Kelly Predmore was nervous as she walked into her first MBA class in Rauch in 2015, but it wasn’t because of the subject matter. Kelly had already earned a bachelor’s degree from Lehigh’s College of Business in 2012 and her work as a financial analyst in the Controller’s Office kept her skills sharp.
“The MBA program requires a minimum of two years working experience and I had only finished my undergraduate degree three years before, so I was worried that I wouldn’t have a lot to offer to my classmates because I was so young,” she said.
Meanwhile, Deb Watlington, Business Manager for the College of Education, was jumping back into school after more than two decades in the work world. She was also anxious as she started the MBA program. “So much had changed since the last time I was in school,” she recalled. “I was nervous about the participation requirement, there was more group work, and some students were joining class via Zoom from all over the world.”
Both Kelly and Deb soon learned that the MBA program in Lehigh’s College of Business was the perfect choice for them. With a diverse range of classmates from here and abroad, they engaged in thoughtful dialogue and meaningful group projects that have already had an impact on their work.
“Because they’re so condensed and fast-paced, the Ventures classes (one-credit classes in entrepreneurship completed in a weekend) changed how I approach problems,” Kelly said. “Sometimes there’s no time to sit and analyze, which is my tendency. I learned how to make quick decisions based on limited information. You can use that skill in anything you do.”
Deb also took a number of entrepreneurship courses. She saw strong connections between the material and her work. “The College of Education is a graduate college, so we’re always developing and marketing new programs of study,” she explained. “As a business manager, the program helped me work on planning with my Dean, especially in the area of analyzing data and making projections and recommendations.”
Lehigh’s employee tuition benefit covers the cost of tuition for graduate education at the university across the spectrum subjects. Your course of study doesn’t need to align with your current position. All that matters is that you have a desire to pursue education and you are accepted into the program.
It Is Legitimate Cultural Inquiry
For Kevin Kirner, whose job involves keeping Zoellner Arts Center’s box office system running smoothly, a master’s degree in American Studies was an unexpected discovery. “The first time I decided to take an hour away from my office and go to a campus event, I found my future advisor and course of study,” he recalled. “I didn’t even realize there was an American Studies program at Lehigh, but I attended a discussion with a documentary filmmaker. [The Late Professor] John Pettegrew introduced the speaker and promoted American Studies. The moral of the story is: read your emails.”
Kevin started with the first course of the program which introduced the theory and methods of American Studies as a scholarly discipline. He was struck by how it differed from history, which he had minored in at Ithaca College.
“In the first course, we studied the Battle of Gettysburg,” he explained. “But we focused on the public perception and cultural impact of the event, and how opinions have shifted over time.”
On a field trip to Gettysburg, the class took a ghost tour. “There is sometimes a sense in academia that something that is fun or for the masses doesn’t have an intellectual history behind it,” Kevin said. “But Professor Pettegrew would say that precisely because it was fun or popular, it was worth investigating. It is legitimate cultural inquiry.”
Kevin’s undergraduate degree in filmmaking would soon factor into the direction his graduate studies took. A course that was part of Lehigh’s Mellon Digital Humanities grant introduced him to the concept of public-facing scholarship and the ways in which multinational corporations can impact issues at a local level. After conducting oral histories with local artists and musicians in one course, he found his thesis topic.
“I was interested in what local independent musicians were doing, and specifically a group called Tape Swap Radio, because it’s so different from what a large arts presenter like Zoellner does,” Kevin said. “I started talking to them about it because I didn’t understand it.”
After producing a short video on Tape Swap Radio as a capstone project, Kevin expanded it into a half-hour documentary that served as his master’s thesis. He also earned the certificate in documentary filmmaking offered in the College of Arts and Sciences. He says he wants to continue making films.
“I’m looking for my next ‘thing,’” he said.
It’s Not Just a Switch You Can Flip
Chris Harvey, a systems manager in International Affairs, says he didn’t think he was a natural student. As an undergraduate, he did what was needed to get by. When people asked him if he was planning to go to graduate school, he had a stock answer. “I’d say ‘Yeah, I’ll get a master’s when someone else pays for it.’”
After working at Lehigh for a year, Chris says push finally came to shove on that claim. He enrolled in the master’s program in teaching and learning technology (TLT) in the College of Education. “When I was looking through the degrees, I looked at the TLT path. If I were going to design a program for myself, this would be it. How could I not do it?”
