2018 Best Online MBAs: Mark Wehde, Wisconsin MBA Consortium

Mark Wehde

University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

Healthcare Technology Leader: Medical Device Developer, Innovator, Collaborator, Safety Evangelist, Diversity Advocate, Teacher, Student, Author.”

Age: 57

Hometown: St. Paul, Minnesota

Fun fact about yourself: I have rock climbed around the world including Devil’s Tower, Castleton Tower, and Yosemite in the U.S. and Mount Arapiles and Moonarie in Australia.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

BS Electrical Engineering, South Dakota State University

MS Biomedical Engineering, Iowa State University

Where are you currently working?

Mayo Clinic

Section Head, Division of Engineering

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? As an introvert and an engineer, technology has always come easy to me and my career in the field of medical device development has been tremendously rewarding. I get to help make devices that are used by our physicians and that change the lives of our patients. Yet, it is often the things that are the hardest that are the most rewarding. For me, that has been the development of my leadership skills. I’ve always been a learner, and it was many years ago that I turned my attention to leadership development. I make a lot of mistakes, but I don’t give up and I think that has made all the difference.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? Life is about balance. I firmly believe that it is up to the student to make something out of the education they are offered. The University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium program had a good reputation as an online program. But what mattered the most to me was that balance: the desire to spend time with my family and not be absent from their lives. This program allowed me to study at 4 a.m., while the rest of my family was asleep. That may not seem ideal to most of you, but to me it was a sacrifice that allowed me to find an awkward, sleep-deprived balance that was true to my personal priorities.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? Learning. Learning from assignments. Learning from interactions with the other students and the instructors. I’ve always been a learner, but sometimes it is nice to have someone else driving the agenda. I’ve enjoyed taking the time to learn what someone else decided was important about management and leadership. I will continue my journey now far better prepared to chart my own course, having a much better sense of what I know—and what I don’t know.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? I’ve never been in online classes before, but I knew I could learn. I’ve never suffered a lack of focus and I have a strong work ethic. What I didn’t expect was that I would develop friendships with people I’ve never seen, and that we would share foundational experiences in our lives in ways that allowed us to learn from each other.

As an older student, I was concerned about my ability to adapt to formal education. To any older students who share this concern, I will suggest that the life experiences we can bring to a program, even one with much younger students, are enriching and rewarding for all. We all have something to give, and we all have a part to play in the education of each other.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? Working on my own at 4 a.m. while the rest of the world slept was in some ways an isolating experience. Not so different from my undergraduate years, where I would often do the same while my roommate slept. What was different was that there is less out-of-class camaraderie. I didn’t miss it much because, like most working students, I have a busy life. And then, unexpectedly, I had a series of classes that had group projects as significant portions of the coursework.  Making use of Google Docs allowed us to work collaboratively, even editing documents at the same time. Even more, we began using Google Hangout, and as might be expected, this allowed friendships to start to develop.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Don’t just do the homework.  Don’t just do the assignment. This is a wonderful opportunity to explore new ideas, to learn from others, and to grow and develop your own personal philosophy of leadership. Take advantage of it. It is very hard to develop this sort of nurturing environment in a workplace unless you are fortunate enough to have a strong mentorship program.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? The completion of this degree has been six years in the making. I’ve taken almost 50 credits of classwork. I was promoted to a new job, in no small part due to my pursuit of this degree. My education has focused my attention on both the soft skills of leadership and the harder skills of organizational management, strategic planning, recruiting and interviewing, performance assessment, and management of innovation and new technologies.

All that I was learning coincided with my need to use this knowledge in the workplace. I came into this program intent on learning what was already known, rather than inventing everything all over myself. And that is exactly what happened.

For some, achieving an MBA is a stepping stone to a future aspiration. For me, it was a fundamental component of my approach to becoming better at the job I was doing.

Beyond that, it also motivated me to begin to share what I was learning and what I had learned though my career.  Because of that, I’ve also started teaching myself, in our quality academy, our office of leadership and organizational development, and our graduate school of biomedical engineering.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Why? If I had to do it over again, I would do it—sooner. I do believe that there can be a best time to learn something. The student must be ready for the lesson. I started on this program uncertain if I was ready and not entirely sure what I was seeking. I started with a vague sense that there was a whole world of knowledge that I wasn’t being exposed to that I hoped would help me better do my job. It turned out that I was right.

Through this program I have had my assumptions challenged; I have developed clear philosophies on the management and leadership of people and organizations; and I have had the opportunity to take what I was learning and to directly apply it in my workplace.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I love what I do, so in a sense, my long-term goal is to keep doing it, only better. Growth and change is an inherent part of my personality. I don’t answer this question in terms of promotion or achieving greater positions of power within my organization. Rather, my professional goal is to be better tomorrow than today. To constantly improve and to learn. And to help others do the same. I think if I do that today, tomorrow will take care of itself.

That said, this experience has lit a small flame driving me to share what I have learned. Throughout these many classes we have taught each other, given and received, and I don’t want that to stop. As I move on, I hope to start teaching in a business school on a part-time basis. There is no better way to learn than to teach and I’m excited to take that next step.


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