Part-Time MBA Yields Full-Time Benefits for Kimberly Hess -
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Part-Time MBA Can Yield Full-Time Benefits

Kimberly Hess, MBALike many kids her age, Kimberly Hess got bombarded with the music and publicity coverage of Michael Jackson when his Thriller album was released. Unlike the other 10-year-olds, though, Hess didn't swoon or don one glove. Rather, she converted her observations of the pop-culture phenomenon into an investment. Hess already knew something about money and investing from visiting the bank and the broker with her mother and from her mother's careful lessons about budgeting "as a way to achieve goals, create more choices or hedge against the unexpected," as she recalls.

Hess says her mother got wind that LJN Toys was going to manufacture a Michael Jackson doll and since the kids at Hess' school were all ga-ga over Jackson, Hess decided to buy some LJN stock in 1984.

"It was not a large number of shares, but the shares were mine and I took an interest in the company and its products," Hess says. "This made business very interesting and exciting."

She liked that her money was worth as much in the market as anybody else's. Stock market investing, she says, "had an equalizing effect: I could do what boys or men could do because the market wasn't restricted to males' money and ideas. My money was the same as theirs, and I could earn money from my own decisions. It was empowering."

Hess decided she would pursue a career in business, including earning an MBA. First, she studied economics at Smith College in Northampton, Mass. After graduation she went to work at an insurance company, an industry that doesn't have a clear path of advancement for employees who earn an MBA.

"It might be a preference," she says, for some positions, but the degree is not a prerequisite or an admission ticket to a particular job. Also, a funny thing happened when she settled into her career.

"I found out that I really loved working, I loved working more than I enjoyed being a student."

Enlisting employer support for a part-time MBA

Still the MBA dream lived on. The solution for her was enrolling in a part-time MBA program at Rutgers Business School. Her company would pay many of the tuition costs and she'd be able to continue working full time while gradually completing the degree. She found the coursework and her employment nested well.

"I could bring so much of my work into discussions and case study analysis," she says, and what she learned in the classroom she easily parlayed into her work life. Also, she discovered that being a part-time MBA student didn't mean giving up some of the perks of student life, such as study abroad. Rutgers offered part-time MBA students an intense two-week course on European mergers and acquisitions at the École Supérieure de Commerce et de Management in Tours, France. She networked with other part-time MBA students who came from around the United States and she took away a useful body of knowledge that "created some opportunities within my company for other projects that I got involved with afterwards."

For those who choose, as she did, to go part-time and continue working, she says to keep your manager in the loop so that you and the company can both benefit from what you're learning. But she adds that the degree has various applications.

An MBA 'can open doors outside of business'

When Hess sought involvement with the board of a nonprofit agency, she discovered that the other board members welcomed her business background. She also discovered that women with MBAs have much to learn from each other. She created a virtual networking group for Smith alumnae with MBAs, and it connected a diverse group of women working in six different countries. The 2008 launch of the group spurred the Smith alumnae office to sponsor a conference on women in business during the thick of the recession, in the spring of 2009. Hess chaired the conference.

"It was helpful to people because we talked about how you define success and how you can deal with failure that you might not have brought on yourself, and bounce back."

Hess has been promoted within her company since completing her MBA and says that although the degree was not required for advancement, it has helped her professionally. She recommends that anyone considering the degree "look into what kind of career they are planning to have after business school. They may want to consider full-time and part-time programs." One particular aspect to consider, she advises, is that a big part of the graduate school experience is networking.

"So you want to go to a school that offers lots of opportunities to make those connections."