Chris studied a wide range of technology during his coursework, including three-dimensional modeling and animation software, 360 degree cameras, and virtual reality tools. For him, some of this was review and some was new. All of it was fun hard work. “I never felt like I was drowning in school work,” he said. “I was just doing things that I thought were awesome to do.”
As a systems manager, Chris reviews and implements to technology, but he sees his role in International Affairs as a training role. His focus as he was working on his master’s degree was in helping to better teach his colleagues. For Chris, that especially meant learning, in his words, “how people tick.” He was seeking their underlying motivations, how to pull the levers that light up an intrinsic drive to learn.
“It’s not just a switch you can flip,” Chris reflected. “I want to help get excitement back into learning for adults.”
Educational Leadership For Positive Change
The master’s degree in educational leadership (EL) is a popular choice among Lehigh employees. While the program is geared toward the K-12 environment, faculty members are always willing to work with Lehigh staff to customize their project work around circumstances related to the work they do in their higher education careers.
Danielle Moyer loves planning events. It’s all she really ever wanted to do. Her degree from Temple is in tourism and hospitality management and she jumped into the field with gusto. At Lehigh, she has quickly moved up the ladder in Development and Alumni Relations where she is now Senior Director of Events.
“I love the adrenaline of the day of an event, getting everyone where they need to be doing what they’re supposed to do,” Danielle said. “The thing I love most about my job is creating a guest experience and getting to see it unfold. When an attendee gets out of an event what we hoped they would, we feel like we did what we came there to do.”
Danielle wasn’t sure graduate school was something she could take on with the odd hours of event work. But she decided she needed to take the leap. “I knew that it was part of our benefits. I just needed to make sure I had my supervisor’s support and my husband’s buy-in, especially since we planned to grow our family over the same period,” she said. “Of course they were both on board, and so I thought ‘well, nothing’s holding me back.’”
It took her a bit longer than she had planned because she decided to take some time off from coursework after her second child was born, but Danielle completed her program and graduated this year. Classes in diversity and leading change were highlights for her, as she saw direct connections to the Development and Alumni Relations team’s work to expand access and transform Lehigh.
“Learning how to be a positive change agent at Lehigh was one of the most important things I got out of my degree,” Danielle said. “From the very first class I knew this was why I was going for this degree in this program. Right away I was able to see how this would impact my job.”
Ashley Sciora graduated from Lehigh with a bachelor’s degree in political science in 2011. She then immediately dove into a master’s in the same subject. Looking back now, she knows it was a way of delaying entry into the working world at a time when she was grieving the loss of her father.
Following her master’s degree, Ashley took a VISTA/Americorps position with the United Way of the Greater Lehigh Valley. It was there that she had her first taste of working with community school partnerships, eventually working in an elementary school building. “After a couple of years, I started talking with George White, which I think everyone in this field does at some point. He asked me what I thought my next step was and whether I thought I needed a credential to match that role.”
Unlike our other graduates this year, Ashley started the educational leadership degree program before she was a staff member at Lehigh. Soon after starting the program, however, the Center for Community Engagement was hiring an assistant director. Ashley got the job.
Ashley is responsible for the 9-12 grade side of the pipeline, including the High School Scholars Program and the STAR Program. The goal is to support students Lehigh first gets involved with at Donegan Elementary and Broughal Middle School.
Ashley’s work on re-designing the STAR program emerged from the program’s Data-Based Decision Making course. “It’s hard for me to even imagine doing this work without having gone through the EL program now,” she said. “It helps translate what’s happening here in the Center’s work to what is happening in the school buildings. Having a cohort of fellow graduate students who are teachers and administrators allowed me to bounce ideas off of people with direct experience.”
Her passion for the work comes in large part from her own experiences. “I was very much shaped by people who saw something in me they thought was worth propelling and supporting,” Ashley said. “Getting to encourage our high school students to have autonomy and self-advocacy, to be the captain of their own adventure – I like feeling that I had a part in that.”
Whether their studies connected to their work or not, every staff graduate gains experiences, knowledge and skills that enrich their lives. As Danielle explains it, “It’s something I’ll carry with me no matter where my career takes me. It becomes part of who you are.”