A passion for travel landed the director of MBA global programs a lifelong love in higher education
Her office shelves are lined with labeled binders and itineraries that tell the stories of past student trips abroad. A collage of postcards from locations like Tanzania and Hong Kong sits behind her computer. Her mind is full of memories from a decade and a half of transformational international experiences with 28 cohorts of Daniels College of Business students.
Her feet may be on the ground in Denver, but Amanda Cahal’s heart lives internationally.
The passion that guides her career is the time she spends abroad, exploring and immersing herself in vibrant business cultures across the globe.
And she remembers each trip as if she’s being quizzed on a Jeopardy! category.
Where did Cohort 67 go?
“Prague and Israel,” she responds without delay.
How about Cohort 74?
“Well, they voted to go to Singapore and Myanmar,” she answers.
Academia wasn’t originally in her plans, but Cahal has managed to work a global focus into every role she has held in her career.
“I discovered long ago, studying abroad in college, that that was really where my heart lived, and I wanted it to be part of what I did,” said Cahal, the director of MBA global programs. “From that standpoint, I feel really lucky every day that I get to leverage and use that.”
With a degree in international politics, Cahal was set on working for a non-governmental organization (NGO) out of college and landed at former President Jimmy Carter’s nonprofit in Atlanta. In her role, she helped observe elections in various south African countries,. After a couple of years, she knew she’d need to either join the Peace Corps or go to graduate school to further her international NGO work.
Cahal left Atlanta, attending graduate school at the London School of Economics, where she focused on international relations, specifically in sub-Saharan Africa. From there, her life took her to Austin, where she first crossed paths with higher education. Working closely with the MBA program at the University of Texas, Cahal was asked to build out an international component for students.
“It was the global string that pulled me into education,” she said. Cahal wasn’t originally looking for a career in education, but the mix of travel and teaching felt right to her.
Three years later, she moved to Colorado and landed at the University of Denver. She began in Executive Education and worked with a variety of large clients on leadership development, doing a bit of teaching on the side. One of her largest clients was Newmont Mining, where she took 150 of the company’s top leaders through an executive leadership program, one 16-person cohort at a time.
During one session, Cahal broached the idea of taking Daniels students to see one of Newmont’s international mining sites. That conversation was the first stamp in Cahal’s Daniels passport.
She took students to Ghana and Peru, ultimately using that experience as the basis to run international trips for the College’s Executive and Professional MBA programs. At the time, international trips were part of only some of the offerings at Daniels. In the years that followed Cahal would use her skillset to transform the graduate experience at Daniels, helping engrain international immersions into most programs.
Over the next decade, Cahal would twice hike the Inca Trail in Peru, see gorillas in Rwanda, ride a camel outside of the Egyptian pyramids and so much more. While those adventures filled her photo albums, she most remembers the interactions she had with students on these trips.
“It’s been a lot of these bucket list things, but what made it special is you get back on the bus and have this incredible conversation with a student that was really nervous to go to Egypt, and then just had a life-changing experience,” she said. “In that way, it’s been incredibly special, and I don’t take those experiences for granted.”
Her most memorable trips are when students push themselves outside of their comfort zones, traveling to parts of the world that may have unfamiliar social, cultural and economic norms.
“We’ve never had a bad trip; they’re always transformational,” she said. “But the cohorts that push themselves out of their comfort zones and stretch themselves have a more powerful experience.”
Cahal has reduced her international travel as her two daughters, ages 6 and 8, have grown up. These days, she only leaves the country twice a year instead of five times. Instead, she’s more active instructing on campus, leading classes in a variety of programs, focusing on leadership development, emotional intelligence and more.
She’s also become the College’s guru for Insights Discovery, a psychometric tool based on the psychology of Carl Jung. Using a four-color model, Insights “helps people understand their style, their strengths and the value they bring” to the workplace. Cahal, who leads with yellow and green, was first introduced to the framework by retired faculty member Scott McLagan in 2009 and has successfully led workshops with partners on and off campus ever since.
“It’s practical,” she said. “It just grew; we started leveraging it more with corporate clients and teams on campus, and it has just gained momentum over the years.”
Her path to education may have been roundabout, but Cahal is thankful to have built a career filled with adventures. Even though she’s visited more than 50 countries, Cahal still has more on her bucket list, especially with her family.
At the top of that list?
Seeing the surfing hippos in Gabon and a rugby match in New Zealand.