How Three UVA Professionals Are Strengthening Their Careers with McIntire’s M.S. in MIT Program

January 11, 2018
UVA professionals in MSMIT

Having earned a strong reputation for its real-world relevance, McIntire’s M.S. in the Management of Information Technology Program bridges the knowledge gap that often exists between managers and information technology professionals. Students earning the innovative executive-format master’s degree gain vital, strategic knowledge from the Program’s insightful faculty and esteemed guest speakers—and also from each other, thanks to hundreds of years of collective experience that they bring with them to class.

Because of the highly relevant skills the coursework develops, the Program, which offers sections in both Charlottesville and Northern Virginia, attracts students from across industries who are interested in blending IT and management knowledge to create business value for their companies—and that group includes professionals working here at UVA.

We spoke with three current students, whose varied backgrounds show the breadth of the M.S. in MIT Program’s appeal: University Office of Organizational Excellence Project Associate Emily Patrick (A&S ’10, M.S. in MIT ’18), McIntire’s own Help Desk Manager, Eric Rzeszut (M.S. in MIT ’18), and Air Force ROTC Captain Chris Ulman (M.S. in MIT ’18).

Each entered the Program with widely different talents and work histories, but all of them found that pursuing this unique master’s degree provides them with a clear avenue for expanding on their skillset and learning how to think more strategically in their current positions. No less important, the carefully planned schedule of the 12-month Program gives them the flexibility to maintain a manageable work-life balance.

Diverse Backgrounds and Goals: One Convenient Program
“When I started looking at professional degree programs that I could do while still working, I came across McIntire’s M.S. in MIT and initially dismissed it because again I didn’t see myself as having an IT role or background,” said Patrick, who returned to UVA after working in project management focusing on public health.

Despite her original hesitation, some astute words from a Program alum jolted her into action. “This past spring, I came across a LinkedIn post from an M.S. in MIT alum that really clicked for me: Her experience spoke to how important it is for IT to deliver business value and that the focus of the Program is to understand that it comes from business strategy,” she said. “At the same time, I also realized how I had been doing IT-influenced work all along and really wished I actually had a better background in it. That week, when I reached out to the admissions coordinator, there happened to be a class visit opportunity, and the rest is history.”

Newfound proximity to McIntire served as the impetus for Ulman. When the Air Force assigned the ROTC Captain to UVA, he decided that he couldn’t pass up the opportunity to continue his education at a school “with such a prestigious reputation.” Initially drawn to enroll because of the Program’s ability to “deliver strategic value for organizations through information technology,” which Ulman said is critical in his specific career path, the convenience of the M.S. in MIT’s schedule sealed the deal. The class meeting calendar afforded the new dad the time he required since he and his wife, Noelle, welcomed their first child in September 2017.

But it was the overall fit of what the curriculum offered that worked for Ulman’s long-term goals. “My academic and professional career has focused on business and management, and I wanted to build on that foundation,” he said. “The topics covered in M.S. in MIT are particularly applicable to my work as an Air Force program manager and will help me in the future.”

A McIntire tech guru, Rzeszut, had brushes with the curriculum (“sitting in for a few minutes on class sessions”), the faculty, and current and former students in both locations. “I liked what I saw,” he said. “The M.S. in MIT seemed perfectly designed for someone like me—an IT professional with nearly 20 years of experience in the field.”

Like his classmates, Rzeszut also found the Program’s convenient schedule to be an influencing factor: “Having the chance to complete a master’s degree from a world-class School and University in one year while maintaining full-time employment is a huge plus.”

The Value of a Shared Learning Experience
Patrick insisted that her classmates’ experience contributes to the class substantially. Ulman concurs: “The instructors in the Program are outstanding, but I never expected to learn as much as I have from my classmates—and much more than I expected in just four months.” Though Ulman’s military experience sets him apart from many of his peers, his time spent managing organizations within the Armed Forces and working in acquisitions help inform his contributions to class discussion; yet it’s the understanding that his fellow students bring that make the exchange of information especially beneficial.

“My experience is in a non-technical capacity, so I appreciate having peers who have a technical background,” he said. “I can leverage their knowledge and experience to better understand those types of concepts taught in the class. There are also many companies represented among the students, which provides a great opportunity to learn best practices from them.”

