2022 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Jenni Cragun, University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

Jenni Cragun

University of Wisconsin MBA Consortium

“I am a creative pragmatist who believes I can learn something from everyone.”

Age: 40

Hometown: Rocklin, California

Fun fact about yourself: Due to several twists of fate, my four sons were all born within 3.5 years of each other. Their current ages are 9, 10, 10, and 12. We have a fun, active, and sometimes chaotic household!

Undergraduate School and Degree:
Bachelor of Arts degrees in English and Psychology from the University of Montana.
Master of Fine Arts degree in Creative Writing/Fiction from Cornell University.

Where are you currently working? I work as the accounting and payroll manager for Harrison Construction, a commercial construction company in Northern California. As general contractors, we specialize in building mixed-use properties, hotels, office spaces, and high-tech laboratories. Our current projects include a $30 million dollar composting facility and a multi-functional housing center for vulnerable people without housing. Working for a smaller company has allowed me insight into nearly every aspect of running a successful business, giving me a well-rounded perspective of management. In my role at Harrison Construction, I have honed my skills as an accountant and learned to navigate the complex regulations and tax implications in the construction industry.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? The times in my life when I have taken professional risks and pushed myself beyond my comfort zone have led to some of my most meaningful achievements. I am particularly proud of successfully pivoting from my career as a writing instructor to a new a career in business. In making this transition, I was able to leverage my strengths (communication, writing, helping others around me excel) while improving upon my weaknesses (data analysis, accounting knowledge, management skills). While I once considered my non-linear career path a shortcoming, I now believe that my varied professional experience has afforded me a diverse skill set and a more balanced perspective.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? Coming from a non-business academic background, it was important to me to find an MBA program that offered a rigorous curriculum with a wide variety of electives, as my goal in obtaining my degree was to gain a comprehensive education in business and management. I was also looking for a program with flexibility in pace of degree completion and coursework that allowed me to continue working full-time while raising four children. University of Wisconsin’s highly ranked MBA Consortium program met my needs while offering exceptional value.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? One of my favorite aspects of attending an online MBA program was the intentional application of the lessons and information to our real-life business experiences. In all my classes, we were asked to continually apply the course material to our individual careers and share our unique experiences. In the end, I gained a depth and breadth of knowledge within my current industry, while also learning a tremendous amount about the broader business environment through the lens and perspectives of fellow students. Ultimately, concurrently completing an online MBA program while also progressing in my career enhanced and added meaning to both experiences.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? I was surprised by the richness of quality interactions with peers and teachers in the online learning environment. The online learning environment encouraged participation by providing the opportunity for everyone to share their thoughts in their own time, resulting in a diverse representation of ideas. Thus, online discussions with my peers were robust, interesting, and thought-provoking. Furthermore, the teachers in my online program were exceptionally present, enthusiastic, and supportive.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? Surprisingly, there were very few differences between my online and in-class learning experiences. In both settings, I learned from teachers passionate about sharing their knowledge and expertise. In both settings, I worked collaboratively with peers and independently on my own. Even still, I believe each learning experience offered different benefits. Online learning allowed for more flexibility and exploration; if a topic in a video lecture or course commentary interested me, I could pause my watching or reading to dig up more information. On the other hand, in-class learning-enabled immediate engagement with my professors and peers, often inspiring tangents into new topics that I may have otherwise overlooked. As someone who prefers to absorb new information thoroughly, the online format worked well for me.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? I would have liked the opportunity to meet my peers in person at least once during my online MBA program, as I think such an occasion would help foster professional relationships that would benefit our work both in and out of the program.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? My experience in University of Wisconsin’s online MBA program has exceeded my expectations. I came into this program unsure of my own business skills and abilities. I am leaving this program confident that I have everything I need to excel in my career. In addition to building a strong foundation of business knowledge, I have also developed communication and management skills applicable to a broad range of positions and industries. Specifically, I have gained much stronger financial management abilities. The data analysis tools I learned within the program have allowed me to approach operational issues within our company more critically. I am now assured in my capability to detect the internal and external factors affecting our business, allowing me to make meaningful and actionable suggestions for improvement.

Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? Yes.

Did you earn a raise during the online MBA program? Yes.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent On Online MBA: Approximately 20 to 30 hours per week.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional plan is to continue advancing in my career in finance, as I find the work in this field exciting, challenging, and compatible with my strengths. Though I am well-positioned to continue a career in financial management within the construction industry, I am also interested in pursuing finance positions in other industries, such as health care. The health care industry appeals to me because it requires balancing many complex needs to arrive at creative solutions that best serve all stakeholders. Even working in a financial role within the health care industry, knowing that my work could impact the quality of patient care and outcomes would motivate me to do my best every day. I also hope to someday return to teaching in some capacity, as I enjoy helping others find their own versions of success. Teaching business courses to college students or financial literacy courses to high school students would offer me a sense of professional fulfillment and satisfaction.

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