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Creating USC’s Online MBA: Interview with Academic Director Miriam Burgos

As we recently explored, culture plays a vital role in creating a top-ranked online MBA program and for developing key leadership skills modern businesses need. An MBA program’s culture helps to nurture the softer skills that are harder to teach directly. More importantly, these skills are increasingly in demand because expectations on business leaders are higher than ever, and the problems they face are complex.

While our previous article focused on culture in MBAs, Miriam Burgos, Professor and Academic Director for the USC Online MBA, shared insight into the many other elements that go into creating a business education program that prepares students for the challenges they’ll face in a deeply connected and ever-evolving world.

Read our full interview below for a look into the decisions and philosophy that has helped make our OMBA a top-ranked online MBA program in the United States.


Q: What decisions and philosophy drove the design of the program?

A: Long before our Online MBA Program was launched, USC Marshall assembled a task force of top faculty members and administrators whose vision was to develop an MBA program for 21st-century working professionals.

The philosophy of this task force was to leverage the flexibility of virtual-collaboration tools to deliver a world-class curriculum combined with the networking opportunities that students expect from a top MBA Program.

Our program offers students a rigorous academic experience combined with unique opportunities to network with other successful professionals via our Alumni network, our year-round Speaker Series which features industry leaders, and a variety of formal and informal opportunities to network with fellow MBA students.


Q: Has this philosophy changed?

A: Our original vision and philosophy have not changed since the program’s inception. Our alumni consistently come back to us to share their stories, and they often tell us that the format of our virtual classrooms and our unique curriculum have been a great foundation for their continued career success. Our curriculum is updated regularly, but the philosophy that drove the original design of our program has not changed.


Q: How does it continue to impact the program?

A: We consistently update our curriculum by introducing new virtual collaboration tools and experiences for our students. Our original philosophy continues to drive these changes as our program grows and evolves over time.


Q: Has there been anything in the OMBA that surprised you? Something that worked better than you thought it would? Student accomplishments?

A: We were very pleasantly surprised when students started telling us that in many ways, they felt more “connected” to their online classmates than they did to their residential classmates from their undergraduate days. They cited several reasons for this: 1) The various team-based projects that our faculty have designed for our students; 2) The numerous tools that we offer our students so they can collaborate virtually; 3) the constantly-open lines of communication within and across cohorts. In fact, five of our recent alumni grew so close during the program that they are now starting a business together.


Q: What excited you about this program when it first launched and what continues to excite you today?

A: The prospect of growing the USC Marshall community across state borders (and in many cases across international borders!) is one of the many aspects of this program that excited me when we first launched it. Our continuing, positive impact on the career trajectory of so many successful professionals keeps everything exciting!


Q: Is there a distinguishable culture within the OMBA’s cohorts?

A: Each OMBA cohort is very united. The students within each cohort are always willing to help each other succeed. Each student brings certain strengths and areas of expertise to their cohort, and they leverage those strengths to help their fellow classmates succeed. And although each cohort has its own, unique personality, the camaraderie within each cohort has been a common theme since the program’s inception.


Q:How would you describe the typical culture that tends to develop?

A: Typically, each cohort develops a culture of collaboration and mutual support. The members form very close bonds with one another, and they become deeply committed to one another’s success. For the faculty, watching this culture evolve is a wonderful experience.


Q: What qualities are you hoping to develop in students who successfully complete the program?

A: We want our alumni to make ethical, data-driven decisions when leading their respective organizations. To that end, we provide them with learning experiences that hone their analytical skills and prepare them to be ethical business leaders as they move onward and upward in their careers. We also aim to provide learning experiences that prepare our students to think about their careers in a global context, and to appreciate cultural differences across international borders.


Q: How does this align with the challenges of modern businesses?

A: In an increasingly connected world, shareholders and other stakeholders expect business leaders to be effective across international borders. They expect modern business leaders to successfully leverage the abundance of data that are available in every industry. They also expect company leaders to behave ethically, communicate successfully with their teams, and lead by example. Our students will hone all of these skillsets via the OMBA curriculum, which aligns perfectly with the needs of modern businesses.

One of the reasons for this alignment is the fact that the task force that helped launch OMBA consulted extensively with external business leaders to better understand the challenges that modern companies face. We then made sure that the skillsets needed to meet these challenges were thoughtfully and carefully built into our curriculum.


Q:How does this prepare graduates for success in the future of business?

A: Our OMBA alumni come out of our program ready to succeed in their future careers, and ready to take on the challenges of an increasingly connected and ever-evolving business world.


Q: What do graduates get from USC’s OMBA that they can’t get anywhere else?

  • A rigorous curriculum taught by experts in each field.
  • Valuable experiential learning opportunities delivered via cutting-edge, virtual collaboration tools.
  • Life-long, worldwide access to the Trojan Network.
  • A residential experience that kicks off the program with valuable opportunities for the students to form bonds with their classmates.
  • Opportunities to form professional relationships with highly accessible faculty who are always excited to connect with students.

Q: Where do you see the future of business education going? What will be critical for top-tier programs in five years? In ten?

A: Business education will need to become increasingly focused on soft skills while continuing to build hard skills like data analysis and strategic thinking. Shareholders and other stakeholders expect modern business leaders to successfully leverage the abundance of data available in every industry. They also expect company leaders to behave ethically, communicate successfully with their teams, and lead by example. This is a unique skill that is built into several parts of the OMBA curriculum.

Within the next five years—and even sooner—top MBA programs will also need to increase their focus on data-driven, digital/mobile marketing. Consumers expect an increasingly personalized experience when they shop for everything from razors, to groceries, to clothing. The business world will therefore require leaders who understand how to successfully utilize data to create this personalized experience, so top-tier MBA programs will have to provide learning opportunities that help students develop this skillset.

As the members of Generation Z come of age and acquire more buying power over the next ten years, top MBA programs will have to ensure that graduates are comfortable with certain types of marketing research techniques, such as digital marketing analytics and ethnographic marketing research—both of which are already built into the USC’s OMBA curriculum.


Q: How does the online format uniquely prepare students for the future of business?

A: By collaborating remotely with one another and with faculty members, our OMBA students develop the skills to lead organizations that may not be co-located in a single city. This experience prepares our students to lead the multi-national corporations of the future, and it prepares them to launch and run businesses that are not limited by a physical location.


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