Friday, July 20, 2012

Banking pro tells how to make your MBA degree pay dividends for your career

If you ask Selena Smith if her MBA degree from Post University was worth the investment, she won't tell you "yes." Rather, she'll tell you her MBA degree has "paid dividends" for her career in the banking industry. Why? We won't let the cat out of the bag. Instead watch our Skypecast with Selena to find out from her first hand.



When you tune in, you'll hear Selena talk about how she was a member of the Army Reserves for eight years after high school before transitioning to the banking industry. When she joined the Webster Bank team in Waterbury, Conn., she soon realized she needed to build her educational background to move forward in her field. What happened next spurred significant changes in Selena's professional life, and led her to where she is today.

During our Skypecast, Selena also talked about:

  • What it was like to earn her MBA degree online
  • Her fears about going back to school, and how she overcame them
  • How she learned to balance education with the rest of life's responsibilities

We hope Selena's story is insightful for you. Thanks, Selena, for joining us on our blog!

If you'd prefer to read our interview, scroll on for the transcript.



TRANSCRIPT

Janelle: Hi everyone. I am Janelle Kozyra, a blogger for Post University, and today we are joined by Selena Smith, who is a Post University alumnus. We're getting together today on Skype, and Selena is currently the Great Waterbury Market Manager at Webster Bank in Waterbury, Conn. So Selena, it's a pleasure to have you with us.

Selena: Thank you, it's great to be here.

Janelle: So let's start off by talking about, first of all, what you do at Webster Bank.

Selena: Sure. The great news on that is that a few weeks I got a promotion at work.

Janelle: Oh great, congratulations.

Selena: And so I'm now the Chief of Staff. Thank you. I'm the Chief of Staff to our bank president, and I know that's a direct result of obtaining my MBA last year and really working on different projects. So I'm really excited about that.

Janelle: Great, we'll definitely want to return to that aspect of your story. So let's back up though and talk about what was happening in your life before you decided to go to Post University. What sorts of maybe challenges or needs did you have where you felt like an education, an MBA education, was going to be a good move for you?

Selena: Sure. After high school, I took a path that a lot of other people take, and that's joining the military. So I was in the Army Reserves for eight years. And then began a career in banking and earned my associates at a local community college, and transferred over to Post University to get my undergraduate degree.

I was really excited that Post began to offer the MBA program, because I wanted to keep it going. I think that if we can invest in ourselves, it pays tenfold in just our own individual development. And then if it turns into different career opportunities, that's the icing on the cake.

So looking at where my career in banking was taking me and the fact that I knew I needed to really make sure that I continued on the path of learning things that were happening in the field of business, it was a logical choice for me to choose Post. My experience with obtaining my undergraduate degree was so positive that I didn't look anywhere else other than Post.

Janelle: So what did you get your undergraduate degree in?

Selena: Business management.

Janelle: And then did you receive any benefits from Post after going, after serving in the military?

Selena: You know, I did. At the time, Post was one of the few colleges that offered some online classes. And so that was really suitable to me, working full time and then trying to figure out how I was going to get to campus to take classes was a real challenge. So in looking for my undergraduate degree, Post's online classes were really the great point for me to say this is definitely where I have to be.

So that was one aspect, while I was still in the reserves. So being able to travel, work, and do school, the undergraduate degree, really encompassed everything that I needed. And as far as military, it was fantastic talking with one of the admissions directors for military because he really understood what our needs were and why they were a little bit different. And then the break on tuition as a result of being in the military is just something that is incredibly generous of the university to be able to offer.

Janelle: Did you have any fears about going back to school? You have been out of school for eight years. You were out of the study mode, did you have to kind of go back and relearn how to study again? Or tell us about what that was like.

Selena: It was not the easiest decision to make or process to really take on, but I think one of the things that I had to learn to do was just be really organized about my time. And because I was committed to this, I was committed to figuring out how to make it work. And I think the beauty in that is really talking with admissions and counseling to figure out how to make it work. What options do you have to balance out work and life and school?

And so Post really helped give me some guidance along the way, but getting back into just the routine of learning was eye opening and a little tiring sometimes. But to be able to work towards it and to just stay disciplined and organized, I thought that it was a just great value.

Janelle: What were some of those points of guidance that you think helped you the most?

Selena: Being able to talk to a professor about a struggle that I may have been having or trying to really the material because it had been some time since you're out of school. And so a study method that you may have had in high school doesn't really apply necessarily in college when you're working full-time.

