When Denise Lyons finishes her online MBA degree at Clarion University this August, she says she's heading straight for Clarion to meet all of the faculty, staff and fellow students that made her learning experience so worthwhile.
"Throughout my studies at Clarion over the past four years, I made so many friends," said Lyons, a resident of Old Bridge, N.J. "I told them that when I graduated, I wanted to come see them all!"
Considering the individualized nature of web-based coursework and the physical distance that often separates students and faculty, Lyons' enthusiasm is notable. She says that Clarion's enthusiastic faculty, caring staff and dedicated classmates added a human dimension to her studies that she was unable to find elsewhere.
"The professors were interactive and so supportive," recalls Lyons, age 58. "One of the professors did a conference call with the class to give us time to talk together. And whenever I've needed to contact the MBA office for anything, everyone - especially Sharon Bauer - would just say, 'Hello Denise.' With my New York accent, they knew it was me!"
Throughout her career, Lyons has worked as a chief financial officer and computer programmer with a range of employers in New York. Prior to enrolling in one of the first Part-Time Online MBA cohorts in spring 2006, Lyons had searched for a high-quality MBA program for two years. Then one day at work on Long Island, Clarion alum and coworker Matt Seifert handed her an MBA brochure he had received in the mail.
"I went online and checked out the program, spoke with a few people and felt very good about it," Lyons said. "The MBA core courses are exceptional, and to receive a degree from an AACSB accredited institution - this was everything that I wanted in a university. I knew that my decision to attend Clarion was the right one. The registration process was easy and the staff helped me through the entire process; everyone was so friendly."
However, it took more than an outgoing admissions staff to convince Lyons that the Clarion MBA was the strongest choice. "The University of Phoenix had been bugging me all the time, and it always seemed to be about the money first and the degree second," she noted. "At Clarion, I quickly found out it was always about the student and the degree; that was the primary focus. My tuition was only 2 percent above the rate for state residents, at a low rate almost unheard of these days. I felt this program offered excellent financial value, but it wasn't overly easy either."
Clarion's Part-Time Online MBA is a 33-credit, non-thesis program designed for busy adults who cannot travel to campus due to distance, job commitments or family responsibilities. Students can complete coursework from any location with an Internet connection, without ever having to come to campus.
"You can give your career a major boost with the Clarion MBA, which is one of the best values in quality graduate business education due to our low tuition," said Dr. Brenda Ponsford, MBA program director and professor. "And with today's high fuel prices, online study is an increasingly smart choice."
The Part-Time Online MBA Program offers classes each semester and during the summer term. Students can finish two to five courses per academic year, and take anywhere from 30 months to six years to complete a degree. The program is accredited by AACSB International, the premier accrediting agency for business and accounting degrees.
"AACSB International is the most elite accreditation that any business program can attain, and it is widely recognized by employers," Ponsford noted. "Earning a degree from an AACSB-accredited institution will open doors for you throughout your career."
That's exactly what recent Clarion graduate Gina Walker says she found when she finished the Part-Time Online MBA last December. The 35-year-old Pittsburgh resident works as a human resources representative with Schneider Downs, a Pittsburgh-based accounting firm.
"When I was considering the program, I wavered between the MBA and a Master's Degree in Human Resources," she said. "However, these days, HR has a seat at the management table, and is much more a part of running the business, and I felt the MBA program would make me a better-rounded employee."
Walker says the MBA coursework at Clarion forced her to expand her skills in many new ways. "For example, I am very involved in the open enrollment process for our employee health benefits.
"In the past, when our vendors would come in and discuss costs, I used to stand back from the math-intensive stuff. But thanks to my accounting and finance classes at Clarion, this year it made much more sense to me. I was able to get involved and actually help my company figure out the best approaches."
Clarion professor Dr. Miguel Olivas Lujan recalls his experiences working online with Walker. "Her answers to projects and assignments often made me reflect on how important it is to have professional connections," he said. "She would often bring up surveys or other studies published by the Society of Human Resources Managers (SHRM), supporting her points with arguments that are not often found in more traditional programs. I feel truly privileged that I was able to help her earn this graduate degree."
