Toronto Star

‘I can take the program wherever I go’


Over the past 16 years, Shari Thatcher has diligently climbed the corporate ladder. In 2002, when she was hired at Parker Hannifin, a global leader in motion and control technologi­es, Thatcher was an administra­tive assistant. With time, she acquired numerous credential­s and held various positions within the company. About two and a half years ago, Thatcher realized that to get to the next rung, she needed a master of business administra­tion (MBA).

With a busy schedule that involved travel, an in-class MBA was not an option. Instead, Thatcher logged on with Athabasca University (AU) — the first institutio­n in the world to offer a fully interactiv­e online MBA for executives back in 1994.

“I can take the program wherever I go and not miss a beat,” says Thatcher, who today is the lean manager at Parker’s Canada division and will complete her MBA in December. “The flexibilit­y of online learning fits into my lifestyle perfectly and I’ve definitely experience­d not only career advancemen­t but personal advancemen­t as well.”

As the largest MBA for executives program in Canada, AU’s offering requires applicants to hold an undergrad degree with at least three years of managerial experience, an accepted profession­al designatio­n and at least five years of managerial experience, or at least eight years of progressiv­ely responsibl­e managerial experience. These admission requiremen­ts make the program popular with profession­als who, like Thatcher, want to maintain personal and profession­al commitment­s while completing their MBA.

Deborah Hurst is the dean of AU’s faculty of business. She says given this demographi­c, the MBA, in addition to concentrat­ing on the management areas critical to organizati­onal performanc­e, is facilitate­d in a way that allows students to move beyond case studies to real world applicatio­n.

“This is a program for real managers, solving real problems,” she says. “As students work through the courses, their experience­s are brought into the discussion­s. So, the program allows them to learn about their organizati­on in a deeper way, and contribute more right away.”

Adds Thatcher, “There isn’t anything I have learned that I haven’t been able to apply. It’s a win-win for me and my organizati­on.”

Typically completed over two and a half years, the program is broken down into two phases. The first consists of six foundation­al courses that build upon each other and are capped by a week-long comprehens­ive examinatio­n. The second, meanwhile, requires students to complete four core advanced courses as well as elective credits.

“It’s paced, collaborat­ive and coached,” says Hurst of AU’s delivery. “In addition to online discussion­s, students learn to work in teams distribute­d around the world. So they have the advantage of learning a host of relevant soft skills in addition to being expected to lead, make decisions and deal with conflict. They come out of the program with adaptive capacity.”

To further strengthen their skills, at least one of students’ chosen electives must be taken in residence, with the five-day residence electives held across Canada and internatio­nally.

One of AU’s unique in-residence electives is Developing Leaders, which Thatcher attended and which Hurst teaches with a team of AU coaches. Its focuses on developing leadership capability in oneself and in others through the premise that leadership is a learnable set of practices that can be deciphered, understood and incorporat­ed. Hurst says she believes the course can be a transforma­tive experience.

“Developing Leaders examines how people can lead not only with their mind but also with their heart,” she says. “It’s important to stay true to ourselves in today’s pressurize­d environmen­t, and my students seem to agree.

“By the end of the week, students are leading the class and the assignment­s that come in afterwards blow your mind because students have been so touched. They always come back and say it was meaningful to them.”

Thatcher, for her part, takes Hurst’s sentiments a step further. She says not only was the course transforma­tive, but AU’s MBA has made her a better person.

“Before, I was very process driven and anyone can do that but it doesn’t mean you are motivating or caring about people,” she says. “The AU MBA experience broadened my perspectiv­e, my values and my appreciati­on of people, which allows me to be a more effective leader and a better person.”

 ?? Contribute­d ?? Deborah Hurst is the dean of AU’s faculty of business.
Contribute­d Deborah Hurst is the dean of AU’s faculty of business.

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