We spoke with Gina Heimbecker, an Admissions Representative at Spring Arbor University Online. Gina accompanied faculty and students of the online MBA program on their annual New York International Business Summit, where she gained insight into the students’ motivations, what drew them to take the MBA program and what aspirations they have for the future as MBA graduates.
Q: When did this year’s International Business Summit in New York take place?
A: The Summit took place from June 29 through July 2. It’s typically a four-day weekend, from Friday through Monday. This year there were 22 students who attended, accompanied by family. In total there were about 50 of us. Dr. Sharon Norris, Director of the MBA program, took part in the trip. Dr. Randy Lewis and Dr. Caleb Chan also attended, and each had a cohort from the international business course.
Students Attracted to Five Concentrations Offered in SAU’s Online MBA Program
Q: Can you describe the students in the program?
A: The students in the program are all working professionals. The majority of them are in their 30s, 40s and 50s. They want to expand their knowledge with the MBA degree. In terms of work experience, they are very diverse. Several nurses, teachers, human resources professionals and military personnel were on the trip as current online MBA students at SAU.
The five different concentrations that we offer are what attract students to the MBA program — each concentration is specific to them in enhancing their career. Our MBA program does not simply deal with the processes of a business, it is more career-oriented in providing hands-on experience they can apply right away in their jobs. For instance, if a student is looking at the executive leadership concentration or strategic planning, they can take courses related to those topics and implement what they learn right away, on the job. Rather than going through a curriculum and memorizing things for an exam, SAU’s online MBA program develops skills to handle real life situations that are outside the classroom.
Q: When will this cohort of online MBA students graduate?
A: Some have only two or three classes left, some have just begun their second course and others are right in the middle of their course load. One of the things that made this event special was having everyone come together, even though they have completed different parts of the program. Having support by talking to their peers about the different experiences that they’ve had really benefits the students and helps them succeed in their program.
Q: Does discussion between classmates occur online?
A: The discussions on the online discussion boards usually relate to specific topics of the week in the curriculum. As topics are posted by the professor, collaboration and discussion occurs between classmates about the academic assignments, but it’s only in person that collaboration and dialog become deeper. That was part of what made this trip so meaningful to all of the students.
One of the most surprising things to me was the level of interaction online students were having with each other upon meeting face to face. In New York, when I first walked into the room where students were meeting each other for the first time, I saw that many of them were already sitting together having conversations. I later found out that a collaborative project was part of the Summit event and students were tasked with working on it while there together. They already had formed bonds going into the Summit and were connected before they even met in person.
Q: Was there a Christian component to the weekend event in New York?
A: During the weekend, we attended a Christian service at the Brooklyn Tabernacle together and it was an outstanding experience. The service was interactive, upbeat and refreshing. It was very rewarding for the students to work hard, complete their group presentations together, go on field trips together in New York and feel God leading all the way through it. The strength of God reinforced their goals after enrolling in the program and gave them the strength and support to continue it. Many MBA students choose SAU because of the Christ-centered perspectives of our teaching. In the group presentations it was apparent how important the Bible is to their lives. In their presentations, some students used the passages of scripture that contributed to aspects of their projects.
Q: What aspirations do SAU’s online MBA students have for the future?
A: Two of our MBA students started out in SAU’s online MSN program and went on to take the MBA program with a health care specialty. Both are currently health care professionals who work in hospitals. They each have a master’s degree — the Master of Science in Nursing — but are looking for the business component to move up the ladder by taking on administrative and management responsibilities in a hospital.
Many of the students are human resources professionals studying in the MBA-HR Development specialization, with a goal of delving into specific functionalities of the businesses where they work. Salary wasn’t ever mentioned as a primary goal of the students I spoke with. Other online MBA students are educators who are already teaching at community colleges or four-year colleges.
Some of the students who participated in the International Business Summit as part of SAU’s online MBA program work in the non-profit sector. One student is a social worker and is the President of a county Foster & Parent Association. She has adopted over 14 children, and her husband took part in the trip with her. She has worked so diligently for this non-profit organization that she is seeking ways to improve it from an operational standpoint. This student was unsure of what MBA concentration to focus on because there are so many specializations that could apply to her situation. She knew that she wasn’t looking for a Master of Social Work program; she wanted a program that focused on the business component. I was her admissions representative right from the start of her application, so it has been gratifying to meet her face-to-face and experience her academic journey along with her.
Flexibility and Support Are Key to Students’ Success
Q: What advice would you give someone who was considering SAU’s online MBA program?
A: SAU’s online MBA program is all about flexibility. There are so many MBAs out there. How does SAU stand out? The unique features that make our degree more appealing are the support, the sense of community and the genuine caring of the professors. Even though students are studying online, class sizes are small and the professors have the opportunity to network and get to know the students personally. Spring Arbor University professors put the students’ well-being first.
Students Benefit From Faculty and Student Support Services Who Care
I saw the level of caring first hand when working with admissions and people on campus. Due to the sense of community, students never feel that the online and campus experiences are separate from one another. Those of us working in admissions we are” Spring Arbor University to these students. I represent SAU, I am proud of what they deliver, I stand behind their mission, their concept and the type of delivery that they are bringing to our students, academically and professionally.
Q: Can you give me a brief overview of what your work as a Student Admissions Representative involves?
A: My job is to find students who are expressing interest in the online MBA program and speak to them about their needs and goals. By really talking to them, providing guidance, explaining the program to them and assisting them with submission of their documents, we help students to prepare a strong file for admission to the university. Once they are admitted, we coach them and move them along to work with our Student Success Coaches who help them register, get financial documents in order and support them in this journey. I’ve been working in higher education admissions for years and I enjoy coaching and helping students. We really do care. It’s really about them and their community.