Humanities Degree Helps with Business Studies, Job Search

Roxanne Biggar grew up in Bonne Terre, a small town in Southeastern Missouri.  In 2008, she received a bachelor’s of arts degree in history from Washington University in St. Louis, where she also minored in art history.  She graduated from the Crosby MBA program in May 2014 with a concentration in management.  While in the program, Mrs. Biggar was the Intramural Chair of MBAA as well as a Crosby Ambassador and member of the Association of Trulaske Businesswomen, for which she designed the logo.  She now works in Kansas City as a pricing manager at YRC Freight.

A cornerstone of my interview preparation process involves trying to anticipate the questions an interviewer might ask.  I had an advantage over many of my friends because I knew there was one question I would get every time, “I see you majored in history, why?”  I loved this question.

Roxanne Biggar graduated from the program in May 2014 and now works at YRC Freight in Kansas City.

Historical events, places, and people always fascinated me, and it seemed only natural for me to pursue a degree in that field.  But when I declared that major my sophomore year, I had no idea just how valuable what I learned would become.  Although I learned a lot about history, the most valuable lessons did not come from texts or lectures.

During the four years I worked after college, I realized I was looking at business problems the same way I had tackled history papers, using analytical skills to sort through piles of documents to separate the worthless data from the information that would help earn an A — or win a bid.  I could think critically, identifying problems and synthesizing information relevant to solving them.  Incredibly, my history degree made me better at doing business.

I’d always liked business.  I made and sold little sleeping bags for Beanie Babies — which were the hot toy for grade-schoolers — at craft fairs in fifth grade.  I convinced my mom to go into business with me part-time after I graduated from college.  We still
design and sell T-shirts to help promote educational and community groups in my
hometown.  And when my aunt decided to expand her gardening business, I created her record-keeping and invoicing system, designed her logo, and made T-shirts for her to wear at farmers’ markets and worksites.

Still, I never thought about pursuing business academically.

Then, after four years at the same desk, I realized I needed something different.  I liked my work but couldn’t find a similar job with my credentials.  I considered working part time on an MBA but quickly realized that wouldn’t work because every evening program I explored felt very procedural.  These programs missed the academic aspect I sought.

Then I found the Crosby MBA program.

There were technical classes, but there were theory classes, too.  It sounded perfect.  I wasn’t confident I could succeed pursing an MBA full time, but I arranged a visit anyway.  I spoke with the staff about my non-traditional background.  The admissions adviser assured me that it would be to my benefit because of my research and writing skills.  These would also benefit the program because I would bring a new perspective to discussions and group projects.

She was right.  When we discussed a Harvard Business School case in class, I could bring up points and connections others had missed because I saw things differently.  Whenever I did a company valuation for finance classes, I dug into the firm’s history to help me contextualize its place in the global marketplace.

Two years after that first meeting, I prepared to start my final semester and was deep
into the job hunt.  Every interviewer asked me about my non-business undergraduate degree, and I proudly spoke about how the lessons of my undergraduate studies had enhanced my experience in the business program and bolstered my credentials.  Still, few seemed to buy it.

Then, I had a lunch interview with a Crosby MBA alumnus who also had earned an undergraduate degree in a non-business field.  During the meal we talked about how valuable such studies had been to our current pursuits.

I was refreshed and energized to see that someone else understood, and it helped that he offered me a job a few weeks later.  I accepted and now work as a pricing manager at YRC in Kansas City, where I apply the skills I learned in the humanities and the MBA program.

Consulting Students Estimate Economic Impact of MU Athletics

Students Parker Leppien and Heather Webster present the findings of their consulting group.

Crosby MBA students in Gregg Martin’s consulting class work on teams to analyze situations confronting real-world organizations.  Teams have worked with MU’s Athletic Department over the years, building and developing a model to estimate the effect of the university’s sports programs on Columbia’s economy.  Recently the team from the Spring 2014 semester presented its findings.

The stakes were higher for Crosby MBA students Parker Leppien and Heather Webster this fall than they were for a typical presentation.

Others in Gregg Martin’s consulting class field questions from a few managers in quiet conference rooms.  At a news conference, Leppien and Webster faced an audience eager to hear the results of their team’s semester-long project.  They had worked on a model to estimate the economic impact of the university’s Athletic Department, assessing the effect construction projects and sales of Tiger gear have on the city.

Their findings were big.  The total impact of the MU Athletic Department approaches $250 million, driven in large part by fans attending home games.  Restaurant and hotel bills and ticket sales accounted for about $140 million of the team’s estimate for 2013, which was up about $25 million from the previous year.

“It was fun being on the other side of the podium for something like this,” said Leppien, a broadcast journalist whose graduate assistantship involved covering sports and producing videos for the Athletic Department.

Leppien said he had seen internally how the department operates and who it helps.  He was eager to undertake this project to “see how it impacted the external community.”

He said it was to prepare for opportunities like this that prompted him to pursue an MBA.  Leppien said he has always been comfortable speaking before people — or cameras.  That, now coupled with his business knowledge, helps him clearly and confidently present information to decision makers.

While Leppien expanded an existing skill set, Webster, a part-time student who works as an optometrist, said the project helped her develop a completely new one.  She said analyzing survey results and conducting personal interviews was not something she had done before.  More than that, though, she said she appreciated the personal dimension of the qualitative component of the research.

