,” he said. “He was really keen on learning.”
‘Reporting Back’ in Class
Pirson said that while it was great to watch Hernandez-Cartaya put his lessons into practice, it also helped others in class when he would share his real-life experiences.
“There’s probably nothing better than a student like that, where they actually report back on what difference it makes in their lives and their organizational life,” he said. “By having him share his experience—I think that contributed strongly to the learning of others, in terms of how the material that we’re talking about … [is]not just conceptual.”
Even though this was the first time Hernandez-Cartaya participated in a fully online program, he said he was able to form meaningful connections.
“You can’t talk over each other on Zoom, and I think it made things that people said almost more insightful,” Hernandez-Cartaya said.
The online program also allowed for seamless collaboration for a project between management and marketing students, he said, for which they had to create a sales product for sustainable packaging for Estee´ Lauder in two days.
“Once we got through it, and we were at the end of it—what we produced in that short amount of time was so cool that I almost felt like I could work anywhere,” he said.