2018 Best Online MBAs: Christal Desmarais, Northeastern University (D’Amore-McKim)

Christal Desmarais

D’Amore-McKim School of Business at Northeastern University

Passionate and empathic. Learner and leader. Confident and honest. Committed and accountable. Creative and empowering.”

Age: 39

Hometown: Hopkinton, Massachusetts

Fun fact about yourself: I teach knitting and drive to class on my motorcycle.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

Bachelor of Science, Information Technology, Computer Information Systems

Business Administration, Marketing

Bryant University, Smithfield, RI

2001 Cum Laude

Masters Business Administration, Finance & International Business

Northeastern University, Boston, MA


Where are you currently working? Dell Inc., Program Manager

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Thank you for asking this question. Previously, I had never taken the time to step back and review my accomplishments to identify which was my proudest career moment. Of all achievements enumerated in my resume, one stands out the most as the most emotional and gratifying to me is the first role I found myself in right out of college with my bachelor’s degree.

I was hired for a marketing position within a technical company. However, within two months on the job, they had other plans for me. I was devastated and confused as I just picked up and moved to a new state for the job of my dreams.  My first thought was to run for the hills back home to safety. Even my fellow co-workers were sympathetic to me as I had an unexpected role as a Technical Support Lead. However, after a couple of days I saw the challenge that was before me as a significant opportunity to make a difference.

Why was everyone apologizing? How did they know my heart was absolutely set on a marketing position? For all they knew I had asked for the new position.  I quickly realized everyone within the company who was on the technical support phones were miserable. I took pen and paper and walked around the entire office listening to their gripes. I compiled my list of the top ten complaints and made it my mission to improve tech support in our company. I knew technical support was not my passion, but making my co-workers happier could easily become my motivator. I not only accomplished all ten items on my list, but was able to save the company money. As a result, I was provided with my own engineering department to address customer issues within the first year on the job. At the time, I had no idea what a large feat I had accomplished. Something that was a problem for years was solved by me in my first year by just listening to others.

I was a young women working in the male-dominated mobile application software industry in 2002 and I was able to do something that was meaningful and stood out. I was provided opportunities from that point that allowed me to foster my career through trust and creativity. I had made a mark on the company, but also on myself. I learned the valuable lesson of listening before you act.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? The school’s reputation was very important to me when considering an online MBA program. Northeastern not only has a wonderful reputation, but my company advocated the school’s successful MBA program. Northeastern offered me the opportunity to sit in on one of their classes, which provided me insight into the online experience. Two other schools I was considering did not offer this and it definitely eased my worry to commit to Northeastern. I was a little unsure about an online setting, so being close to campus did provide me comfort as a possible safety net.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? Of course, there are very obvious advantages for being in an online program such as: not having to take the time traveling back and forth to class, not dealing with traffic nor inclement weather, and not incurring travel and parking costs. The ability to juggle schooling with a full time job is much easier with an online program.

With respect to this online MBA program, I believe my favorite aspect was meeting people from all around the world! I also had an opportunity to study abroad in May of 2017 in China and it was a wonderful experience. We met with various companies and learned first-hand about international business opportunities in various industries. I walked away from that experience with a vast knowledge of different industries and a new appreciation outside of my direct field.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? I was very nervous about an online curriculum and concerned that I would not receive the same personal experience with my professors and instructors as I would being in a physical classroom. However, I was very surprised immediately on how responsive the professors were in reaching out and helping students via chat, email and even telephone calls. Weekly classroom chats with video helped to create a rapport with the professors similar to that of being in a physical classroom setting. I realized that a most rewarding education can be achieved online even though I had never met some of my classmates and professors face-to-face.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? My undergraduate experience was more than fifteen years ago. Technology has changed immensely. The flexibility of the online program cannot even compare to my in-classroom undergraduate studies: going to a computer lab before it closed for an assignment versus writing a final essay from my sofa after midnight. I can say though that the largest difference was in the ability to relate the information we learned to real-life experiences. As a graduate student, there wasn’t one book that I read that I couldn’t relate to a past or current work experience. I had a deeper appreciation for every case study. Undergraduate studies were about memorizing and trying to grasp concepts. In my online graduate studies, I felt like I was living and actively learning without the need to memorize flash cards.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Be ready and be serious! I had a drive in me to get my MBA. I didn’t pursue my MBA for my company or to secure a new position. I did it for myself as a continuous learner. I enjoyed the program as I was enthusiastic about learning. I did run into a few classmates that were checking off a box on some “must do” list and I know for a fact they did not gain nearly as much out of the program as I did. An MBA is an expensive investment of time and money and it’s important you are ready to dedicate the time and energy into grasping everything you can out of the program. If your heart is not into it, then you are better off waiting until a future date.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? On various occasions I shared case studies or articles with fellow co-workers while in the middle of a course. I often found that I ended a class with a different perspective that I was able to utilize in my professional life. The most interesting for me is that even the elective classes I selected that didn’t apply to my industry also helped me in my current job. For instance, I took a Healthcare Finance class and walked away with the knowledge to have a better conversation with my HR department. It allowed me to understand insurance financing and be able to relate to someone else in my company. While it may not be directly related to my everyday job, it brought me closer to understanding other departments in the company. Building relationships in any business is important and bridging the divides between business units is often overlooked as part of our day-to-day jobs.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Why? Absolutely! I may have selected a different timeline to achieve my MBA, but I would definitely complete NEU’s online MBA program if I had a do-over. I started the program at the beginning of 2016, prior to the merger of Dell and EMC being announced. Shortly after entering the MBA program, I was selected as the program manager for the new family brand website delltechnologies.com. I was working many hours, sometimes more than 70 hours a week, while completing my first year of the MBA program. It was intense, but with the professors clearly outlining their syllabus at the start of the five-week course, I was able to co-manage work, school and life. It was a wild year, but very thankful that the online program allowed me the flexibility. Otherwise, if I was in the in-classroom setting, I would have had to postpone my MBA due to my unexpected work schedule. Instead, I was able to complete my assignments and watch my professors’ recorded sessions on my own time and in the middle of the night if it required.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? This is a deep thought provoking question. My long-term goal is to ensure I enjoy and learn throughout the rest of my career. I don’t have a clear position or company that I desire. I would have never thought ten years ago that I would be managing a website development team, but I am and I love it. I feel as though I am still young in my career and there is so much I have yet to learn. There are so many more challenges awaiting me and new paths of which I have not yet dreamt. My goal is to never say an absolute “no” to any new opportunity and to keep my eyes and heart open as my most fulfilling jobs have been from unpaved roads. I am so pleased that I decided to enroll in Northeastern’s online MBA program as I am confident that the knowledge and analytical skills acquired will enhance my abilities to continue to succeed in my future endeavors.


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