2019 Best Online MBAs: Kathleen Finnegan, University of Maryland (Smith)

Kathleen Finnegan

Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland

“Passionate, spirited, relentless innovator and problem solver focused on long term goals and positive, permanent change.”

Age: 28

Hometown: Chesapeake Beach, Maryland

Fun fact about yourself: I love stand up paddle boarding in the summer and skiing every weekend in the winter (and winters are very long in Colorado)!

Undergraduate School and Degree: University of Maryland, College Park, Theater

Where are you currently working? USAF Intelligence, Surveillance, and Reconnaissance Liaison Officer (ISRLO) and Resource Advisor, Colorado Springs, Colorado

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? When I first started my intelligence career, I was given the opportunity to build a team of like-minded individuals with smart solutions to the problems facing the unit. Many dealt with morale issues caused by the constant change in schedule that ranged from 12-hour shifts overnights and weekends. No issue was too big or too small. We tackled problems such as installing a light at a crosswalk to ensure the safety of our workers who came in at night. We also did an in-depth study on the necessity of on-site 24/7 childcare that went all the way to Headquarters Air Force at the Pentagon. These are just a few of many examples in which we felt unstoppable in our quest to find a smart solution. This was one of the most valuable experiences for me as a young military officer. It taught me the value of listening to subordinates and empowering them to do great things. It also taught me to say yes and seek yes. Change is hard and many will stand in the way to maintain the status quo, but I’ve found perseverance and seeking yes will bring positive change that can completely turn an organization around.  

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? I am very proud to be a Maryland undergrad and the school’s motto of “Be fearless” really resonates with me. Additionally, the Smith School has a strong faculty with many different types of experiences and connections all over the world.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? I loved being able to learn incredibly valuable lessons at night and apply them the next day at work. I have three examples:

1) The article from Leadership and Team Building, “The People Who Make Organizations Go – Or Stop” by Rob Cross and Laurence Prusak, helped me navigate a new, higher level of leadership where I was the youngest member of the team. I recognized my connections made through deployment made me a central connector of the team. I had incredibly relevant knowledge and access to the most up-to-date information and analysts. This empowered me to seek other connectors and also learn the roles my teammates fulfilled based on the outline of the article.

2) I often utilize the Hersey and Blanche model for my younger Airmen, who need a lot of guidance at the beginning of a project. I share this with young officers as well to teach them how much oversight they should have for every project they lead.

3) I loved learning about global economics because it directly related to my job as an intelligence professional. I use lessons learned, such as the United States geographical location in relation to other countries (i.e., touching both oceans) to interpret the strategic objectives we were trying to achieve and the economic implications of each of them. This often aided in assessments and conclusions of adversarial responses to our own military actions.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? I was still learning as much or perhaps even more in an online environment. The faculty were always available over the phone to discuss lessons. They were truly passionate about what they were teaching and about advocating for the students. At one point, for example, I was really struggling in my accounting class. I emailed the professor and he set up a time that very evening to walk through some of the problem sets online.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? There are so many classes as an undergraduate that are required to complete a four-year degree, and not all of them pique your interest. These are often times large classes as well and you don’t get an opportunity to know the professor. The online master’s program allows for a better connection with the instructor and thus leads to a learning environment where lessons can be internalized and applied daily!

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Get a planner. And get a friend. These programs are hard and having even just one person in the class to lean on when work and family are getting the best of you will make the program palatable.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? I wish there were regional networking opportunities that we could attend. If different universities could agree to share their networking events with online programs, I think it would give students the opportunity to network with professionals in their region.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? There are so many instances in which I have used leadership and team building, financial management, international business, and economics to inform my decisions as an officer, intelligence professional, and budget analyst for the USAF.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Why? Yes. I love the challenge and continuous learning. It truly helps me grow as a person. In fact, I am considering another master’s program or Ph.D.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? It’s a big goal, but I’m not afraid to say I want to be a CEO and investor/advisor to new startups.



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