Stephanie talks about the importance of finding the right program and building a network
Why did you choose your school?
When I went to undergrad, I focused on communications, law, economics and government. Quickly, I realized that I didn’t want to go into government or politics and I realized that I needed to “refine” my skills. I was doing marketing and business type stuff. However, I needed to get the hard skills to take me to the next level. I looked into all sorts of programs and schools and I really wanted to continue working at the same time I was getting my MBA. In looking at Smith, I knew that they were the best in the area from a MBA perspective and I discovered through a friend that they actually had a part-time program which was very appealing to me. In addition, not only was the part-time program available in Maryland, but it was also available in Washington, DC and I lived in DC. So, I thought that would be perfect. I could do my part-time MBA and I can do it really close to home and work. It worked out really well. Smith was very focused on innovation, entrepreneurship and technology and those were all areas that I was very interested in for my career.
How has your MBA network helped you?
I think I said this a lot during my time at Smith and while working with the part-time MBA Association- I really feel strongly that even as an undergrad, but even more importantly in graduate school and business school, it’s really about the connections that you make and the network that you create because that’s what comes back to help you as you build your career. As you run into issues at your job, it’s nice to have that peer network to go to and say “Hey, I’m working on this. What are you working on? What are you thinking about?” Making those connections with the folks you went to school with- even people before and after- it helps you get a job and it can help you get other people a job and find talent to build your teams at your company. Networking is really important. I know that people get scared of that word “networking”, but it’s really just about the connections and friendships that you make and the strong bonds that are forged from going through a similar experience together. Over time, that’s the kind of thing that will help you move forward in your career and your friendships. I still see a lot of my classmates and I’ve hired a lot of Smith grads.
How was the MBA different from undergrad?
From an undergraduate standpoint, it’s the first time that you are out on your own, you’re making different friends and you’re trying to figure out what you really want to do with your life. When you decide to go back to grad school, you are making a conscious decision. Your parents aren’t paying for it anymore- maybe your company is- but you are more committed and passionate about what you are studying. You really get out of it what you put into it. From a grad perspective, it’s more focused and real. What was great about the part-time program for me was that I was able to take what I was learning and apply it immediately to my job and career.
What should MBA students take advantage of while at school?
I think that internships are very important. If you’re trying to switch careers, make sure that you are networking, doing informational interviews and taking coursework in areas that are different from what you had previously studied and worked in in terms of industry. Also, go outside your comfort zone. Now is a great opportunity- from the group work to developing your presentation skills- to think about not just the academic aspects but the skills that you need in order to advance as an executive. Think about how you present in class, how you prepare for those presentations, how you interact with others, how you deal with conflict and how you collaborate. Those are all very important things.
Lastly, from a career perspective and looking for that next opportunity after your MBA, don’t expect it to be handed to you. Going back to the networking- network with your peers, network with other organizations and within your internships. Really get an understanding and think through what is your next step and what do you need to do to get there. Those are things that, coupled with the education and academics that you get at Smith, can really help catapult you to the next level.
What made you decide to get an MBA?
It was interesting. I went to school in Washington, DC because I wanted to get into politics. Then, I got here and realized I didn’t want to do that. A lot of my internships in undergrad and the work that I did centered around business and marketing. Then, after graduating, I worked at CTIA and became part of something that was game changing in terms of building out wireless internet and getting people excited about the power of mobile. I realized that I really wanted to build things and go into product management or business development or entrepreneurship and I needed that degree to help me get to that next level. I had done the research. I had considered the JD MBA and then I thought, “What, am I crazy? Am I going to be able to do that while I’m working? It will take me forever!” I realized that I was really passionate about the business aspect of building new things in really interesting industries. So, I knew that for me to take that leap to the next level, I needed the degree. I was thankful that Smith had a part-time program in DC and it really has delivered on its promise.
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