Student Experience: First Term Jitters

Tuesday, June 7, 2016

By Jack O'Connell, Midland MBA Class of 2017

I am an MBA student.

That’s a phrase I never thought I’d hear myself say, but now that I can, I couldn’t be more proud.

I finished my first term of the Midland MBA about two weeks ago, and now that our mid-year break is over and my second term is beginning, I’ve decompressed enough to reflect on how my decision to go back to school has affected me, personally and professionally.

I started in March taking one class, Operations Management. The course description is here, but, to summarize, Ops discusses the logistics of making a company efficient, keeping overhead low, and making sure customers are served promptly. Basically, the things that the customers only see or complain about if they’re done poorly.

The first term was not nearly as intimidating as I had worked it up to be. I’ve spent my entire professional career in higher education, where I felt insulated from the business concepts we’d be learning about, and my undergraduate degree is in Music. I was certain that I’d be lost, a delicate artist overwhelmed by the business world.

I couldn’t have been more wrong. The reading, simulations, and case studies assigned quickly helped me get a basic grasp of what operations does within a company, even before I went to the first class meeting. The professor for Operations was Bill Bennett of Walmart, and he really helped break down what operations is, why it’s important, and how the theory is applied. In one of our first classes, for example, Professor Bennett showed us this news story about how Whole Foods had rearranged their checkout stations by using one line for multiple tellers rather than multiple lines for multiple tellers. It cut the customer wait to a third of what it was. By thinking through their Operations, the store was able to make their customers happier and move more customers through the store.

Additionally, I never felt looked down on for having a music degree or coming from outside the corporate world. Those things weren’t important to Professor Bennett or my classmates; what was was that I work to understand the content. It wasn’t easy, certainly, but it wasn’t impossible. I felt stretched to reach the new knowledge, but I easily kept up with my classmates and teammates.

After completing the course, I see things we learned all around me. I bother my wife when we go to movies, pointing out that they have us standing in a serpentine line (the type of line in the Whole Foods example). I notice how shelves are being restocked at the grocery store. When a notification came up on my phone telling me the package I ordered from Amazon yesterday has been delivered, I was more impressed than usual, understanding it as a feat only possible through multiple levels of excellent operations.

I’m also already applying what I learned to my work. For the past two years, I have planned a series of campus-wide events for our new students to get registered for classes. By utilizing the concepts I learned in Operations Management, the events have gone notably smoother this year than last-- by rearranging where students and parents go and when, identifying the bottlenecks and thinking through ways to break them, and by timing exactly how long each station takes, we’ve been able to increase the number of students we do daily by about 15%. Looking at that numerically, even, is a leap forward for me, as I’m asking different questions than I would have before I started the MBA.

My first term as an MBA student was sort of a whirlwind experience. It happened, and was implemented, very quickly.

Now onto Term 2: Corporate Strategy.

Jack O’Connell

Midland MBA, Class of 2017

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