Two hours before daybreak, in his home office minutes from High Point University, Dr. Tjai Nielsen began.
For months, he’d write, brainstorm and write some more.
Nielsen ended up retooling the school’s MBA program centering on applied knowledge and practical experience. He dropped four courses, added six new ones and created two tracks emphasizing global leadership and sales leadership, two skills in high demand in today’s economy.
HPU’s new MBA program started last fall, and it reflects what Provost Dennis Carroll had hoped to see: a program that teaches the “heart and soul of the human side of business.”
Even with the popularity of online MBA programs, Carroll says he believes in the providence of one-on-one guidance. A computer screen can’t be a mentor, Carroll says. But a professor can.
“We wanted our students to hit the ground running,” he says.
Nielsen has geared the program to help two types of students: the recent college grad and the working professional already out of college.
That, he saw, could be the program’s niche.
“Whether it’s a young person with limited experience or a senior executive who has worked for 20 years, you want to have a program that can add value to their career,” Nielsen says. “It has to be more than understanding theory and research. You have to provide students practical tools that will be important to their work, whatever their work is.
“That’s the real value. That will lay the foundation. They can take their experiential group exercises – as well as the tools and techniques they learn – back to the office and into the world.”
“I had a partner”
Andrew Modlin, associate vice president for graduate admissions, says his office has had more students applying because of the program’s flexibility and the characteristics that differentiate it from other programs.
In doing so, the program reflects the philosophy that HPU President Dr. Nido Qubein shares often with students: It’s your differences, not just your strengths, that set you apart from your crowd of competitors.
HPU’s 30-credit MBA program does that. By working with experienced faculty in world-class facilities, the program offers a business practicum, small classes, classes at night for working professionals and a chance to finish the program in one year.
Meanwhile, candidates can waive the standardized exam known as the GMAT to get in if they have a high enough GPA or enough professional experience.
The GMAT, Nielsen says, is not necessarily the best predictor of success.
“There are a lot of people, especially people who have jobs in the Triad area, who are scared to death of standardized tests, but they could make great MBA students,” Nielsen says. “They’re productive at work, they’ve started their own business, and they’ve done any number of things that show they’ll do well.”
Take Janice Wise. She’s 52, a married mother of four children, ages 9 to 24, and she owns her own property management company.
The last time she sat in a college classroom was, as she says, “forever and a day ago.” But really, it was 1987, the year she graduated with an accounting degree from Columbia College.
She had reservations about going back to school. But she wanted her business to grow, and she chose HPU.
But what was equally important was how HPU treated her. Of the MBA programs she looked at, HPU admission officials were the most attentive.
“I felt like I had a partner in getting from Point A to Point B,” Wise says.
This month, with a dozen other students, she began her first class, Leadership Negotiation. She plans to graduate in December at age 53.
“You’re never too old to learn,”’ she says. “I tell that to my children and myself as well. As long as you’re living and occupying a space on this earth, you have something to give and something to give back.”
Then, there is Adam Seal. He’s 23, a recent HPU grad and a talented lacrosse player. After graduation, he had one more year of eligibility, and he wanted to stay at HPU to play another season of lacrosse – and get an MBA.
“I knew it would be huge to have in my back pocket,” says Seal, who graduated in May with a degree in business administration with minors in finance and economics. “With every job change, every promotion, I could say I’ve got my MBA. But what makes it perfect is I can say, ‘I got my MBA from High Point University.’”
A Path to Excellence
Dr. Jim Wehrley is the dean of the university’s Earl N. Phillips School of Business, and he believes the MBA connects HPU to High Point and allows local students to consider what they never thought was possible.
Wehrley, an HPU business faculty member since 1994, knows many students like that. Yet, ask him about it, and he’ll bring up Chris.
Chris was a dry-wall salesman, and he came to HPU a decade ago to get his MBA. After he graduated, he told Wehrley he saw the school – and the program – as his much-needed second chance at life.
Wehrley believes in that. He sees the MBA program as a way for students, particularly older students, to get that second chance at education and gain guidance from talented faculty members like Nielsen.
So, at student orientations, Wehrley is no-nonsense about the program.
“Companies are dying for good people,” Wehrley says to prospective students. “Many industries are aging out. So, the opportunities are endless. It all comes back to your work ethic, your integrity and your communication skills. This (an MBA) is something I believe will set you apart. It’s what I believe.”
It goes back to the question he hears so often from employers, “Jim, send us your best.”
An MBA, Wehrley says, can make that happen.