Rzeszut added that there have almost been too many such moments to mention. “The Program prides itself on the interaction between students and the learning opportunities that come from your classmates. It’s really, incredibly true,” Rzeszut said. “No matter what the topic of discussion is during class, there are several people with relevant ‘war stories’ to share. In fact, there are so many insightful ones that the faculty often have to cut the discussion short to keep us on schedule!”

Diverse participants make for an extraordinary learning environment. “In each of the four modules, we’re matched up with teammates to complete a group project. Learning from others in the first two modules has been fascinating,” Rzeszut said. “I’ve worked with a completely different set of students each time, and everyone brings something different to the table.”

Student interaction is a real boon that informs every meeting—even outside of class interaction. “In just about every break and meal, I’m learning something from a classmate,” Patrick said.

That sharing of viewpoints proved to be instrumental in early December at the conclusion of Module 2, when the three students found themselves on the same team. “For our project retrospective, we took a look at UVA’s implementation of two-step login using the Duo app, and how that enhanced the University’s cybersecurity protection,” Rzeszut said. “The five of us really worked well together, and I felt that Emily, Chris and I brought our unique UVA perspectives to the project.”

Instant Upgrades
Halfway through the degree coursework, each insisted that the Program is already informing how they go about their jobs here on Grounds.

“Our office tends to focus on process improvements, but knowing the interplay, options, and role that technology plays is really important,” Patrick said. “Most of the projects we focus on in the Organizational Excellence office have a technology component embedded in them. One of the more important and deceivingly simple models we refer to is the business triangle of considering ‘people-process-technology.’ Thankfully, I can bring experience to bear about the people and process from my work at the University, and learning more about the role of technology in the classroom has really enriched my overall understanding.”

Ulman said that he has widened his scope, having been given “a foundational understanding of IT that has helped significantly.” The practical application was immediate: “I learned so much in the first module that I’ve taken back to my organization.”

He’s also already improved on his so-called soft skills. “Professor Lynn Hamilton taught a great lesson on managerial communication that has already transformed the way I write and speak within my organization. It is critical for managers to communicate efficiently and effectively, and this lesson equipped me with new planning and organizing methods that I never heard previously,” Ulman said.

The lesson also resonated with Rzeszut: “Lynn gave us some great instruction on improving our skills in emails, memos, and presentations. Communication education is something that could easily be overlooked as part of an IT management curriculum, but I’m very pleased that McIntire includes it.”

But since Rzeszut picked up “the vast majority” of his career training on the job, he notes that “being able to learn management skills specific to the IT industry has been outstanding. I’ve already applied many into my daily work, and the Program is less than 50 percent complete!”

Patrick credits the professors for delivering top-notch instruction and keeping the coursework on the cutting edge. “What I really appreciate is that faculty are open to getting our feedback and innovating the class every year to make sure that it stays relevant for the changing technology landscape.”

Rzeszut said these innovations were clear from the first module when Program Director Stefano Grazioli taught an expanded section about bitcoin and blockchain technologies, two trending subjects that have been dominating the current news cycle. “Stefano works very hard to keep the Program dynamic and fresh, and welcomes input from previous students, based on their industry experience.”

Future Success
Though the M.S. in MIT Program is already helping develop their careers, how do the three see it impacting them moving forward?

“I expect the degree to ‘get me a seat at the table,’ as the faculty often say,” Rzeszut said. “Its broad curriculum gives graduates fluency in multiple disciplines related to IT management: accounting, network security, big data, project management, and more. I expect the education and experience I’m gaining in this program to pay dividends down the road, as I move into positions of greater responsibility. I also expect to maintain contact with an intelligent, experienced, and knowledgeable group of friends from the M.S. in MIT Class of 2018. I’ve seen how close members of previous classes remain with each other, and I hope and expect our class will do the same.”

Reflecting on his future objectives, Ulman said, “I plan to continue my Air Force career in acquisitions. The M.S. in MIT program equips me with new tools and techniques that I can bring to the programs I manage, which will ultimately make me a better Program Manager.”

Patrick believes that the Program has made her conversant and informed when it comes to IT issues. “The big takeaway for me is that M.S. in MIT is a bit like an M.B.A. that focuses on technology integration,” she explained. “A good way to think about it is raising IT out of the mindset that says, ‘This is just a department,’ to seeing it as a skill that everyone should have and be expected to possess as a core competency, because ultimately, understanding its integration greatly contributes business value.”