Bryan Setser

Bryan Setser '99
Durham, North Carolina
M.Ed, educational administration
CEO and founder, Setser Group

If anyone asks Bryan Setser '99 for tips on being a leader, he'll tell them to start with Winthrop University for “foundational training that gives you the knowledge, skills and disposition to solve any education challenge."

That's because he finds himself applying things he learned here to his role every day as CEO and founder of the Setser Group, an education innovation firm focused on building the future of learning and work.

“Many of the opportunities I had at Winthrop with professors and colleagues helped shape for me what is possible in our field,” he explained. “When you set a true north star for the work, expose folks to the possible, and then help them pick up a pen or computer to dream big, start small and learn fast with one another, you can do some amazing things with educators. Even before the lean start-up model was a thing, Winthrop helped me think in terms of what is possible with the resources you have and what can be done to innovate and improve the systems and teams you are charged with leading.” 

Setser, of Durham, North Carolina, was teaching full time in Hickory, but wanted to pursue a master's degree. He and some peers were debating between the University of North Carolina – Charlotte and Winthrop. He ultimately chose Winthrop, citing the university's “ahead of its time” flexibility with weekend and evening classes. He particularly remembers retired education faculty members Don Lueder and John Reynolds.

“They used scenario-based learning, such as in-basket activities, movies in context for leadership, and various class projects that helped translate theory into practice for me,” he said. “They were also both very inspirational and believed in the power of the possible for all education leaders.”

Post-Winthrop, Setser served in several leadership roles: assistant principal in the Mooresville Graded School District; principal at the middle- and high-school level in Union County Schools; the nation's first chief quality officer for the Iredell-Statesville School District; and then CEO at North Carolina Virtual Public School. His path then became national and international in education with leadership roles at 2Revolutions, Matchbook Learning and rpkGROUP.

The thread that has followed Setser throughout his career – “An insatiable curiosity” – prompted him to think: Why not start my own company during a global pandemic in February 2020? “People are going to need a sherpa for what the future holds, and I believed--and still believe--that helping folks improve, innovate and transform is what most leaders and organizations want in a partner,” he said.

“I am a wayfinder for leaders, teams and organizations at my core,” Setser continued. “Throughout my education career and consulting career, I've been privileged to learn at the feet of many leaders who wake up every day trying to change the odds for those they serve. I was confident I could use that career knowledge to build my own firm to design, build and help others transform the trajectories and impact of their organizations.”

Despite the pandemic, the Setser Group has grown to support more than 33 clients across the country.

“Learning is never wasted,” Setser concluded. “With each degree or credential comes a new set of relationships and opportunities. I'd encourage any learner looking for a wow experience to strongly consider Winthrop. They'll give you the tools you need to design any future.”