TMMBA Study Groups: Team Miracle Grow

(L-R: Steve Stroberger, full-time student; Aaron Parsley, Consultant, Group Health; Bhaskar Dutt, Senior Program Manager, Microsoft Corporation; Frida Thernstrom, full-time student; Jared McInelly, Senior Field Engineer, National Instruments; Murat Yanar, Global Account Manager, Hewlett-Packard)

Meet Team Miracle Grow

“Miracle Grow” is not only the name of this study group, but also represents each student’s experience via Technology Management MBA. Immense growth in management, collaboration, time management, and business acumen are all the result of 18 months of dedication. Expanding their comfort zones, they grew as individuals and as a team. Watch their video for insights into how they blossomed from MBA applicant to seasoned professional.

What advice do you have for someone considering UW TMMBA?

Murat: The UW TMMBA Program is only 18 months long; however, it is intellectually challenging, quite intense and requires significant time commitment. Candidates should make a decision on whether this program is a good fit for their individual, personal, and professional development goals. Identify the key stakeholders who will be impacted by this decision (i.e. employer/co-worker, family and friends) and discuss the commitment, requirements, and support needed from each stakeholder. If you are married and have a child (like I do), I strongly recommend sharing as much information as you can with your spouse up front and getting your spouse’s full support before you start the program.Aaron: Write down what you want to get from an MBA program and document your requirements. Use this as your grading sheet as you compare and contract different options. Also, make sure to research the validity of some schools claims of accreditation or affiliation to bigger schools. If national ranking agencies don’t recognize the school offering the program, this should play into your decision. One last item, when considering the cost of the program, remember that the TMMBA covers all meals and materials. Don’t underestimate the value of having meals catered and books delivered right to your classroom.

Bhaskar: Learn as much as you can about the program by reading all the available literature, talking to staff and alumni, and attending any events you can. Make sure the program and you are a good fit. Have clear goals coming in to the program and work towards those goals while in the program. Once you are in the program, look at this as an opportunity to stretch yourself. Do things that you have never done before or are outside of your comfort zone, like public speaking, playing golf or taking point on a marketing project. Make it a goal to meet new people. Take every opportunity to learn from them.

Why did you choose the UW TMMBA Program?

Bhaskar: The Foster School is consistently rated the best business program in the Pacific Northwest. I want to continue working in the tech sector and the focus on technology is therefore attractive. The program is part-time, but only 18 months long. It doesn’t have the crushing opportunity cost of a full-time program, but it still provides a challenging, well-rounded MBA experience. The TMMBA staff takes care of so many inconveniences that eat away at your time (registering for classes, getting books for the next semester, getting parking permits – the list goes on).

Jared: I chose the TMMBA Program after considering every possible option for an MBA out there. I had even been accepted at a top 25 full-time program and been offered a scholarship there. But when it came down to it, I couldn’t bring myself to quit my job, move my family and go without income for 2 years. It was just too risky. So I made a spreadsheet listing all of the things that really mattered to me in going back to school in one column. Then I listed every program in the Seattle area in the rows and gave them each a score. I showed this to my wife and we talked about it and adjusted some of the scores. By the time we were done, it was pretty obvious that the TMMBA Program aligned well with the things I wanted to get out of an MBA. Having gone through this exercise really prepared me to be focused on my schooling. And having made the decision together with my wife made sure that we were both on the same page. She has been a great support throughout this program.

What recommendations do you have for an applicant navigating the admissions process?

Frida: Go ahead and start with it! It is not as difficult as it first might seem. It takes some time though, and you don’t want to rush through it in the end. Anytime I had questions during the admissions process, I communicated with the UW TMMBA Program staff and they were very friendly and helpful.

Steve: Go to all UW TMMBA sponsored events; the information session, application workshop and visit a class or two. There are also recruiting events where you can meet current students and alumni. These events will provide you with an opportunity to find out what alumni are doing after graduation and how the UW TMMBA Program helped them advance their careers. During your class visits, you will also get a chance to talk to current TMMBA students and ask your questions about their experience and find out how they are managing their school/work life.

What has been your favorite class and why?

Murat: This is a tough one. I would say that I have a number of favorites. Financial Accounting, Corporate Finance, Leading Organizational Change and Entrepreneurship are the classes that stood out for me. These classes were taught by excellent professors; Frank Hodge, Jonathan Karpoff, Greg Bigley and Suresh Kotha respectively. In each of these classes, I learned concepts that I could apply immediately at my workplace. The Entrepreneurship class brought it all together and taught us foundational concepts to start our own businesses. In fact, my study group is participating in the UW Business Plan Competition this year.