So talking with them about what are the tips for me in staying organized and staying on track was really helpful. And so from there, I just started to develop, with the help of a professor. On Monday's here's what I need to do. On Tuesdays, here's where I should be. So then I was keeping myself on track with the guidance that I was getting from the university also.

Janelle: And what did you think of the professors at Post and your interactions with them?

Selena: Top-notch comes to mind. These are men and women that are not only great educators, but they are well-versed and very dynamic in terms of the subject matter that they're teaching.

So I really felt that they understand in less of a philosophy type mind, or in a perfect world, they were challenging things that were happening today and things that they knew would be happening tomorrow and getting our minds to think in a real world scenario. What would you do?

And they can only do that because they were so still connected to what was happening in the business environment. That it made the experience all the more worthwhile.

Janelle: Did you feel like as you are taking courses, you could apply what you are learning in the classroom to what you were doing professionally?

Selena: That was actually one of the highlights of my experience with earning my undergraduate, as well as my MBA, with Post. Because it's so entrenched in real world application, I was able to do cases that were based on things that I was impacted by current day. So as an example, here's a problem that I'm having with a group at work and I need to figure out how to resolve it and move the group forward.

Education and the tools from Post helped guide me through bringing that team forward. It doesn't get any more real than that when you're the manager of other people and are working to not only better yourself, but to better them also. So I was really able to see the impact of my education immediately.

Janelle: Now let's talk about the online aspect a little bit more. Did you, before you ever took your first online class, what did you think it would be like?

Selena: Oh, I thought it would be easy. It's online, so I can sign on whenever I wanted to, and maybe the work load would be a little less. I was quickly realizing that it's not necessarily easier because it's online. So that myth was quickly dispelled once you actually signed on and saw everything for yourself.

Janelle: So what was it like then to take classes online? Tell us about the experience for you.

Selena: Sure. I was pleasantly surprised that everything online is set up as though you were in a classroom. Sharing pictures with one another, so you got a visual of who it is that you're dealing with and talking with, was really helpful. And I think that all of the information that's posted online and available to you, the links to the library as an example, were just great resources all around you to set you up for success.

The workload is significant and that's where that organization piece really helps to come in because it is a lot of work, so just because it's online, you're not getting cheated out of anything. You're stepping outside of your comfort zone. You're talking about things that you've perhaps not engaged in before, but it is just taking the classroom online with different tools to help you navigate.

Janelle: Let's get to then the promotion you were talking about, that you think has been as a result of the MBA that you got. So tell us more about that.

Selena: Yeah, this is a really exciting opportunity for me because I get to work directly with our bank president and COO on a daily basis. And the things that that really exposes you to from a learning and development perspective is tremendous. I'm working on projects, things around strategy that I've never done before.

I was always in the branch area, so it was always about executing on somebody else's overall plan or strategy, but now being in the room and being able to talk about things from my perspective. Being customer facing for so long, and then adding influence to those strategies and watching those projects develop into something else, really is fantastic.

So it's a job that I've only had for a few weeks. And to know that it came as a result of my growth and own individual development working on my MBA and taking some of the lessons learned from that and really networking across my institution, I think paid off in the end.

Janelle: That's great. So are you carrying lessons that you learned from your education with you forward into your new position?

Selena: Yeah, there were really concepts that I didn't necessarily have to apply in the job that I was doing before. Whereas now, I'm tapping into some of those resources to say jeeze, I remember reading this in one of the texts on project planning. Let me bring out that Gantt chart again and actually use it for something that I'm working on right now.

Or there was a text that was recommended on what to do within the first 90 days of your job by one of the professors. And so that's really been helpful also, to just say, this is a new world for me, so how about some guidance in navigating it through and that came from one of the Post professors. So it just keeps giving.

Janelle: Now where do you think you are going to go from here, now that you have your MBA. You have this great new position. What's sort of next on your list of big goals to achieve? 

Selena: That's a great question. I really think that the sky's the limit. The opportunity that I'm working with now exposes me to so many different areas of the bank that I'm learning about that I really had no idea that they did before.

I'm not closing myself off into one area or another. I'm keeping everything open as an opportunity to explore and to deeper dive into, especially as I learn more and more about this new position and become really exposed to other people within the organization at higher levels as well. So not boxing myself into anything, but really keeping an open mind.

Janelle: Wonderful. Well, Selena it was great talking with you.

Selena: Thanks very much for having me. I appreciate it.

Janelle: And best of luck with all your future endeavors.

Selena: Thank you. I really appreciate that, Janelle.