CourseCompare sat down with Captain Alexander Landry of the Canadian Armed Forces to learn about a “day in the life” of an online MBA student deployed halfway around the world.
Alexander Landry had already started his MBA with the University of Fredericton in 2017 when he learned he would be deployed to Ukraine, but that didn’t force him to hit pause on his studies. A captain in the engineering division with NATO’s Allied Land Command, he knew UFred’s online-only program aligned perfectly with the demands of his role as a staff officer in the Canadian Armed Forces.
Like Landry, about 98 per cent of the students who enroll in UFred’s MBA program are working professionals who need the flexibility to learn and collaborate remotely. Landry wasn’t looking for an on-campus residency or the in-person requirements of other MBA programs — he needed the flexibility to study, literally, from anywhere in the world.
“During my MBA, I lived in New Brunswick and Ontario with an eight-month stint in Ukraine in the middle,” said Landry. “The program at UFred is very flexible, and the systems they use for conducting the courses and posting content online are incredibly user-friendly. The professors are also accommodating and flexible with their time.”
Landry, who is currently serving in Izmir, Turkey, completed his MBA from UFred in 2.5 years, finishing in May 2020 (the average student in the program takes between 24 months and 3.5 years to finish their MBA degree). While in the program, Landry continued to learn virtually along with his fellow students during the global pandemic.
“The week I started the program, I found out I was deploying to Ukraine the following March. I decided to take it slow and initially took one class at a time for the first 10 months, then I doubled up, doing two at a time,” Landry recalls. “There were some courses, such as Managerial Accounting, that I did not have as much time to focus on in-depth because of what was happening with my job at the time. The capstone project at the end of the program took a lot more time. I was doing meetings twice a week with the team, and the closer you are to the end, the more time you need to put in.”
When to Consider Doing an MBA
While the average UFred MBA student brings 11 years of work experience to the program, Landry applied fewer than two years after completing his undergraduate degree in 2016. (The average for full-time programs in North America is about four years and two months, and more than 14 years for Executive MBAs.) In some ways, the decision to pursue a graduate business degree surprised him, but the timing felt right. While he has an undergraduate degree in Chemical Engineering from the Royal Military College of Canada, he knew that to progress in his career he needed additional business skills and a greater understanding of organizational structures.
“When I graduated from university, I told myself and the Dean of my department that I would never pursue higher education again. It had taken me four years of engineering school to realize I didn’t want to be an engineer, although I did get my professional licence. When a colleague told me in 2017 about the MBA program at UFred, I decided to go for it,” he says. “I think it’s easier to do it the earlier you are in your career.”
Landry chose the Global Leadership focus from the eight specialty stream options available within the UFred MBA program. He acknowledges that those in the program with a decade or more of work experience “could really speak to how the theories we were working on could be applied to organizations,” but he was able to draw on his own experience managing people.
“The area I work in for operations management is very high tempo. I was already running an organization with 20-30 direct reports, so I had quite a bit of management experience. It wasn’t that much of a jump for me, and I didn’t struggle with the early concepts like leadership or organizational theory,” he said.
While he had researched other MBA programs, various factors kept pulling him back to UFred. Some were considerably more expensive and not suitable for those working full-time. The Royal Military College also offers a distance learning MBA, but Landry didn’t want to do his master’s degree at the same institution he had done his undergrad.
“I didn’t want that echo chamber that would be created if I was doing it with essentially the same people,” he said.
He decided UFred met all his learning needs. He was also able to get his employer to reimburse him for a portion of his tuition.
Making Time for Your MBA
UFred’s online program was designed to be fully online from its inception, according to Michael Hobeck, Dean of Academics at UFred. He is also a graduate of the program.
“Our program, from the minute it was conceived, was designed to be offered fully online without a residency requirement. The idea was to give access to this type of education to people who struggle with finding the time to do a residency or to attend live classes on a weekend,” said Hobeck.
“It is a synchronous program, so there is a live class each week which is between 90 minutes and two hours. That was part of the original design to keep students engaged, allow them to get to know each other and create those networking opportunities,” he adds.
