While restoring a 2000 Volkswagen GTI is just a hobby for Chris Baum, it represents the lifestyle he has been able to maintain while returning to graduate school.
"I still get out and golf, go for a run here and there, spend time with the family, and even work on my project car," he said. "Graduate school really hasn't shaken up my whole entire world. It's a simple change to the schedule and staying committed to it, and it's worked out great."
Baum enrolled in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) with a Concentration in General Management online program at the University of Wisconsin-Parkside (UW-Parkside) in just its second year of existence. He was waiting for an affordable program like this one to roll out.
He felt an advanced degree was necessary to grow within the medical device company where he works as a senior accountant. But in years past, Baum couldn't find the justification for the expense.
"I was concerned about the return on investment until I found a program that was affordable," he said. "UW-Parkside's MBA program just made sense."
Baum was no stranger to UW-Parkside as he had completed some of his undergrad prerequisites there before graduating from Illinois State University with his Bachelor of Business Administration in finance.
When researching MBA programs online, he liked the idea of returning to UW-Parkside since he was familiar with the school and regarded the university professors highly.
"That's where I started digging into it a little bit more, and I was really pleased to see that their 100% online [program] carried the same AACSB accreditation as their in-person program," he said. "I wanted to make sure if I was going to spend two or three years doing my graduate degree that it carried some weight. I didn't want to just get it from anywhere."
100% Pleased With 100% Online
While Baum lives just 30 minutes from the UW-Parkside campus, the flexibility of the online format ultimately was a driving factor.
"Obviously, maintaining the job was a hundred percent necessary," he said. "On top of that, I'm married and have a 6-year-old daughter, so between work and family life, there's not a whole lot more time left for other things.
"I knew adjusting to online learning was going to be a challenge, but thankfully with a firm commitment to it, it's worked out really well."
Now, Baum has created a school schedule that suits him and allows him to complete his work on time.
"I'm able to do an hour at lunch every day," he said. "And then when my daughter goes to sleep at night, I spend an hour to an hour and a half on coursework."
Baum has elected to take one course at a time. His advisor predicted that each course would require about 10 hours of classwork per week, which has been spot on.
In addition, Baum appreciates being able to apply what he learns in class to his workplace. He has learned how to streamline processes, leverage various technologies, improve efficiencies, and collaborate more effectively.
Sacrifices Worth Making
Friends and family are all excited for Baum, and his wife and daughter have been supportive despite getting a little less time with him.
"I do have to spend some time at night with schoolwork, but we're still able to do everything we used to do, watch our shows and spend quality time together," he said. "It's definitely been a little change, but they're excited for me, and they think it's a really good decision."
Baum has always known he would pursue a job one day that involved math. He enjoys working with people, too.
"My first year in college, I thought about majoring in engineering, and then I realized I didn't like that kind of math," he said. "I took a step back and tried to rethink what else could I do with numbers, and that's where business and finance stuck out.
"In the business world, there's a lot more human interaction, and I like that piece of it. I like working on teams and problem-solving."
Baum has considered pursuing his CPA, but right now, finishing his online MBA and seeking a promotion to manager within his company are his top priorities. He knows that a work-life balance is crucial as his career unfolds.
Baum is shocked at the amount he has learned in his short time in the program.
"All these courses are only seven weeks, and when you see the syllabus, you think, ‘There's absolutely no way we're going to touch on all this before the seven weeks are over'. And every single time we've touched on every single piece that they set out for us, so it's pretty impressive."
An unexpected benefit of doing the MBA coursework has been the improvement in Baum's writing skills. He didn't think about all of the papers he would be writing and discussion boards he would be posting on, but the program has made him a better communicator.
"With a little bit of constructive feedback from the professors, I was able to start writing on a different level," he said. "And I've been able to use that in emails and at work, just being more concise and organized with my thoughts.
"I came in thinking I knew a lot, and it turns out that there is a lot more to learn. These courses leverage undergrad and your current working environments, and then they push you a step further."
With eight courses left, Baum is anxious to continue to grow his knowledge and skills. He hopes to participate in the graduation ceremony in the summer of 2022.
"If the timing works out, I'd love to walk because I think it would be a big moment. I was the first kid in my immediate family to graduate with my undergrad and would be the first with my advanced degree, so that would be pretty cool to do.
"I would definitely recommend this online program, especially for someone in my situation with a family and full-time job. If you're a finance guy like myself, you cannot beat the cost. For a school system like University of Wisconsin to move in this direction and offer accredited online programming is beneficial on so many levels."
Learn more about the UW-Parkside MBA with a Concentration in General Management online program.
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