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Issue: January/February 2011
The economy and its effects have spurred many to pursue an MBA. It has also shifted the way some local universities approach their programs.
Anyone who knew Michelle Pajak-Reynolds as the teen who ditched high school study hall for the art room probably wasn’t surprised when she pursued a degree in fine arts.
But her latest move might just raise an eyebrow or two.
Nine years after earning a BFA from Kent State University and several months after being laid her off from a teaching job, Pajak-Reynolds enrolled in an entrepreneurship MBA program at Baldwin-Wallace College.
A trip to Spain and Portugal last September will make for great memories for Joshua Baker.
But, more importantly, the travel will help Baker’s résumé stand out in a crowded workplace.
The 27-year-old took the trip as part of his part-time global accelerated MBA program at Cleveland State University.
While there, his group visited a couple of business schools, a bank, an advertising agency, an auto manufacturer and a winery for a firsthand look at how business differs across the ocean.
CSU is one of several area schools strongly encouraging students toward international study as a way to differentiate themselves.
Baker, of North Royalton, works full time at Progressive as an insurance claims adjustor. When he joined CSU’s MBA program in the spring of 2010, promotions were scarce at his company.
Things are now looking up, and he hopes to get the chance to use his new skills by eventually moving into management.
Progressive recently started selling policies in Australia. Maybe more international business is in the future, he muses.
Eventually, Baker may look into working for a global consulting firm.
“With this degree I’ll be able to pursue whatever doors open up,” he says.
By straddling the left-brain, right-brain divide, the 33-year-old has joined an increasingly diverse group of students opting for graduate-level business classes.
Enrollment in MBA programs has grown dramatically in some schools, in part due to interest by nontraditional students. Yet even at colleges where enrollment has remained flat, there has been an increase in applications and greater diversity in ages and backgrounds. MBA students are looking to sharpen their resumes, update their skills and grow their networks. More and more, they’re looking to become creative thinkers.
John Carroll University reworked its part-time MBA program a few years ago, eliminating what business school dean Karen Schuele calls silo programs, classes devoted to one topic such as accounting or marketing.
The university partially based its decision on results from focus groups with MBA holders who were asked how their education proved helpful, and not so helpful, at work.
“Uniformly, across all the focus groups, we heard that business disciplines as stand-alone topics just didn’t stand up in the real world,” she said. “As you move up in an organization, you’re rarely making an accounting decision, a marketing decision, an economics decision. You’re making a business decision.”
Many MBA students these days are members of an optimistic and demanding generation, despite the economic downturn, says Fred Collopy, senior associate dean at Case Western Reserve University’s Weatherhead School of Management.
Employers want more creative problem-solvers, and today’s MBA students excel in programs that look at alternative solutions, he adds.
“They expect this to be a very dynamic, engaging place,” Collopy says. “Their parents were famous for telling them they could do anything.”
Pajak-Reynolds, of Stow, says she’s still the “oddball” among her classmates at B-W but doesn’t feel out of place.
“It’s a perfect fit and a blessing in disguise,” she says of her entrepreneurship MBA program. “If I hadn’t been laid off, I’d probably be part of the teachers union for the next 30 years and wouldn’t have explored this other side of me.”
About 960 students, predominantly part-timers, are now pursuing various MBA programs at Cleveland State University’s Nance College of Business Administration.
Over a five-year stretch, enrollment in the traditional MBA program has grown about 32 percent. Overall growth for all graduate business programs during the same time was about 18 percent.
CSU is somewhat unusual locally in that it’s not only interested in applicants with an undergraduate business degree and several years in the work force, but also people without a business background, says W. Benoy Joseph, associate dean for academic affairs.
“You could be a nurse, a school teacher, a medical doctor, a lawyer, an engineer,” he says. The college offers everything from the fundamentals to advanced concepts. As such, CSU began offering some MBA foundation courses online about two years ago.
Youngstown State University, which has about 100 full- and part-time MBA students, is preparing to offer some basic MBA courses online for the first time this year.
The school also plans to further extend its reach to the community and see what skills are most in demand, whether that’s nonprofit leadership, entrepreneurship or innovation and technology.
“We’ve always done what we’ve been good at, not necessarily what the community wants us to be good at,” MBA director Mark Toncar says. “That’s what’s going to get our students jobs and promotions.”
At CWRU, the Weatherhead School of Management isn’t necessarily looking to get bigger, just better, says Collopy.
Employers were saying they needed more creative problem-solvers, Collopy says. So rather than compete in the general MBA market, Weatherhead has decided to court a smaller population.
“But we are the leading choice for that population,” he says.
As a research chemist at Lubrizol, Danielle Benson studies new molecules for engine additives, transmission fluids and other industrial applications.
Eventually, the 24-year-old would like to move out of the lab and into management.
With financial help from her employer, Benson, of Willoughby, started a part-time MBA program at John Carroll University last fall.
She considered pursuing a doctorate in chemistry but ultimately decided that wasn’t the right move for her.
“I see myself as a person who really likes to interact with people,” Benson says.
