My name is Allison Cooper and I am one of the members of the RIT Online Executive MBA Class 17. From August 7-9, the cohort attended the residency program, which is designed to help us get acquainted with one another and with the rigors and rewards of the MBA program.
I am a regional news editor for a chain of newspapers and websites in the Finger Lakes region. The decision to apply to the Executive MBA program was not an easy one. The commitment required is significant because students are adding a challenging graduate program on top of already demanding careers.
A huge factor in my decision was my experience working with the RIT Saunders MBA staff – Director Marty Lawlor, Assistant Director Kristi Mitchell and Admissions Officer Stefanie Griffin. It was great to start the residency by meeting them in person. We spent a lot of time communicating via email and telephone in the time leading up to the residency. I felt like I had known them for a long time. All of the factors that go into making the decision to commit to an MBA program are complex. Marty, Kristi and Stefanie simplified the process.
The first person I met was Will. Will works for RIT’s Brick City Catering and he is enthusiastic about what he does. It was early. We needed coffee. The great energy Will puts into his job meant a lot to those, like me, who were a little uncertain about what to expect. There is nothing like that kind of hospitality right from the start to put people at ease.
On our first day, we set up computer accounts and email, learned who the teams would be (MBA cohorts are split into teams for class and Capstone projects), had our portraits taken, talked about business ethics (absolutely not a contradiction in terms) with Dr. Bob Barbato and had a wonderful dinner at Max Rochester.
The Start of Something Big
It was a long but satisfying and exhilarating Day One. My classmates and I began to get a glimpse into the reality of the program. It will be a lot of work. It won’t be easy. It will, however, be extremely rewarding. We’ll get out of it what we put into it and that is the key. We will bond on many levels as a cohort and a team. By the end of the first day, I couldn’t wait to see what was in store for us for the remainder of the residency.
Now we are really getting to the heart of the residency. Our days are packed but somehow seem to fly by!
Learning the Ins & Outs
On day two, we started with some web-based instruction on how to navigate our courses and log on to see our lectures, which will happen in real-time and be recorded so they are available for us. We heard from writing coach and RIT professor Doctor Pat Scanlon, who gave us great examples of succinct writing and proper structure for research papers. For many of us who have been out of the academic world and functioning in the email-based work world for several years, the reminders about writing research papers are invaluable — and Pat’s assistance will also be invaluable, I imagine. He has offered to be a resource and I’m sure many of us will take him up on that.
We also heard from Business Librarian Jennifer Freer, who gave us a wealth of information about our research database options and the challenges we may have when we use them. The library, which we toured, is amazing. I happen to be an avid reader and I love libraries. The RIT library is impressive and very inspiring to me. I’m one of the local cohorts — I live in the Rochester region — so I plan to spend a good deal of time there!
Next, we received our iPads. That was one of the sessions I was very much looking forward to and it didn’t disappoint. Our iPads have our name and our program on them. It is so cool! It has taken some time to sync all of our materials but again, the RIT staff is a wealth of support and information for that process and it has gone smoothly.
Accounting is Cool
We received our student ids, had a campus tour and then fastened our seat belts for an accounting session with the (and I don’t think I’m overstating this) biz legend RIT professor Dr. Dan Tessoni and his teaching partner Roberta Klein. It was a great session. After talking about business ethics with Dr. Bob Barbato on day one, we got an accounting-based perspective from Dr. Tessoni. They are both valuable perspectives for business students and they most certainly mirror the business world and its challenges. And Dan Tessoni is smart and funny so it makes learning accounting an engaging and eye-opening experience. (I hope someone sends this link to Dan and highlights the compliments. Not that I am in any way implying that it would be ethical for such wonderful compliments to influence him when grading me, of course. I just think he should know how cool he is.)
Dinner & A Mentor
That evening, we had a wonderful dinner of Dinosaur BBQ at Bob Barbato’s home. Bob and his wife, Linda, were gracious hosts and the cohort had the opportunity to speak with a former MBA student who will be our mentor as we make our way through the program. The cohort was listening intently as she offered some great perspective about the rewards and challenges of the online MBA process.
The day that started at 8 a.m. ended at about 10 p.m. I had the distinct feeling that these long days were designed to prepare us for some long days ahead as we work the program. I think we agree that we are ready, willing and able to put in the time because, as many have said during our residency, we will get out of it what we put into it.
We are ready for the challenge! But first, day three . . .
Team Bonding & Contracts
By the last day of the residency, the cohort seemed to be gelling in significant ways. We were beginning to know our individual teammates better, having worked through the process of creating contracts to help us talk out some potential challenges — and agree on actions to overcome them — with the help of Dr. Michael Palanski.
One of the benefits of putting together a team contract, besides having a written agreement to refer to over our 17 months together, is that we were able to talk to one another and make decisions about our styles of collaboration. Although we may have varied personalities, each member of the team is investing in and embarking on a most certainly life-changing program. We all have personal and professional goals we’d like to reach. We all have a lot at stake.
It only makes sense that we would want to tackle some of the finer points of working together, including potential challenges, at the beginning of the program, rather than wait until we are deep into the program and its attendant workload and less able to see the forest for the trees.
Getting Out What You Put In
Speaking of difficult conversations, Marty Lawlor facilitated a short session on the commitment necessary for success. Here again we heard the ever-present mantra about getting out of the program what you put in. Of course it’s true. And we have jobs and families and all of the challenges that come along with the workaday world and raising kids and nurturing marriages. What really struck me about the cohort was the varied approaches to life and work and, conversely the commonality of commitment and seriousness each person brings to this great investment. We are here because we want to be and we are excited and inspired.
We will need to keep that top of mind when we are buried under assignments!
Capstone Consulting Project
Our teaming and capstone overview with faculty members Andy Lawrence and Rich Notargiacomo spurred a number of questions about the capstone portion of our graduate experience. We will be working in teams on real-world problem solving for real-world companies. Case studies are great but actual cases are greater. Hearing from an alum who has been through the process made the possibilities and potential pitfalls all the more real. The idea is that nothing worthwhile is easily gained. We will be given challenges that require our persistence, creativity and intelligence. We’ll need to dig deep to come up with the type of successful outcomes we are seeking. That’s what being in the RIT Online Executive MBA Program is all about: digging deep and being creative and persistent. The residency gave us some real insight into that concept.
We talked more about ethics and leadership and had the opportunity to share our impressions of one another through a team building exercise that allowed each of us to see ourselves from the others’ eyes. It was heartening and illuminating and ultimately, while a bit daunting, extremely rewarding.
The days flew by and soon it was time to say goodbye with the knowledge that we will likely meet in person only a few more times — the last being graduation day, when we walk across the stage together having accomplished something weighty, something of great value. Until that day, we have a lot of work to do.
I, for one, can’t wait to begin working toward my future.