Online MBA Program's Residencies are Life-Altering Experience

Following the recent residency at Syracuse University in the Whitman School of Management, we spoke with Phil Whittaker to learn more about the experience. Phil is an MBA@Syracuse student and product manager in the Boston metro area.

What was your favorite experience at the residency?

It is hard to choose just one favorite thing out of all that happens. I could say the content of the courses or the social aspect and the connections you make. Both of these are important to the overall MBA experience—but also a whole lot of fun. 

Take the content of the courses as an example. During this past residency, we were working on an Excel expert certification with Professor Don Harter. If you have not taken a class with Professor Harter, do yourself a favor and sign up for one. This may not sound like the most exciting way to spend a weekend, but you will use the skills you learn in this residency throughout the MBA program. At this specific residency, we were more focused on specific excel content in place of listening to others discuss the subject matter, we became one with our inner data geeks. There comes a time in life where you are actually proud to be called a geek. (No really, there is, right?)

As far as the social aspect, I met a lot of people, including a few that are in upcoming sections. Forming groups before classes start helps the school side of things by having a personal connection.

What major insights did you leave the residency with that you weren’t expecting?

When I joined this program, I looked at the required residencies and thought to myself that these were just a waste of time and money. Honestly, I almost opted out of the Syracuse program because of them. In hindsight, my assumption could not have been more off base. There is such a diverse mix of people in the program; each and every one of them brings a certain amount of experience to the table. The good part of the residencies is that these people are happy to meet and help their fellow students. Each of them will jump at the opportunity to make new connections and form new friendships. I would suggest that new students plan a residency as early in the program as possible. The basis of an MBA is group work, and having these connections and groups formed early on will make the whole program so much easier. The value in the time spent at residencies (including in the bars) cannot be overstated.

How does this residency compare to other residencies you’ve attended with the program?

I have done three so far: First was a negotiation track with Chancellor Syverud, then Ireland for managing innovations, and this last one for Excel expert certification. While I learned more than I expected from each one of these, in my mind, the last one will carry the most weight. We spent the whole weekend working toward an Excel specialist or expert certification. This is something that carries with us and builds a stronger resume. Now I can prove to future employers that I can do something instead of just saying it. Not only that, but Excel is used at every level and in almost every course throughout the program. You need to be comfortable with using the program.

Outside of the itinerary, did you do anything fun with your classmates?

There is always the opportunity to bond with fellow students during these events. A quick coffee across the road or a beer afterward leads to very in-depth discussions as well as superficial ones. This weekend’s topics ranged from how we all juggle school, work, and family time through to boxing kangaroos on YouTube (you guessed it—this one was in the bar). When you get a group of people together who all have similar goals, it is amazing how bonds are formed so quickly.

What advice would you give to a student considering the international residencies with MBA@Syracuse?

There is not a single program or lecturer that can come close to teaching you the diversity of the world. Understanding cultures is not picked up in a textbook or in a lecture hall but rather from being in the streets and meeting the people. I have always been, and continue to be, a big supporter of travel and world experience. These opportunities to visit a country and get an in-depth understanding of working or conducting business in that country don’t come along often. When they do, we need to grasp them with two hands and jump aboard. Let’s face it: The world has changed so rapidly over the last few years that we cannot say we will only focus on one country or culture. We as future leaders need to understand the diversity and differences in every person we lead, work with, or market to in order to prosper. Earning an MBA without the knowledge to apply those skills across a broad range of cultures is like owning a car without gas. It looks good but doesn’t work. So, when it comes to international options, just do one or two. It is a life-altering experience.