Kyrsten Sinema has always lived in a hurry. At 16, she served as her high school’s valedictorian. Two years later, she’d already graduated from college. Since then, Sinema has collected Masters, JD, and PhD degrees. When she wasn’t busy competing in triathlons and ultra-marathons, she worked as a social worker, criminal defense attorney, and college professor. She was even elected to the Arizona House of Representatives when she was just 28 – and rose to become the assistant minority leader within five years.
What could Sinema do for an encore? A few years ago, this “life-long learner” decided to pursue her next challenge: An MBA degree. But there was just one problem: Her current job carried heavy demands, replete with odd hours and exhausting travel. You see, Sinema represents Arizona’s 9th district in the U.S. House of Representatives. That meant she needed a platform that catered to her turbo-charged pace and ever-shifting priorities. Luckily, the online MBA program at Arizona State’s W. P. Carey School of Business was built for exactly that.
CONGRESSWOMAN EARNS MBA TO BETTER HELP HER BUSINESS CONSTITUENTS
“In this MBA program, I have really appreciated having the flexibility to learn at my own pace, at the hours that work for my schedule,” she writes to Poets&Quants. “I think an online MBA works well – it’s a good balance between independent learning and group interaction, which fits our subject matter of study.”
In Congress, Sinema personifies the independent western spirit – an unconventional voice who defies labels. A moderate who’s a proud member of the Problem Solvers Caucus, Sinema has tackled thorny issues like healthcare reform and tax reform during her three house terms. Such work deepened her understanding of business intricacies and government’s role in fostering commercial growth. It also steeled her commitment to use her MBA to benefit her constituents.
“I decided to get my MBA so I could be a better member of Congress,” she emphasizes. “I work with businesses large and small alike, and they all face different challenges when dealing with government bureaucracy and regulations. This program has helped me understand their challenges better, and I’ve taken smarter and more effective actions in Congress to help businesses since starting this program.”
SAME RIGOR, DIFFERENT APPROACH
Sinema is just one of P&Q’s 40 Best & Brightest Online MBAs from the Class of 2018. These top students include an array of talent that includes entrepreneurs, senior executives, medical engineers, sales managers, PR mavens and supply chain saviors. Ranging in age from 25 to 57, their ranks hail from such prestige firms as Tesla, Amazon, Nike, Microsoft, Morgan Stanley, Deloitte and Nintendo. In fact, where they work and what they do defies every stereotype about online learning.
Says the University of Maryland’s Jason Young, a senior vice president of media relations for AARP. “Two of my classmates work at Facebook, one works for a U.S. Senator, one for the 8th-largest public school system in the U.S., one runs concessions at Churchill Downs (home of the Kentucky Derby), many have military backgrounds (boy they know supply chain management cold), one is an E.R. doc, and several lead key initiatives across industry-leading firms, like Lockheed Martin, Northrop Grumman, GEICO, Freddie Mac and AMC Networks. My cohort spans an impressive geography – from San Francisco to Houston to D.C. to New York – which the online program makes possible.”
Outside class, they are bosses who are responsible for pressure-packed deadlines and deliverables. At the same time, they are spouses, parents, and volunteers who often hold their families and communities together. Every day, they must balance their all-consuming commitments, sometimes making painful tradeoffs between jobs, loved ones, and classwork.
It isn’t an easy road. Forget the notion of the online format being ‘MBA Lite.’ These Best & Brightest took the same classes from the same professors as the full-time and executive MBA students. The only difference? They completed them at an accelerated pace. Whatever you do, don’t dismiss the online cohort as laptop-tethered monks who just watched videos at midnight. They engaged in robust discussions, collaborated on team projects, pitched ideas to senior executives, and traveled to such far-flung locales as Lima, Dublin, and Shanghai. They even endured the same cold calls, too.
The camaraderie may run wide, but it also goes deep. Look no further than Auburn University‘s Megan McDaniel. Come June 16th, she’ll be known as Megan Broccard, thanks to meeting that special someone in her online study group. “Everyone will be coming to the wedding,” she laughs.
LIST FEATURES MOST INDISPENSIBLE MEMBERS OF THE CLASS
To compile our inaugural Best & Brightest online MBAs, P&Q reached out to 28 leading online MBA programs in April, including every school featured in our first annual online MBA ranking. Each school was asked to select two nominees from their forthcoming graduating class based on “strong academic performance, critical and consistent contributions, striking personal narratives, and innate potential.” In a nutshell, we asked schools this question: “Which students were so fundamental to your online program that you can’t imagine the class without them?” Overall, 19 programs submitted nominations – with three schools asked to submit an extra nominee to reach 40 students.
These 2018 online graduates are undoubtedly different than students you might see in a full-time cohort. Like Sinema, most are jet-set insiders in their firms, where a 9-to-5 hour schedule is a punchline. Take Carnegie Mellon’s Grant Small, a supply chain tech consultant at Nike. For him, the blended online format at Carnegie Mellon’s Tepper School saved him from drastically overhauling his life in Oregon, where his wife runs a successful business and the couple cares for a young foster child. At the same time, the online MBA program saved Small from taking a two-year off ramp and losing his career momentum.
“I love working at Nike,” he says. “I couldn’t have imagined stepping away for any amount of time given all that I was learning and getting exposure to. I wasn’t forced to sacrifice those experiences. It definitely made balancing priorities much more difficult, but in the end, it was worth it.”
ONLINE STUDENTS CAN IMMEDIATELY APPLY WHAT THEY LEARN
As an added benefit, Small notes, the online format enabled him to immediately apply what he learned on the job. “Each class that I took had some form of relevancy for the work that I was doing. Not only that, but whenever I was struggling with a course…I could come back to work and connect with someone to see how Nike was doing things. Doing that always helped make what I was learning more concrete and real.”
The flexibility and reinforcement weren’t the only benefits to online learning, according to this year’s Best & Brightest. The University of Florida’s Diana Miako Aguon Hock, for example, loved how she could go back and watch past lectures to help her prep for exams. Sako Eaton, a Northeastern University MBA and tech lead who helped launch Nintendo Switch, found it “liberating” that he didn’t need to be “physically present” to contribute to lectures and team projects during long trips to Kyoto. In fact, the online format itself reflects the nature – and even the best practices – of working at warp speed in global teams. Such exposure made Indiana University’s Matt Dodaro, a Chicago-based account manager, better as a result.
“The biggest impact has been on my ability to communicate effectively – both internally as well as externally to outside organizations,” he shares. “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.”
FROM IRONMAN COMPETITORS TO GUITAR PLAYERS
So who are this year’s Best & Brightest – and what do they do outside the virtual classroom for fun? Many are the intrepid sort. Arizona State’s Christopher Ott, a U.S. Marine Reserves Captain and Amazon operations manager, has already visited 46 countries. Not to be outdone, Katie Breidenbach, a public sector consultant who earned her MBA from Carnegie Mellon, has visited all 50 states. And her classmate, Aga Brown, moved 10 times in 10 years before settling in with Tesla.
Go to page 3 for 40 in-depth profiles of this year’s Best & Brightest Online MBAs.