Walker, who also earned a B.S. degree in Human Resources from Clarion University in 1996, recalls that Clarion professor Dr. Jim Pesek pushed her especially hard to build greater expertise in the human resources field. "I had the HR course with Dr. Pesek both as an undergraduate and a graduate," she recalled. "He gave us a lot of direction but also the opportunity to learn on our own. Although I had already been working in the field for 10 years, he showed me that there is always something new to learn."
The online advantage
In addition to the relevant coursework and strong faculty, Walker says she chose Clarion's MBA program because of its online delivery system and flexible class schedule. "Since I'm a full-time employee, I work lots of long hours. I had to find a program that would fit in with my schedule and the demands of my job.
I had looked into the program at Waynesburg University, which required students to attend evening classes. "I wondered, 'Is online a better choice for me?' Once I enrolled at Clarion, I soon realized how perfect it was for me, with the flexibility I needed."
Lyons said that at first, she was reluctant to try online study as an older student, but soon realized it wasn't so difficult. "My undergraduate degree work back in the 1990s had nothing to do with computers, so it was all a bit intimidating," she recalls. "One night, I sat down and cried. I remember thinking, 'This isn't for me. I can't do it.' I was completely overwhelmed. But with the help of great, caring professors, in time things improved for me."
As with Walker, Lyons put in long hours with her employer, which forced her to manage time carefully to allow for studying and writing. A 90-minute commute from New Jersey to Manhattan and nine-hour work days often left her exhausted when the homework began around 8 p.m.
Olivas Lujan recalls Lyons' early online study experiences at Clarion. "When she took her first MBA course with me, she had not been back to school in 14 years and kept thinking she would never be able to work, commute and continue her education," he said. "For me, it has been a great pleasure and an honor to see that Denise is done with her coursework, ready to graduate and rise to new heights with an AACSB International-accredited MBA from Clarion on her resume."
Rather than be defeated by her demanding work schedule and the online coursework format, Lyons used it to learn the material and build a network of friends with classmates.
"For example, in the marketing class with Dr. Ponsford, I had to form a team with three other classmates. We would talk each week, and it really felt like we were running a company together. I formed some really nice friendships, and even today, I still correspond with those people."
Walker also used her online coursework to build professional networks and meet new people. "Being online, I really didn't feel like I missed out on the networking part of things," she said. "With the group projects, many of my classmates were around Pittsburgh, so we could always talk on the phone or get together to go over an assignment."
However, Walker noted that anyone considering online study must remember that it requires strong initiative and personal responsibility - much like going to work each day. "It was kind of a shock to come back to school after being out for so long," she said. "Online study really requires you to be an adult - to meet deadlines and figure things out on your own. That's the big difference between undergraduate and graduate work."
According to Lyons, it's all about earning your graduate degree, not purchasing it. "If it's about purchasing your degree, you are in the wrong school," she said. However, if you are looking to earn your degree, then you are probably in the right school. At the graduate level, you should know that it is much more complex. Be prepared for hard work and long hours. At the same time, know that these are great professors here at Clarion."
Professors in the Part-Time Online MBA Program draw upon a broad mix of academic expertise and business experience in their teaching and research. All faculty hold doctorates, and have worked extensively in their fields.
"Our faculty work hard to ensure that the students enrolled in the Part-Time Online MBA program achieve the same learning outcomes as those enrolled in our traditional face-to-face program," Pesek said. "Students in the online program are expected to integrate cross-disciplinary knowledge in business decision making, demonstrate ethical reasoning and analytical thinking in their decision making, and effectively use technology and data analysis in business problem solving.
"Within the curriculum, we also emphasize the importance of leadership and the skills needed by managers operating in a diverse and complex global environment. Since many of our part-time online students are working in a full-time capacity, they have the opportunity to apply business and managerial concepts and practices in their daily jobs."
About Clarion University
Located 70 miles north of Pittsburgh in northwestern Pennsylvania, Clarion University is a public, state university with an annual enrollment of 7,100 students in undergraduate and graduate programs. The university sits on an historic 100-acre campus with 43 buildings including the Carlson Library, two dozen computer laboratories, and a $35 million science and technology center. Clarion University offers 27 nationally accredited programs, which is the most in the state system.
For more information
Anyone interested in finding out more about the Part-Time Online MBA or other Virtual Campus programs at Clarion University should call 1-866-272-5612, send e-mail to firstname.lastname@example.org or go online at www.clarion.edu/virtualcampus/