2020 Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Julie Rivers, University of Massachusetts Amherst (Isenberg)

Julie Rivers

University of Massachusetts Amherst’s Isenberg School of Management Online MBA

“I am an Alzheimer’s disease awareness advocate who is passionate about business, yoga, and service.”

Age: 45

Hometown: Watertown, MA

Fun fact about yourself: During my first semester of business school, I also completed a 200-hour Yoga Teacher Training program. Not intending to ever teach yoga, but rather to develop strength and focus. I took four courses that semester and received straight-A’s. In fact, I finished the program with a 4.0 and was recently inducted into Phi Kappa Phi…. much of which I attribute to my commitment to my yoga practice!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Syracuse University, Bachelor of Arts

Where are you currently working? Julie A Rivers Consulting, Principal

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Most of my professional career was spent with a plaintiff’s side legal marketing firm.

During my tenure, I had the privilege of being on the team that grew our small company into the first truly national law firm, with a licensed attorney in nearly every state.

I am most proud of this accomplishment because we were a small team that worked around-the-clock to do what no one thought possible, especially given the strict regulations within legal services that do not exist in many other industries.

I began at the firm answering phone calls from prospective clients. The suffering experienced by these people was both eye-opening and heartbreaking, particularly from the more remote places in our country.

The calls I took that impacted me most were those involving nursing home abuse and neglect. It pained me to hear that some of the most vulnerable people in our country were left defenseless.

By helping to build a national network of vetted and reputable law firms, I felt I helped increase access to quality legal services for a larger population that may not have otherwise known they had legal options.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? Isenberg was my top choice and have now completed the program, I would confidently recommend it to anyone.

I did my share of research on programs and determined that, for me, Isenberg’s value was unparalleled. I found it to be a phenomenal balance of quality, reputation, and affordability.

Additionally, Isenberg’s flexible MBA offers a hybrid approach that includes both online and in-person classes at several campuses across Massachusetts – an added benefit for those who are local.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? The flexibility. It sounds like a stock answer, but it was amazing to me how recurrent a theme the flexibility was.

I worked closely with my advisor to design a custom curriculum tailored specifically to my ever-changing life situation as an unemployed caregiver to my mother.

By taking a full-time course load one semester and taking courses over winter and summer sessions, I completed my MBA in about two years. What is remarkable to me is that I know the opposite would have worked just as well, had I wanted to go more slowly.

Without having to leave the house, I was able to get a solid education as my own (unpredictable) schedule allowed it.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? Again, the flexibility for certain. I had wanted to get my MBA for over 15 years, but I honestly did not think I would be able to find the time.

Before matriculating into the program, I took two “trial” courses: Strategic Marketing and Leadership & Organizational Behavior to see how I would fare.

The asynchronous learning environment allowed (even a procrastinator like me!) ample opportunity to learn and participate when convenient to my schedule, while still keeping up with the multitude of deadlines.      

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? I have a tendency to default to listening rather than to actively participating. At the risk of overanalyzing, it is possibly a gender-based, generational “thing.”

Online learning truly allowed me to develop confidence in my abilities that I was unable to do during my in-the-classroom undergraduate days.

In fact, the more I participated online, the more confidence I found myself gaining. It was a rewarding and empowering experience that carried over into other aspects of my life.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Give yourself the chance to get acclimated to online learning. I felt like a “fish out of water” when I started and did not think I’d have the discipline required to thrive…. I was very wrong!

Do not get discouraged early-on if you feel overwhelmed in the discussion groups. Though I cannot say for certain, I am guessing most students feel that way at first. It goes away quickly!

What would you change about an online MBA Program? It rarely happened in my program, but I believe that sometimes too many students are allowed to enroll in one class, which detracts from learning.

While theoretically there should be no need for a small number of students in a virtual classroom, the volume of posts students must read can quickly become overwhelming.

Large classrooms should be broken into smaller groups of no more than 20 students.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? When I began the MBA program, I had envisioned getting a high-paying job in the private sector upon graduation.

Through some soul-searching, I learned I wanted to contribute to the workforce on my own terms through entrepreneurship.

My online education gave me the confidence I needed to finally pursue my own dreams, as I am now better equipped with the knowledge and resources needed for individual success.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? It has changed a bit since the pandemic, though it remains largely the same.

As an unemployed caregiver to my mother for three years, I thought a lot about the economic impact Alzheimer’s disease has on our country. With our population living longer and dementia increasing in likelihood with age, some economists predict a crippling effect due to the astronomical cost of care, the prevalence of unpaid caregiving, and no prevention or cure in sight.

This new perspective made me take notice of the intricately delicate balance of economies, which can be severely impacted by any number of unforeseen factors…like a pandemic.

I have been reading The War on Normal People by Andrew Yang, which talks a lot about job displacement and shrinking local economies. I was also fascinated by the market structures we studied in Economic Analysis and how some studies suggest entrepreneurship is on the decline in the United States, shifting us closer to oligopolies in some sectors.

I worry a great deal about local economies, post-pandemic. I started a consultancy shortly after graduating with the intention of helping small businesses.

While my progress has been a bit halted in the current uncertainty, my ultimate professional goal is to contribute to bringing small businesses back to post-pandemic health by providing pro-bono or low-cost services based on practical/bootstrap measures that will likely yield the most immediate turnaround results.

The business consultant for those who cannot afford a business consultant!

Don’t Miss: The Entire Honor Roll of the Best & Brightest Online MBA Grads of 2020

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