When she finishes at JCU, probably in 2012, she’ll have knowledge of chemistry, business principles and management skills.
“It’s nice having both sides because you become very valuable to the company.”
Take Mackenzie King, for example. She first looked into Stanford and Yale before enrolling at Weatherhead, where full-time enrollment grew from 142 in fall 2009 to 168 this fall.
Traditional business schools have taught in a very linear fashion, says King, a 2005 graduate in industrial design from Pratt Institute in New York.
Weatherhead now focuses on two areas: sustainability, which incorporates environmental and societal themes into classes, and managing by design, which encourages students to step away from spreadsheets and create their own alternative solutions to business problems. All MBA students are exposed to both concepts and, in their second year, pick one of the two as a specialty.
King, 28, was looking for that kind of creative approach. “I want to be the person in the room that helps facilitate ideas from within as opposed to the expert who has all the answers,” she says.
Clearly, the changing economy and its demands are making a heavy impact at both ends of the experience spectrum.
At John Carroll University, new MBA student enrollment is up about 19 percent from last year. There’s particularly high interest in a fifth-year MBA program for students who want to work on their master’s immediately after earning their bachelor’s degree.
“My guess is, mom and dad say, ‘If it doesn’t look like you can get a job in a year, you might as well stay in school,’ ” says Schuele, dean of JCU’s John M. and Mary Jo Boler School of Business.
Similarly, full-time MBA students at Kent State University tend to be much younger these days, says Frederick Schroath, associate dean at Kent State’s business school.
So to address their students’ relative lack of life experience, the school developed a wide array of professional development courses from how to pitch yourself in an elevator ride to business lunch etiquette and beginning golf.
Meanwhile, Kent State’s executive MBA program, which requires a minimum five years managerial experience, has witnessed a boom in demand.
Kent State was only able to accept 33 of 51 qualified applicants this semester, says Schroath. Thus, the class admitted in August had an average of 16 years of managerial
“These are special people,” Schroath says. “And that kind of experience makes for a much richer classroom.”
Although the University of Akron has no minimum work requirements for MBA applicants, it tends to frown on quick entry from undergraduate school.
“We feel that if you get a little more seasoning, you’ll benefit more from our programs,” says Myra Weakland, assistant director of graduate programs.
At Baldwin-Wallace College in Berea, enrollment in various MBA programs has remained stable in the past few years with about 450 to 470 students partly because B-W doesn’t recruit students fresh from undergraduate studies. But changes on the horizon could significantly boost those numbers, says Dale Kramer, director of the college’s MBA and executive MBA programs.
Ryan McCullough likes that old saying about teaching a man to fish instead of simply throwing a cod in his lap.
hopes to use what he’s learning at Case Western Reserve University’s
Weatherhead School of Management to help bring that philosophy to life.
28, joined Weatherhead’s MBA program after majoring in advertising,
working in real estate and spending two years in Mali with the Peace
Corps. He likes the school’s focus on creative problem-solving.
“My goal is using business as a tool for change,” says McCullough, who grew up in Youngstown and plans to graduate in May.
Eventually he’d like to land in an economic development role doing good works via for-profit initiatives, not charity.
you can help develop economic capacity instead of giving people
handouts, you’ll help them become self-sufficient,” says McCullough, who
mentions the Kiva loan program for entrepreneurs in developing
countries as an example. “It’s the best way to create sustainable
In November, B-W introduced a hybrid program that offers the same content as a traditional MBA program but with 75 percent of the instruction online.
B-W plans to expand its market reach to a 200-mile radius and tap into rural areas and students who travel a lot with their jobs.The college also added a sustainability MBA program.
Pajak-Reynolds expects to graduate from B-W this fall. She may decide to grow her existing jewelry business or help fellow artists develop business plans.
Ultimately, she wants to encourage economic development through the arts.
“The nuts and bolts of business are not necessarily something every creative person can do or is interested in doing,” Pajak-Reynolds says. “There are a million directions I could go.”
When Jeffrey Cramer learned of an impending layoff from his medical sales job in 2008, he used the time to reassess his path in life.
The job paid well. He was successful. “But I knew that ultimately I wasn’t doing what I wanted to do,” he says.
Cramer was at a tipping point, willing to take a chance at something new.
He wound up accepting a similar role in another medical sales company, but he also signed up for an MBA program at John Carroll University.
Cramer, who grew up in Texas, fell into medical sales after majoring in political science and later attending law school for a year and a half before quitting for financial reasons.
A promotion to district manager in 2004 brought him to Northeast Ohio, where he eventually met his wife and started a family in Willoughby.
His wife earned her undergraduate degree from John Carroll and recommended the school. Cramer liked the university’s emphasis on real-life business cases and hands-on problem solving.
Cramer is scheduled to graduate in May 2012 with a concentration in general management and may decide to open his own business or pursue consulting.
The timing is good, he says.
Friends in various industries have told him that they probably wouldn’t have gotten their existing jobs in the current hiring environment because companies are now looking for more than basic business skills from applicants.
“Of course there are exceptions, but in many cases unless you have an MBA, you’re not considered,” Cramer says.
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