2021 Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Judy Safian, University of Illinois (Gies)

Judy Safian

Gies College of Business, University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign

“Get it done Safian!” Purposeful, passionate, persistent strategist with project and program management skills.”

Age: 58

Hometown: Providence, RI

Fun fact about yourself: A good 20 years older than the average iMBA student, I came to Gies iMBA to supplement my extensive professional experience and made lifelong friends in the process!

Undergraduate School and Degree: Boston University, B.A. Economics

Where are you currently working? Judith Safian Consulting, Founder/CEO

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? It would be remaining a generalist in an increasingly specialized world and leveraging my diverse experience to help clients resolve crises, improve/repair situations/systems, and inject collaboration into silo-ed situations. From an innovative tech stack implementation for a global staffing firm to assimilating acquisitions for a multi-national manufacturing company to a new product launch for a medical devices firm, my goal is to help deliver positive change in an increasingly complex world.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? For an already-experienced professional, Gies provided the perfect combination of rigor, reputation, cost, flexibility, and value that allowed me to attend live classes, travel for work, and juggle family commitments.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program?
At the Gies iMBA, “Business with Purpose” also means “business with heart.” The sense of community among and between administrative leadership, faculty, staff, students, and alumni inspire me to be my best self, a better leader, and a lifelong learner.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? I was most surprised by the level of engagement and interaction among students, faculty, and staff, and across geographies and backgrounds that the Gies online learning experience provided.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? The Gies iMBA included all the elements of my undergraduate experience (e.g., professors office hours, live classes, library access, chatting with classmates, social gatherings), but allowed us to learn based on individual learning styles. It was far more impactful and engaging than my undergraduate experience!

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program?  Be committed and engaged in the experience. Like anything else, you’ll get out of it what you put into it. Accept that you’re not going to know everything and that’s ok… it’s actually how you grow and learn. Be flexible, listen, manage your time, carve out space and time that work for you and make the iMBA part of your daily routine. These skills and others you’ll learn are what will help you get through the program and be an exceptional leader for years to come.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? Higher ed programs need to look at how to provide the best learning experience for their student population and build from the ground up. Just shifting an existing in-person experience to online is not enough. Gies was and continues to be very thoughtful about how to approach an online environment and created a new ecosystem with committed professors, high quality content, and tools for students to connect in person as well as virtually. To be successful over the long term, the effort must involve ongoing enhancement, collaboration, and innovation.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? I have been able to apply something I learned in the Gies iMBA every week, building trust, strengthening relationships, and directly benefitting client leadership, organizations, and teams.

Number of hours per week spent on online MBA: 15-20 hours per course (including live class, Coursera, team meetings, office hours, readings, assignments).

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? The Gies MBA for me wasn’t primarily about professional advancement. It was about personal fulfillment: taking advantage of a great opportunity to learn and grow – and to give back, by supporting my peers and partnering with program administration through mentoring and student council.


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