KALAMAZOO, Mich.—Ken Greschak is excited to take his business knowledge to the next level with an MBA from Western Michigan University's Haworth College of Business.
"It's been on my bucket list ever since I graduated from Western," says Greschak, who earned bachelor's degrees in psychology and English in 1983. "I might want to teach with (my master's degree). I've been in philanthropy now for a lot of years and in sales and marketing, so it would be nice to be able to do that."
While he'd always planned on graduate school, "life happened" and he followed other opportunities. Now that his children are grown, Greschak is back at it, wrapping up his first semester in Western's reimagined Master of Business Administration Program. He is among the first students to experience the new HyFlex option, which offers maximum flexibility by facilitating live, synchronous instruction both in-person and online.
Officially launching for incoming MBA candidates in fall 2021, the new program format incorporates a video camera in the classroom and a microphone for each student who is there so they can easily communicate and have discussions with their peers who "flex in" to the class virtually.
"The technology creates the sense that everybody's in the room together," says Dr. Jennifer Bott, provost and vice president for academic affairs, who is teaching one of the pilot Hyflex courses.
"A lot of students have to pick between flexibility and connection, and this program doesn't make you do that. This program allows you to connect to your classmates and have deep conversations to explore and gain insight from each other in a way that is really difficult to do asynchronously," she says. "It recognizes the demands our students experience as they try to balance career and life with education."
While professional commitments and family responsibilities could be a barrier in traditional programs, the HyFlex option allows students to foster connections with their faculty and peers—wherever life takes them.
"The flexibility is really valuable," says Greschak, who joined class virtually on a business trip this semester. "I could 'flex in' from another part of the world on Monday at 6 o'clock and still be part of my class. And I find that experiencing it online still has that connectivity to it; you can still build rapport and ... be part of the community of the class."
In addition to HyFlex technology, Western MBA candidates now have the opportunity to earn credit for skills they've developed through previous employment, extended travel abroad, volunteer work, non-degree educational seminars or other applicable professional and life experiences.
"We're trying to incorporate a broad base of what life experiences tie into the objectives we have for the MBA," says Dr. Steve Newell, associate dean of graduate programs and operations in Haworth College of Business. "It's a win-win, because these individuals with this great life experience—both career and otherwise—are coming in, contributing to discussions, contributing to group meetings, and we have the opportunity to reward them for doing all this."
The new program incorporates feedback from employers and Western alumni, tailoring curriculum to the most in-demand skill sets in the industry: analytics, communication, leadership and negotiation. It gives students a competitive advantage over peers from other master's programs.
"My inbox is constantly blowing up with emails from other universities offering MBA programs that are basically just online learning, and that is just not anything I wanted to do," Greschak says. "Western is my alma mater. This is where I wanted to be, and the program is a strong program."
Bott is grateful for the opportunity to help get the HyFlex program off the ground. She's worked with professionals from WMUx—a division of the University that advances instructional innovation and transformative learning experiences—throughout the process to improve the experience and iron out technical issues before the official launch in the fall.
"Teaching this semester has also connected me to what our faculty have experienced and do experience—during and prior to the pandemic. I've learned Elearning because I'd never used this version before and relied on my instructional designer to fix some of my mistakes in the system," says Bott. "It reminds me how creative and resilient our faculty are."
The experience also marks her return to the classroom for the first time in 10 years—something she hopes to now continue every spring semester.
"It's been so much fun. It brings me so much joy to be in the classroom and reminds me why I do what I do," she says. "This experience has reinforced and enlivened my passion to lead and champion the importance of higher education."
More information about the new HyFlex MBA program is available on the Haworth College of Business webpage.
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