“I found the textbooks are often available in audio format. I used this to my advantage and would listen to a chapter as I cleaned the house, took my dog for a walk, or worked out at the gym.” – Jessica Flynn, UFred MBA Student
Each of the foundation courses in the program runs 11 weeks and offers a “deep dive” into economics, organizational strategy, and leadership theory.
Once the foundation courses are complete, students begin studying in their desired specialty stream. Currently, Hobeck says the most popular stream is the Innovation Leadership program.
Each course requires students to attend one weekly virtual class (vClass). vClasses take place in the evening between Monday and Thursday, at the earliest 6:00 p.m. ET, and typically last 1-2 hours, giving students maximum flexibility with their schedules.
“Construct a flexible schedule. Write on a calendar the days and hours of the week you will commit to your studies, and stick to it. Allow a few hours a week for self-care. Remember, life happens — allow for fluidity in your schedule.” – Andrea Floyd, UFred MBA Student
The vClasses are live, faculty-led lectures or seminars delivered weekly using the synchronous courseware, via Cisco WebEx. This allows for interactive opportunities between faculty and students and within student groups. The classes are recorded and available for review after the class.
Proceeding through the stream in preparation for the integration project that concludes the MBA studies, students will apply what they have learned to an actual organization of the group’s choosing. The group – typically four students in each — has 14 weeks to complete the project before doing a final presentation.
“To ensure I was developing healthy habits, I built a desk for my treadmill and took my classes and all group meetings on the tread. I walked over half way to Fredericton from Barrie, Ont., and lost 60lbs!” – Keith Connell, UFred MBA student.
The capstone project requires that students embed themselves within an organization, review their systems and present the findings to the company’s executives. In Landry’s case, his group reviewed an engineering firm with which one of his teammates was working. When they finished the project, he was living in Fredericton and could visit the company’s executives in Moncton.
How Learning Happens Online
Using online platforms such as Skype and Google Docs, students meet and collaborate without being hindered by distance.
“We want students to understand the value of bringing different perspectives together and challenging one another. Ultimately, the goal of a group project is to get a better final product than you would get if you worked on it on your own by inviting people with different perspectives and different outlooks,” said Hobeck.
UFred offers online resources for its online MBA students to take advantage of, including a library and bookstore. Personal support is provided through the presence of UFred advisors, peer support, and instructor office hours.
“UFred is extremely flexible about deferring semesters and certain assignments. The professors go out of their way to help you,” said Landry.
A highlight of the experience for Landry was when he was chosen to be the valedictorian of his class and the first for UFred’s MBA program.
“It was an honour to speak at the convocation and take part in it with my peers, particularly considering the tough times we had gone through with Covid between 2019 and 2021,” he said.
He also enjoyed getting to work with people from across Canada.
“As a military professional, it was great to work with civilian counterparts because it was a side of the workforce I wouldn’t typically see. The private sector is of interest to me, and if I look to make that transition to the civilian workforce, I have a foundation to work from and connections to reach out to,” he said. “The MBA gives me the latitude and flexibility should I choose to make that transition. Working with people in an operations function and having direct reports is what I want to do long-term.”
Meaningful Connections Can Happen in Virtual Learning
Networking can be one of the most valuable aspects of pursuing an MBA and one of the top reasons many students decide to pursue a post-grad business degree. Forming new connections can help you find your next career opportunity, find like-minded people to collaborate with on a new venture, or find experts who can share career-changing knowledge and advice.
Alexander Landry said he benefited from making valuable connections during his MBA program and knows of students from his cohort who could make their next career move because of people in the program.
“While you’re not in classes face-to-face with people, I met students and professors from around the world. I met a wide array of people, such as working with a nursing manager in Calgary for my final project as well as an engineer in New Brunswick,” he said. “I know that people from the program had career pivots following the MBA program thanks in part to the connections they made as part of the capstone project.”
To help extend the power of the UFred MBA network, an alumni division was launched in January 2022 that welcomes all graduates as well as those currently in the program, and prospective students.
“We’ve been hosting meet and greets in Halifax and Ottawa, and we’ve got one coming up in Newfoundland and Toronto,” said Michael Hobeck, Dean of Academics at the University of Fredericton. “We also plan to hold some on the West Coast.”