“The numbers are just the numbers,” Webster said.  “How they impact people was the bigger part for me.”

Leppien said getting the construction companies to respond proved challenging because answering their questions was not high on their long to-do lists.  Once they got the results, though, Leppien and Webster said they were enlightening.

“It was really cool to see how all of these construction projects really made a difference in the lives of fellow Missourians,” Leppien said.

Webster, who has family members who work in construction, said having a project like the stadium renovations that is “so big for so long” can make such a difference in their lives.  According to Webster, supervisors said morale increased, and they saw that employees were more invested in their work.

“People told me that their work (on the stadium) gave them a spot in the middle class,” Webster said.  “They wants their kids, and their grandkids, to come (to MU).”

Beyond MU, Leppien said the Chamber of Commerce will use the information for its initiatives and that MU’s Chancellor R. Bowen Loftin would like to do a similar project to assess the economic impact of MU as a whole.  Leppien also said Director of Athletics Mike Alden would “love” to see the model used at other schools within the Southeastern Conference.

Parker Leppien graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2011 with a degree in broadcast journalism and from the Crosby MBA program in May 2014.  He now works for the MU Athletic Department, producing segments for Mizzou Network.

Heather Webster graduates from the program in December 2014, completing an MBA while attending classes part time and running the optometry practice In Vision Eye Care Center.

The team also included Ben Becker, Lauren Himmelberg, Ryan Leer, Nathan McCormick, and Aaron Senne.  Senne appeared on Tiger Talk to discuss the findings.

Student Discusses How Program Supports Emerging Women in Business

Krissy Tripp is in her first year at the Crosby MBA program.  Her concentration is marketing analytics.  She graduated from the Missouri School of Journalism in 2011 with a degree in Strategic Communication.

Choosing to get an MBA as a young female can be daunting.  When I decided to apply to the Crosby MBA program, I was newly engaged and working as the digital projects coordinator for a newspaper group trying to break into the digital marketing business.  I knew I had to make a change when one of my favorite colleagues launched The Riveter.  I wanted my life to be more than a 9 to 5 with a house in the suburbs, and this was exactly the inspiring kick in the derriere I needed to do something about it.

Krissy Tripp worked with other students to navigate the Alpine Tower, a high ropes course of MU's Venture Out.

I heard the usual questions from friends and family that most women hear:

  • You’ll be 26 by the time you graduate.  When are you going to have kids?
  • What exactly do you want to do with an MBA?
  • What does (your fiancé) think?

I also heard a few that surprised me:

  • Do you really want to go into management?  You’re pretty – you could do so well in sales if you tried.
  • You’ve taken a long time to figure out what you want to do with your life, but I’m sure you’ll get there.
  • I know you’re competitive, but you’ll probably have to get used to losing more often when you’re competing against MBAs.

It’s not that anyone truly didn’t have my best interests at heart — the most surprising ones came from close family and friends.

When I talk to other women in the program, they’ve had similar experiences.  Just over a third of all MBAs earned in the U.S. in 2013 were earned by women.  While this number might be disheartening, the number of female MBAs is slowly rising.

According to the study Women and the MBA: Gateway to Opportunity, women who receive an MBA are highly satisfied with their programs and career opportunities, but many don’t want to pursue the degree in the first place.  Reasons cited vary, including lack of female role models (56 percent), incompatibility of careers in business with work/life balance (47 percent), lack of confidence in math skills (45 percent), and a lack of encouragement by employers (42 percent).

When taking the path less traveled, it’s important to surround yourself with others who get it.  One of the best pieces of advice I received came unsolicited from a retired female executive while discussing Lean In.  She said, “It’s not that you can’t have it all.  I got to have a career and a family.  The trick is knowing where to lean in, and when.”

I can say with confidence that the faculty and staff at the Crosby MBA program understand that.

When I was researching programs, I saw that the Trulaske College of Business is run by Dean Joan Gabel.  Only about 18 percent of all AACSB-accredited business schools have female deans, and the Trulaske College of Business is one of them.  Gabel has achieved much during her short tenure, such as being appointed to the AACSB Board of Directors, initiating the SEC Case Competition, and launching the execMBA program.  Serving as a mentor and role model for young female professionals joins that list of accomplishments.

I was also impressed by the Association of Trulaske Businesswomen (ATB), an organization that focuses on women in business.  Its dedication to the advancement of women as corporate leaders, executives, and entrepreneurs that enrich the workforce adds diversity to the Crosby MBA program.

However, it’s neither Dean Gabel nor the ATB that makes me confident the Crosby MBA program was the right choice for me.  It’s the overall culture.  The faculty and staff encouraged an atmosphere of teamwork and camaraderie right away.  I entered this program assuming I wouldn’t stack up to my classmates, that I was student 70 of 70 the admissions team had let in.  But by the time orientation was over, I was much more self-assured.

Sure, business school is competitive, and any MBA program should foster ambition and innovation among its students, but the Crosby MBA program celebrates the individual strengths of each and every student.

I know that I will leave this program better than I entered.  I know that I will leave with great business contacts.  Most importantly, I know that I will leave feeling sure that I’ve found the right career path.