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Morningstar hires new executive director

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Mariel Butan was recently named as the new executive director of Morningstar Learning Center. She brings years of experience in nonprofit management and education making her well-suited for the role. PHOTO COURTESY OF MARIEL BUTAN

By Gabrielle Gasser EBS STAFF

BIG SKY – Four months after opening up the position, Morningstar Learning Center will welcome its new executive director, Mariel Butan, at the end of May.  

Butan grew up in Florida and earned her master’s degree in education administration. She spent time working in higher education and living in Washington D.C.  before she had a “crisis of purpose.” At that point, Butan explained, “I wasn’t in the right space to have the impact that I want to have in this world, but I didn’t have the answer as to what that was; I just knew what it wasn’t.” 

Always having wanted to live abroad, Butan left D.C. to spend time living in places like Romania, Vietnam and Ecuador where she worked in international nonprofit management. 

Butan’s adventures aren’t limited to overseas travel: she enjoys many different outdoor activities including skiing, kayaking, hiking and horseback riding. In fact, she has ridden a horse on every continent except for Antarctica. 

Upon returning to the states, she came to Big Sky in 2017 and started a remote job with a national education nonprofit. She lives with her partner, a ski patrol at Big Sky Resort, and they spend lots of time outside as well as embark on culinary adventures indoors. Butan also serves as the Treasurer of Windhorse Equine Learning, a Bozeman nonprofit that provides experiential equine-assisted learning.

Morningstar opened the executive director position in December 2020 after the board of directors did some restructuring and split the executive director role into two positions: executive director and center director. Previously, the executive director was in charge of daily operations as well as big picture planning. Moving forward, the center director will handle the day-to-day nitty gritty while the executive director will focus on larger projects and a strategic plan for the future.

As the executive director, Butan will focus on maintaining and building community partnerships, managing the center director and making a strategic plan for the future. The restructuring of the two roles means that the center director will primarily focus on day-to-day operations, freeing up the executive director to focus on Morningstar’s big picture. Butan will start full time in her new role at the end of May after finishing up some consulting projects.

“That kind of strategic work, and the ability to impact my own community, is really what drew me to the role,” Butan said in an April 12 interview with EBS. 

Stephanie Kissell, secretary of the board of directors and a member of the hiring committee, says she is impressed with Butan and thrilled that she is coming on board.

“One of the things that was clear is that Mariel’s background, her experiences, and values align with the core mission of Morningstar, and they do make her uniquely suited to lead our organization,” Kissell said.

Maren Dunn, president of Morningstar’s board of directors, echoed Kissell’s appreciation for Butan’s background. 

“Her attention to detail, work ethic and team-player attitude are exactly what Morningstar Learning Center needs to stabilize and grow into its potential,” Dunn said. 

Dunn said she is excited to work with Butan moving forward.

“I know Mariel will help MLC grow and achieve its goals and bring to fruition many plans we have only dreamed about,” Dunn said. 

Butan said she is looking forward to the opportunity to help people in the community.

“My number one goal is to listen and observe and really get the pulse of what this community needs from Morningstar,” Butan said. “[I will] gather all of that information to then be able to make recommendations and plans of action to say, ‘okay here’s how we can work together to steward Morningstar into the future in a way that is going to benefit our kids as well as Big Sky and the families who live here.’”

She said she is not entering the role with a plan in mind, rather, Butan aims to listen to and work with the Big Sky community. Butan also highly values her work and strives to help others.

“I’m very much a work to live kind of person,” she said. “But the work that I do has to be impactful, and I also try really hard to bring joy to the work and to every day in general. It is so important to me to be able to use my skillset to help people live better lives.”

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