2018 Best Online MBAs: Matt Dodaro, Indiana University (Kelley)

Matt Dodaro

Indiana University, Kelley School of Business

Second City-acting, ping pong-playing, ukulele-strumming Chicagoan with an unhealthy obsession of animals.”

Age: 31

Hometown: Chicago, IL

Fun fact about yourself: In 2015, while researching the genealogy of my late grandfather, I uncovered a loophole in the citizenship requirements for Italy. It took me over two years to get all the documents in order, but as of last April, I’m the proud owner of a shiny, new Italian passport and newfound dreams of discovering Italy, Europe, and the world.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Wabash College: Rhetoric, Economics

Where are you currently working? Snapsheet Inc., Executive Account Manager

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Although there are a handful of defining “wins” that come to mind, these moments are always dwarfed when sized-up against how I’ve helped others advance their own careers. From leading sales teams, to mentoring future business students, to giving career advice to ex-colleagues, I take sincere pride in the thousands of conversations I’ve had over the past 10 years and have been humbled to watch these individuals grow and succeed. These career conversations have become so important to me that, in 2015, I took on a more formal role at my alma mater as an Alliance Director where I’m charged with mentoring undergraduates while furthering their growth by connecting them with alumni all over the world.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? To be honest, it was not an easy decision. Living in Chicago, I have access to some of the best business schools in the nation – business schools that I viewed as “no brainers” during the application process. However, the same day that I was accepted into one of those schools, I was offered a promotion at work that would require client visits to the west coast every single week. I immediately started researching the efficacy of online universities with the hope of finding a program that provided both flexibility and academic excellence. Indiana University’s Kelley Direct program was exactly what I was searching for: outstanding educators, flexible class scheduling, and an intimate learning environment comprised within a top-tier university.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? As ironic as this sounds, it was the people. Maybe it was the common hunger we all had for knowledge, or maybe it was the diversity of backgrounds and professions, but I’ve been able to cultivate lifelong connections and friendships with some truly amazing people. To this day, rarely a week goes by where I’m not calling, texting, or even visiting a former classmate. It’s actually become a running joke with many of my former classmates that if they’re ever in Chicago, they’ll “always have a place to stay” and that “drinks are on me!”

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? I was pleasantly surprised with the consistent opportunity to blend virtual learning channels with in-person consulting projects. In my two years, I had opportunities to work onsite with companies small and large – from a family-owned ice cream shop in the Midwest all the way to one of the leading remittance companies in Asia. Nevertheless, there are a few specific experiences that stick out. In New York City, for example, I was able to partner with marketing executives at Starwood Hotels to create campaigns aimed at the female traveler. In Cincinnati, I worked alongside Proctor & Gamble’s innovation team to develop strategies that would better position their core business with an increasingly-connected world. However, the most memorable course took place just 200 miles off the coast of Florida during a truly ground-breaking week in Havana, Cuba. With a long history of suppressing private enterprises, my fellow classmates and I had the rare opportunity to support eight private businesses and their quests for economic prosperity.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? I sincerely believe that my four years at a smaller, liberal arts college helped prepare me for the type of collaboration that is necessary for success in an online environment. With less than 800 students in my entire undergraduate institution, classes were more about thoughtful dialogue than the pushing of content onto students. The learning environment at Indiana’s Kelley Direct was eerily similar – with even deeper discussions and more passionate collaboration. In my opinion, it is this culture of inherent analysis that has allowed Indiana University’s Kelley Direct program to stand out among other online programs every single year.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? The online learning environment, although more flexible, can be much more difficult to thrive in due to the fewer constraints, creating a greater need for personal accountability. It’s because of this unique dynamic, my best piece of advice would be to always push yourself past your comfort zone. If you’re not focused enough to participate in class – close that other browser and speak up. If you’re tired from the day and want to coast through an assignment – have some coffee. When it’s all said and done, your Kelley education ends up being much more than the 51 credits and the physical diploma. This program will push you past any limits you may have created for yourself, extending them to areas you didn’t know existed. And if you really do it right, you’ll walk away with that diploma in hand and notice that those boundaries you created didn’t just move, they’ve been completely eliminated.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? I would say that the biggest impact has been on my ability to communicate effectively – both internally as well as externally to outside organizations. Working in a client-facing role, technological advances and the overabundance of information have made it increasingly more difficult to capture and maintain the attention of a busy executive. Since Kelley’s program is mostly virtual, all of my classes incorporated useful tools to succinctly construct arguments as well as invaluable strategies to best position information for an audience.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Why? Absolutely. This educational journey has reinvigorated me in all areas of my life. So much so, I almost feel like it’s not really ending. Of course, the formality of the lectures and the exams and the projects have concluded; but these past two years have cultivated a strong foundation within my core to always learn, to always ask questions, and to always connect with others.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? It was May 2009. I had four successful years of college baseball under my belt and virtually no possibility of playing beyond college. Despite the overwhelming odds, there was a part of me that still dreamed of a career playing shortstop in “the show” (I mean, Derek Jeter had to retire eventually, right?). So, I kept training. I kept networking. I kept trying out for teams. And although I was able to stretch out my playing days and formal ties to the game just a little bit further, those ties inevitably ended and I was forced to make the move, unceremoniously, into the “adult world.”

Over the next five years, I noticed an alarming trend of former college and professional athletes having similar challenges transitioning out of their life-long passions. I helped out where I could, but these conversations opened up my eyes to an epidemic seriously hindering the prosperity of former athletes. From the minor-league pitcher in his mid-thirties making $15,000/year to the college basketball star who suffers a career-ending injury, there are thousands of athletes whom are ill-prepared mentally, emotionally, and financially to make a successful shift out of the game.

Because of this reality, my long-term goal is to devote all my energies to this portion of our economy by offering pro-bono resources to bolster and expedite their successes out of sports. From career assessment tests to utilizing LinkedIn; from continued education to interview preparation; and from basic networking proficiencies to effective money management skills, this valuable segment of the work force has been underserved and underprepared while transitioning away from sports, ultimately having negative and long-term effects on themselves as well as their families.