Student Voices: Why an MBA was the Next Step
“You already have a Master’s Degree? Why do you want another one?”
So was the first question the MBA@UNC interviewer asked me six months ago. Fast forward to today: I am in the middle of taking my Financial Accounting final and I just received an email from MBA@UNC wondering when I’ll be ready to post my first blog. My first thought is, “Hey, I’m here trying to remember how to calculate return on assets, there may not be a reason to write this blog if I can’t solve this problem.” That was when I turned off my email account. Taking my first final exam today was an exercise in focus and multi-tasking. I had two work emergencies looming, end-of-year deadlines around the corner, and two product launches in the wings; It was a challenge to focus. But that is part of what the MBA@UNC is all about. So as I turned off my iPhone and stared down at the financial statements in front of me, I thought back to that question from six months ago: Why did I want another master's degree? I also thought of the question asked by a co-worker...
"What are you thinking?"
You see, I’m a scientist by training. My last (and only) business course was high school accounting. I did make it to National DECA, but that was over 20 years ago (Yes, my 20-year high school reunion is in a few weeks), and that wasn’t exactly Prof. Putsis’s Strategic Marketing course. Earlier in my career, I was a product manager in the pharmaceutical industry. Today I oversee marketing and new product development for the largest on-line provider of certified medical education in the world. But I have no formal business training to my credit. I do have a Master's Degree (Biology) and a PhD (neuroendocrinology), but that doesn't help me calculate profit margins today. No, no questions about neurons or peptides, just straight up financial accounting.
A Program that Fit My Career
I am not looking for a career change (I actually like my job), but I am looking to get the theory behind the game I play every day at work. So when UNC Kenan-Flagler offered the MBA@UNC, I had to take a chance. It was the first time I found a program that fit into my life, not the other way around. I couldn’t pass this up, but the question still looms: What was I thinking? I can study wherever my work takes me. In the past 10 weeks I’ve logged into class from airline lounges (LAX/SFO/EWR), hotel rooms, vacation, my house (once!), the office and even a Starbucks. I convinced a United Airlines gate agent to re-open the door to a plane I missed, having just run from my weekly accounting class, so I could make a client meeting the next morning (that little black frequent flyer card was handy that night).
Opportunity to Learn from Others
In addition to needing flexibility from an MBA program, I wanted to learn from a diverse set of classmates. I’ve had a marketing teammate deploy to join military exercises in Korea. Another leads strategy for weapons systems (or "things that blow things up" as he says) for a defense company. There are lawyers, financial analysts, active and retired military: all thrown together in this first group of 19 to start a new adventure. We come from different backgrounds, with different careers and different goals. And that is what is so great about the MBA@UNC - We all bring a different perspective to the classes and as we learn in the classroom, we are learning in life. What am I thinking? I'm thinking this will undoubtedly be an adventure I will soon not forget. Why do I want another master's degree? Because business is a far cry from biology, and because the master's degree I will receive from UNC Kenan-Flagler will significantly enhance my other graduate degrees.
About Jamie DeMaria:
Jamie graduated from Notre Dame with a BS in biology. At Notre Dame he was a football manager and then a swim team manager his senior year. He earned a Master’s in Biology, as well as a PhD in Neuroscience from Florida State. After, a brief stint at UPenn researching molecular causes of breast cancer, he moved on to the pharmaceutical industry, where he has spent the better part of his career. Last year he joined WebMD as part of their professional education division, Medscape Education, where currently he is the Executive Director of Strategic Development. Jamie is married to Haley, who is an author, and they have two boys, aged 9 and 7. In his spare time (what there is of it) Jamie can be found building Legos, throwing a football or playing Wii with the kids.
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A number of years ago, while working in sales at an investment bank, I tried taking a business course at NYU. I was unexpectedly sent to work in Hong Kong a month into the semester. Too late to drop the course, I missed several classes and the midterm – all of that time and money went down the drain. I did not wanting to interrupt my career with a full-time program, so I put aside my business school aspirations – until MBA@UNC came along.
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MBA@UNC is brand new, but we are a first step toward Googlizing MBA education. Someday, we hope to have all of the knowledge of our world-class faculty accessible at any time to all of our students. Today, our total faculty knowledge is like a huge wall. On the wall are small circles. We teach the material in the circles. A few circles overlap, but most stand alone. At any moment, students can learn everything in a few circles. During their matriculation, they can learn many circles, but only a tiny portion of the entire wall.
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I walked into the program with “skeptical optimism,” if that is even a phrase. I wanted a top-tier program, but needed something that fit into my family life and allowed me to stay at my job. Speaking with the admissions counselors, the MBA@UNC felt like a good fit, but I had a lot of unanswered questions: Will I make substantial relationships with my classmates? Will an on-line classroom engage me intellectually? Should I just wait a year and let UNC work out the kinks? Even with all these questions, I was intrigued. I thought, “This will be like a start-up, I’ve always wanted to work at a start-up.” So that pushed me over the edge – and I entered the program with “skeptical optimism..