2018 Best Online MBAs: Katie Breidenbach, Carnegie Mellon (Tepper)

Katie Breidenbach

Carnegie Mellon University, Tepper School of Business

Committed and compassionate, learning constantly, persevering always, and believing that we can make a difference.”

Age: 29

Hometown: Falls Church, Virginia

Fun fact about yourself: I’ve been to all 50 states.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Wake Forest University, Bachelor of Arts in Communication, Winston-Salem, NC

Where are you currently working? I am currently a project manager at Sapient Consulting (Public Sector) where I manage digital development projects for public sector clients (e.g., federal, NGO).

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement I am most proud of in my professional career is launching a completely redesigned website (content, information architecture, visual design, and custom content management system) for a very difficult client. The project itself took 2.5 years to complete and required not only cross-functional team, client, requirements, and agile development management, but also project management skills. In parallel to the major release, I ran 19 operations and maintenance releases for the project. The lessons I learned, skills I put to use, and the late nights I worked with the team were a testament to what can be accomplished with a committed “we-are-all-in-this-together” team.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? I chose the part-time online hybrid (PTOH) program at the Tepper School for a couple of reasons:

  • Program credibility and quality – The courses in the PTOH program are the same as those taught in the part-time on campus and full-time programs and the courses are taught by the same professors. Thus, regardless of the program you choose, there is no difference in the education you are receiving. Tepper is known for producing high-quality MBA’s and I did not want to attend a program where the education I received was different from that of a full-time or part-time on campus student.
  • Program flexibility – The program is designed in such a way that should you want to switch into the part-time on-campus or full-time programs, you easily could. I did not end up choosing to do this, but several classmates located in Pittsburgh were able to take part-time on campus courses for some mini-semesters, while others made a switch to the full-time program after a year.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? My favorite part of being in an online MBA program besides the obvious flexibility to be wherever I wanted or needed to be was the ability to evaluate my own working environment and apply course concepts in real time to real situations.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? The most surprising thing about an online learning environment was how quickly my class formed strong connections with each other. While we had spent time together in-person during Access Weekends, which helped foster those connections, the online environment further strengthened them. I can say that I formed some life-long friendships during the course of the program.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? My online experience was better than my undergraduate in-the-classroom experience. I say that for two reasons:

  • Classmates were more engaged and dedicated – We all work full time and lead very busy lives both inside and outside of work. The combination of varied skillsets, backgrounds, and a limited amount of time allowed for dynamic and efficient learning.
  • There was more time for thoughtful discussion – Recorded lectures are watched on your own time prior to class and class time is reserved for discussion. We were able to dive deeper into discussion because we completed the prep work beforehand.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? The best piece of advice I can give to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program is to stay focused, identify your support team, and remember your reasons for doing this in the first place. Life happens – during my program there were engagements, weddings, divorces, births, job changes, cross-country moves; you name it, it probably happened – and regardless of the happy or sad occasion, you might feel like you cannot possibly do it all. When you feel that way, take a step back and re-focus, reach out, and remember why you wanted to get your MBA.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? Absolutely yes, my online education has helped me in my current job! I had spent a number of years working on a co-located team with impalpable chemistry that often left many wondering, “How do you build this for every team?” Recently, I joined a team that is more distributed and diverse and it is harder to establish that chemistry. The class I took on Managing Global and Distributed Teams provided me with a model for how to think about building that very-much coveted identity from the first team. There are, of course, elements to the chemistry that cannot be replicated, but the basic tenets of the model explained how to build a strong and positive team identity.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Why? Maybe not in a heartbeat, but yes, if I had to do it all over again, I would. I would do it again not only because it has been a dream of mine since I was 18 to go to business school, but also because the connections I made and the concepts I learned are invaluable to my growth professionally and personally.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My passions and career have been centered around the theme of making a difference – and so, ultimately, I want to be a leader at a company that uses technology to innovate, transform, and create positive change for the world.