Monday, March 23, 2015

The Kelley Difference: Why I Chose This Online MBA

by Nathan Hall

Making the decision to attend an online MBA program

My journey towards my MBA began while I was already in grad school completing my Master’s in E-commerce. I knew I wanted to continue my education with an MBA, but I wasn’t quite sure which program was for me. I remember asking my school at the time if I could take any of my courses online. As I was working full-time, having to physically attend school ate up so much of time and was very taxing on my personal life. Moreover, I realized that I became more dependent on online resources to supplement the material learned in the classroom, and even more so with group work. The internet became such a powerful resource to improve my efficiency, productivity and knowledge as a student. Learning in just the traditional classroom seemed so antiquated to me, the more my professors and classmates embraced technology in the classroom, the better my educational experience was. With that revelation, I felt that pursuing my MBA online made perfect sense, so I went in search of the best program, and all roads lead to Kelley--sort of.

While in my world, online education was the best thing to happen to the education system since the chalkboard, not everybody felt that way. Unfortunately, many early movers in the online space were unaccredited, for-profit institutions. This really cheapened the concept, and tarnished the word “online” when it was associated with education.  Nevertheless, Kelley seemed like it was cut from a different cloth. Clearly, as an institution the Kelley School of Business was well regarded and consistently ranked as one of the top business school in the US-- but was it regarded enough to shake any online stigma?  The alumni seemed to think so, and I knew it was only a matter of time until online education became the next online dating or online shopping- once the general public gets over the uncertainty of change, they will be able to see the true value of it. A media station is no less credible if they use TV, radio, print or online, those are simply channels to convey the same content. In the same way, I knew that the school and the teachers would be what really matters, not the channel I choose to use.

All that being said, I was also tempted by another driver. Being Canadian, I loved the opportunity to expand my network in the US, and not limit my network to one geographic region.  Often, people end up working close to where they went to school- but I saw tremendous value in getting to know people from all over the US and even from around the world. Furthermore, as we all work in different industries, I saw tremendous opportunity to learn and engage with fellow students who would have a multitude of perspectives. Given that, I decided to pass on one of the top business schools in Canada and become a Hoosier--and I can truly say that going to Kelley was one of the most rewarding experiences of my life.

In the flesh learning and networking opportunities
Despite my deep appreciation for the value and effectiveness of online learning, I still reveled in the opportunities to meet up with my classmates and faculty. Kelley Connect Weeks are transformational and a key component to the whole program. While online technology can make so much of the educational experience better, it cannot replicate the experience of in-person interaction--and those weeks of “business bootcamp” made sure you had your fill of in-person interaction! I’ve heard a few people say that you ONLY have to go to two connect weeks, but I loved them and did not see them as something I had to do, but something I looked forward to doing. In fact, I hopped at as many opportunities to meet up with my classmates as possible.

Nathan-christo.jpgInnovation Showcase
During my time at Kelley I was able to attend the Innovation Showcase in Indianapolis as part of an integrative capstone course.  The course was run in conjunction with the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Association and covered the topics of business models and venture ecosystems.  The course included a trip to the Innovation Showcase where we had the opportunity to network and listen to a variety entrepreneurs, Venture Capitalists and Angel Investors- including Kelley Alum Michael Hatfield who co-founded Cerent, a company Cisco acquired for $7 Billion – their largest acquisition to date.

Brazil Study Abroad Course
I also had the pleasure of finishing up my degree by taking a trip to Brazil, for one of Kelley’s study abroad opportunities- Accelerating Global Immersion Leadership Education (AGILE). These courses are designed to push us into solving real problems in emerging markets. This course not only harmonized everything that I learned in the program and gave me the opportunity to have a real impact but, it gave me an international perspective – which is becoming all the more necessary in today’s global economy.

The balancing act of school, work and family

The greatest lessons that I learned during my studies are time and stress management. Managing a full-course load while working full-time is a skill you need to pick up quickly. It requires discipline, scheduling, sacrifices and strategy, all of which prepare you for leadership in a very real way that the classroom alone cannot teach you.  

Nevertheless, despite the demands that I was already facing, the program was flexible enough to accommodate both my personal and professional life. During the course of the program I got engaged, helped plan the wedding, got married, went on a honeymoon and moved into our place without skipping a beat. Within 3 months of getting married and moving into our new place, I received a job offer in a new city. Within the subsequent month we were able to rent out our place, find a new place to live in the new city, arrange the movers and all the other headaches that come along with moving to a new city--again, all while balancing the demands of school. Additionally, I took on more leadership in school by joining the Entrepreneurship and Venture Capital Association as the VP of IT, with my first order of business being to redesign and build the new KDSLA website, providing all the student-led associations an online platform to help foster community and deliver great content.

I’m not going to lie to you. It was stressful.  It was challenging. It required sacrifice, focus and determination--but I am proud of what I was able to accomplish in such a short period of time and I know that it has strengthened me for my journey ahead.

Funny enough, it turns out my story is not all that unique. Throughout the program I hear of a number of other students who took on new jobs, got married, moved, and had children- all while earning their MBAs.

I’ve included an image below, guess which one depicts the typical MBA student.

The Kelley Difference

At our Kelley Induction dinner, Faculty Chair of the Kelley Direct program Phil Powell said that this is no ordinary degree, this is a professional degree, a practical degree.  At the time I wasn’t sure what that meant. I did not understand why I kept hearing people say how “different” Kelley was, and how great the faculty were. I presumed it was just pride in their school.  However, from day 1 in the program I was able to leverage the knowledge of the professors and my classmates in my daily work and personal life. I have gone through a lot of schooling and have had a lot of teachers and professors, and I can truly say that my professors at Kelley, for the most part, have been cut from a different cloth. I would be lying to you if I told you that I know what exactly sets Kelley apart; because after my tenure there, I’m still not completely sure. I am, however, 100% sure that it is responsible for many positive changes in my life.

The program and the faculty remain innovative and adaptive, always willing to change to better serve the students, exhibiting first-hand what being customer-centric is really all about.

While it could not have prepared me for the specifics of what my future holds, the Kelley School did prepare me to face new challenges head-on. My professors prepared me to manage my very limited time, prepared me to embrace the unknown, showed me the power of staying agile, indoctrinated me with the merits of working hard,  and pushed me beyond my comfort zone - they   changed me to a better me.

Getting an MBA changed my career trajectory. Getting a Kelley MBA changed my life. That is the Kelley difference.

About Nathan Hall
Nathan Hall is a digital intelligence professional with over 8 years of progressive experience in diverse roles within an online and digital capacity. He currently works as a Product Manager, Web Properties at Solarwinds (SWI) and as a digital consultant. He has a Bachelors of Social Science, honors in Sociology, a Masters in E-commerce and has recently completed his MBA.


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