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UC executive MBA program offers unique experience

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According to Rick Ferris, coordinator for the executive MBA program, master of business administration, at the University of Charleston, students entering into the 23-year-old program experience a unique opportunity.

The program caters specifically to working professionals with at least three years of professional work experience and once in, students are afforded numerous educational and hands-on opportunities.

When it comes to the program itself, Ferris highlighted several specifics that make it unique.

Cohort-Based

“The program is cohort-based,” he said. “Meaning, all the students that start together finish together.”

Each cohort, broken into teams of three to five individuals, identifies a local company to work with in a strategic capacity throughout the remainder of the program and identifies the company’s strengths, weaknesses, opportunities and threats.

While Ferris said that’s “the simplest way to say it,” it’s “a much bigger process.”

“What (the teams) do is they work with the company,” he said, “They analyze (the company’s) financials, their Human Resources, their Information Technology, their marketing operations, the external environment, the economy, their competitors and (the students) look to mitigate (the company’s) weaknesses and take advantage of opportunities.

“(The students) develop a strategic plan for the company and make strategic recommendations to do just that at the very end of the program.”

It is the cohort model, Ferris said, that builds strong and long-lasting relationships.

“Our students, they build relationships that last a lifetime,” he said. “We’ll have little alumni events and the classes will come together. They’ll show up together.”

International Practicum

Another unique feature of the executive MBA program is the mandatory international practicum requirement, which is included in the price of the program.

While the requirement is mandatory, one can safely assume most students see it as an exciting opportunity rather than merely a requirement to check off. If circumstances arise that make it impossible for a student to complete the international practicum requirement, Ferris said other arrangements can be made.

This year, the executive MBA class made the long flight from Charleston to Panama.

However, certain criteria have to be met when deciding which country to visit.

“It has to be an economy that is growing and has to have a fostering trade relationship with the United States,” Ferris said. “With the North American Free Trade Agreement, NAFTA, and some other free trade agreements that have gone into place, our trade is increasing with North and South American countries.

“It has to be a growing economy, and it has to be something that makes sense.”

After spending time in Panama, Ferris said the Central American country and the Mountain State have several things in common.

“Panama is about as big as West Virginia. It’s a little bigger in square miles and population, but I sort of think of it as West Virginia,” he said. “We have a strategic asset here — coal and natural gas and oil as well, extractive resources, timber. Panama has the canal. That’s their competitive advantage.”

Apparently, others saw the similarities as well, with some students from the National Guard nearing retirement expressing a desire to use their military pension to relocate, live and start a business in Panama.

“It’s pretty neat they actually said that,” Ferris said. “That they’re that impressed with the economic opportunity in Panama, with the trade, with the United States so much so that they see enough opportunity to relocate (their) families to Panama and live out (their) retirement there.”

Ferris said the reason for the international practicum is to explore education, government, business, industry and its relationship to the United States from a foreign country’s perspective. Panama uses the American dollar and is one of the fastest growing countries due to the expansion of the Panama Canal after the United States turned it over to the Panamanians in 1999.

In the past, the international practicum has taken place in China, Brazil, Ireland, Italy and Greece, with next year’s tentative location being a re-visit Brazil.

Class Demographics

While professionals across the professional spectrum fill the 20 per class cap, Ferris said the program has attracted a fair amount of military professionals over the years.

“We have a really good scholarship program for the military,” he said. “Being a military friendly school … we have attracted over the last few years a fair amount of military folks.”

Army National Guard soldiers come to the program for no out-of-pocket expense, with state and federal tuition assistance and the University of Charleston scholarship covering the complete tuition. The Air National Guard pays a $3,000 out of pocket expense for the whole program and a 40 percent scholarship is also offered to military spouses.

“We’ve really stepped up to try and do some nice things for the military and they’ve responded by taking advantage of it,” Ferris said.

The cost of the program is $25,000, including books and the international practicum. When it comes to the total number of students in the program, Ferris said it bounces around the 78 mark, with the highest number reaching around 126. Right now, the number stands at 78 and cohorts of 15 are run at a time.

The 15-month program has two starts — one in August and one in January.

Historically, Ferris said there have been one or two military members per class, but that number has now climbed to four, five or six per class.

Curriculum Changes

In his three years as coordinator, Ferris said the curriculum has undergone recent changes that will appear this August. The five eight-hour modules previously used to teach the MBA curriculum have now been broken into eight five-hour credit modules. The eight learning modules are: Management/OB, Managerial Accounting and Finance, Applied Marketing, Quantitative Methods, International Business and Trade, Economics, Operations Management and Strategic Decision Marketing.

Classes that were previously embedded have also been broken out into their own, separate classes, specifically economics and international trade and business.

“International business and trade was kind of embedded throughout the program,” Ferris said. “We decided, given the global nature of our economy, we needed to make it a discreet class and give it its own time and attention.

“Economics being so important to everything about business, we need to give that its own piece as well.”

When it comes to the overall mission, Ferris said it’s about educating the state.

“I think the statistic is 6.7 percent of the population of West Virginia has a master’s degree,” he said.

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