Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Not Just an Online MBA

When I started the Kelley Direct distance learning MBA program, I had no doubt that I would be getting a high quality education. Kelley is, after all, a top-tier business school. Even so, the KD program has surpassed all my expectations. The classes are very engaging, challenging, require lots of teamwork, and are structured to emphasize real-world application of the material. Add to this the in-residence weeks, and "online MBA" doesn't even come close to describing the experience I've had so far.

There are two in-residences built into the Kelley Direct program, and each is a week-long, 1.5 credit class held on the beautiful IU campus in Bloomington, IN. I recently returned from my second in-residence, the one that marked the start to my final year as an MBA student, provided valuable face-to-face time with fellow classmates, and deepened my connection with Kelley and IU.

My 2nd year in-residence week was packed full of lectures, team projects, and networking events. The days were long and exhausting, but Kelley's "work hard/play hard" culture consistently shined through. Each morning began with a group breakfast followed by a day full of lectures. Now, I realize that eight hours of lectures may not sound even remotely appealing, but each class session was so engaging and entertaining that I had no trouble staying focused. Over the course of the week, we were taught by four professors and every single one had a terrific sense of humor, practical knowledge that made us eager to learn, and a remarkable ability to capture and keep our attention. I can say, without any hesitation, that I absolutely loved the lectures and interactions with my professors and classmates. Eight hours go by quickly when you're laughing (and learning) the whole time.

Teamwork is a big part of the KD program, and the in-residence is no exception. So, after a day of lectures, we typically had a team assignment due by the next morning. However, unlike in the 1st year in-residence, we were now experienced MBA students. We had an entire year of classes under our belts, were equipped with new skills, and were able to tackle assignments confidently and efficiently. Case studies - no problem! It was very rewarding to see how much I had learned since the start of the MBA program and to know that, just one year later, I was so much more effective at completing these difficult assignments.

We also had quite a bit more time to socialize and network than during the 1st year in-residence. After all, we had survived an entire year of classes, and our reward, the chance to explore Bloomington and strengthen relationships with one another, was well-deserved! Our evenings included a dinner at Assembly Hall, a formal dinner with faculty and staff, a social night at Nick's, and multiple team dinners at some of the local restaurants. One day we even had a special guest speaker, Marshall Goldsmith, a former Kelley alumnus who was in town to be honored at the IU Business Conference (bit.ly/99Ouq9). A New York Times best-selling author, Marshall shared some of the lessons he teaches to executives around the world, gave us a copy of two of his books, and even stayed late to do a book signing. This was an added bonus to an already fantastic week!

The in-residence weeks are such an invaluable part of the KD program. Yes, it is hard to take off work and leave family and friends for a solid week of class. Yes, the week is incredibly demanding and exhausting, requiring an intense amount of focus and creativity. The ability to balance personal, professional, and student life is undeniably a challenge. However, it is possible, and it is very much worth it.

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