August 19, 2020

Pursuing an Online MBA, Finding Community

When you sign up for the Online MBA program at Maryland Smith, you get the skills you need to take your career to the next level, with a flexible schedule that helps you manage your time and attain your goals. But you also get a community that supports you through the program – and for years to come.

That’s what Ken Gemmell, Anthony Botos and Sherry Dunbar ’86, found. They were members of the 2017 online MBA cohort. Years later, they are still there for each other, and for the rest of their cohort.

Though Botos says he didn’t realize it at the time, the experience of building those online bonds would help prepare him for today’s pandemic-impacted work environment, when nearly all of his professional interactions would be done remotely.

“The type of interaction we had was seamless, and the bonds and connections were strong,” says Botos, director of distribution at Scotts Miracle-Gro in Columbus, Ohio. “You could get a sense of who people were and work with those who you gravitated toward.”

Years later, the cohort has kept in touch through social media and other means. The connections can go a long way. For Gemmell, it opened the door to an opportunity in a managerial software job at a company where a fellow cohort member worked.

“Throughout the program, you start to create these bonds and get to know people on a deeper level, which makes teamwork even more efficient as you progress through the process,” says Gemmell, now a database analyst at Thorlabs Inc., in Jessup, Md. “You learn people’s strengths and weaknesses, how you can help each other and how you can prepare yourself for each assignment.”

Networking and connectedness are part of the reason why Maryland Smith is consistently ranked in the top 10 of U.S. News & World Report’s Best Online MBA Programs. Flexibility is another plus.

Gemmell says the online MBA program allowed him to be present with his family while he pursued his degree. “I don’t know if I would have been able to go back full-time or part-time in a classroom because of my professional and personal commitments.”

Botos agrees. His online MBA experience needed to be flexible enough for him to continue traveling for work, while also allowing him time with family. He often completed classes in a hotel room so that he could come and enjoy quality time with his three children.

“Even though the time I spent in the program was rigorous and challenging, to be able to do it while also progressing my career and being there for my family was incredibly rewarding,” says Botos. “I wouldn’t be where I am now without the online MBA program, and I’m forever grateful to have been able to graduate from it.”

Sherry DunbarSherry Dunbar, a scientific affairs senior director at Luminex in Austin, Texas, was one of the few 2017 cohort members with a career in the scientific field. She saw the online MBA program as an opportunity to broaden her career options.

“I felt my scientific education would really benefit from learning more about the business side of things,” says Dunbar. “But learning the jargon especially helped because I can better understand my marketing colleagues and really speak their language.”

Dunbar says she didn’t have as much in common with her cohort peers as some others did, but the program’s focus on team projects, which mimic the workplace experience, brought her close to her classmates nonetheless. It doesn’t take a physical classroom to share an experience, she says, reflecting back on her experience.

“We’ve all stayed connected online, especially with our smaller action learning teams,” says Dunbar. “When I get to visit the area – whether it be for work or personal business – I enjoy going out to dinner with them to catch up.”

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About the University of Maryland's Robert H. Smith School of Business

The Robert H. Smith School of Business is an internationally recognized leader in management education and research. One of 12 colleges and schools at the University of Maryland, College Park, the Smith School offers undergraduate, full-time and flex MBA, executive MBA, online MBA, business master’s, PhD and executive education programs, as well as outreach services to the corporate community. The school offers its degree, custom and certification programs in learning locations in North America and Asia.

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