Jared: My favorite class was “Leading Organizational Change” by Greg Bigley. Greg is really entertaining to listen to. This class was really challenging and pushed me to understand and master the material. And leading change is a very practical skill that can be used throughout life, in most any situation. I have already used many of the concepts in my work life in helping our company go through some painful changes. Greg taught me several concepts that I wish I would have known earlier in life.

Aaron: This is a tough one because there are many courses that I enjoyed a great deal. If I really have to choose just one, than it would be Operations and Supply Chain Management. Professor Kamran Moinzadeh did an excellent job of presenting detailed uses of concepts and also integrated a great hands-on simulation in the form of team competition to reinforce everything learned in class in a fun and unforgettable way.

Frida: That is a really hard question, because I can honestly say I enjoyed all classes. The content has been very informative and the professors have been really good, interested and encouraging. The courses are all about different concepts so it is difficult to compare them all together. I really liked the Leadership Development class a lot. I learned things that will be useful both in my work and private life. It gave me new perspectives particularly around power of influence, motivating and shared leadership that I will think about and apply going forward.

How did you like the study groups? For the first time, you had to be part of two study groups. Tell us about your observations and how this was beneficial.
(Students are on one group for the first half of the program and another group for the second half.)

Bhaskar: Being part of a study group (two, in fact!) made the whole experience much richer for me. Other team members bring diverse and unexpected points of view to the table and force you to consider things from multiple angles. I have gone into a team meeting multiple times convinced that I had the One True Answer and left it somewhat chagrined but wiser because one of my teammates saw something I didn’t or came up with an equally valid solution. You make deeper connections with the folks in your team – connections that you will likely keep alive for many more years. These are the folks you will lean on to pick up your slack the week you have the big deliverable at work, and these are the folks who will help you understand the intricacies of the subject that you are struggling with.Frida: The team work has taught me much about other people, and maybe most important, much about myself. Personally I like that we switched teams in the middle of the program, because you get to know other people better and also encounter other challenges which makes the learning experience better and richer. The team has also been a great support during the program. I believe that the TMMBA Program has done a good job of mixing different people with different personalities and backgrounds together.

Murat: I loved the study group approach which essentially simulates a workplace environment where there are individuals with different goals, aspirations, motivations and experiences. The study group gives you a safe environment in which you can navigate conflicts, cooperate, disagree, lead, follow, and essentially learn to be and act as one team marching towards the same goal. Having two study groups during the program is a terrific idea, because you get to bond with a new set of individuals at the half point and learn to become a team again with individuals with entirely different backgrounds, ideals and experiences.

How much time per week do you spend studying individually and meeting with your team? What is a typical week’s schedule?

Aaron: I would say that on average I spend around 8 hours per week working individually on assignments and 4-8 hours on group assignments, although this can spike during busy times. A typical weeks schedule for me looks like this:

    • Sun: Study individually and prepare for team meeting
    • Mon: Team Meeting in the evening, generally 6-8 or 9pm
    • Tues: Prepare individual work for Wednesday class and finish team assignments
    • Wed: Class in the evening
    • Thurs: Day off for review sessions if offered
    • Fri: Prepare individual work for Saturday class or day off on non-school weekend
    • Sat: Class every other weekend or family time

Steve: Individually approximately 15 hours every week at home, but I also listened to recorded lectures or review sessions or audio books related to school activities during my commute to and from Kirkland. As a team, we met once a week and occasionally a second time for about 3 hours each meeting. Besides team projects, the team meeting was good to be sure my individual work was on par with my teammates.

Bhaskar: I would say the typical week consisted of about 10-12 hours of individual study plus time for classes and team meetings. The time factor was a major concern for me going in to the program, but I soon realized that though it is certainly challenging, it is by no means impossible. In fact, it really is amazing how much time you have in your day once you cut down on all the time that you would have wasted surfing the web or watching TV. Time management and prioritization are skills that you will become experts at in the program. Map out the entire quarter soon after you get your syllabuses. Though the professors work together to ensure that the workload is manageable, you will find that there are some weeks when everything seems to happen at once. Identify those weeks early and plan for them!