2022 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Kati Dempsey, Lehigh University

“Reimagine through curiosity. Innovating through teamwork. Leading by vulnerability “.

Age: 35

Hometown: Philadelphia, PA

Funny facts about yourself: Before high school I was a competitive gymnast and recently joined my high school fame hall.

Degree and Degree School:

Bucknell University
Bachelor of Science, Biology
Minor: Spanish

Where are you currently working?
Merck & Co., Inc.
Associate Director, Strategic Planning

What is the most proud achievement in your career? Taking a moment to reflect on my career, I recognize that I have a lot to be proud of and a lot to be thankful for. Still, I have often regretted not pursuing a medical career. After graduating in 2009, I accepted a job as a pharmacist as a manufacturing technician. While many of my friends were struggling to find work, I couldn’t shake my dissatisfaction. It wasn’t until years later that I would recognize that it’s not necessarily about being satisfied and more than you can learn.

Finally, after a winding initial career, I was offered the opportunity to merge my experience with my passion as a quality manager in the incorporation of my company’s first autologous immunotherapy. It may not be very clear why this is so important, but imagine that you can “strengthen” your own immune cells to attack your cancer. Really great, right? I thought so too. And after almost a year of long days, frustrations and celebrations, the first dose of the patient came out of the loading dock. I stood there with my colleague watching as he walked away, and at that moment I felt satisfied. Even though I hadn’t become a doctor, I was part of something that could change patients ’lives, and I was proud of that.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program?

I am a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows you to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything”. -Steve Jobs

Now, I’m not saying I was necessarily bored and looking for something to fill the void, but I was curious. The business world has always seemed so alien. Although he had a minor in Spanish, the language of business was beyond comprehension. Eventually, my curiosity led me to a “Lunch and Learn” at Merck, where Lehigh University presented me with the opportunity to try out my MBA. I thought to myself, “Sign me up!” And that was all. I never looked back.

Although I should note that I had some doubts about my Bucknell roots (‘Ray Bucknell!), But I don’t regret it because this trip led to a fortuitous growth and opportunity.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? As part of a global business, my day-to-day life often consists of virtual, hybrid meetings, presentations, and workshops. The opportunity to be online with a cohort of live students better reflected the reality of how many companies, including mine, communicate and do business. In addition, it provided me with the opportunity and flexibility to attend a university that would not otherwise be geographically accessible.

Wwhat was the most amazing thing about an online learning environment? Don’t tell anyone … I actually prefer the online learning environment. Believe it or not, my preference is not related to the fact that I am an introvert.

Strange as it may seem, I relate my online learning experience to wildlife and captive animals, where students are more sincerely represented in their “natural habitat” than in captive exhibits. It introduces a level of vulnerability and authenticity that facilitates a different kind of interaction and connection. I also found that the online environment is more inclusive and accessible for students who may experience sensory, learning, or social determinant challenges.

How does your online experience compare to your classroom experience as an undergraduate student? This comparison is really challenging for a number of reasons:

  • The responsibilities of being a full-time student and a part-time track athlete are very different from being a full-time professional / adult and a part-time student.
  • A year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety, which would probably reduce my struggle as an undergraduate student.
  • Technology has changed significantly in the last 10 years when it comes to virtual connections, platforms, and tools.
  • And COVID … I digress.

However, beyond these changes in life, technology, and society, I would not change the delivery or experience of either educational trip, as both were properly aligned with my stage in life.

What is your best advice for a candidate to thrive in an online MBA program? Invest in light blue glasses and a comfortable desktop setting. Joke … but not really.

Aside from all the jokes, here are some key tips:

  • Prioritize your well-being, even if you have to schedule it (a skill you will become very familiar with).
  • You can be flexible with your time and defend your time.
  • Have a support system and it doesn’t matter who prepares them for the ride.
  • Outsource anything you don’t have to do yourself and save time. Here are some examples: grocery deliveries, meal orders, and home cleaning service.

What would you change about an online MBA program? Although I have always been a distance learning student at Lehigh’s Flex MBA, I only experienced two (2) hybrid courses before all courses were remotely passed due to the restrictions and mandates of the COVID-19 pandemic. Out of necessity, the world has adapted to this virtual and fully online environment, highlighting some key opportunities to enhance online learning and engagement:

  • Face-to-face lectures are often not very attractive and the information is not well preserved if there is no additional interaction with the content, such as class or group discussions, activities, and class deliveries. This is exceptionally true for online programs.
  • For hybrid learning environments, it is more inclusive and interactive for online participants if live students also log in to the virtual environment with the camera on.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? At the beginning of my online MBA journey, I made a career transition from Quality Assurance in R&D to Corporate Strategy, which required accelerated competency in business acumen and project management. I soon found myself in an ideal mix of educational and experiential learning, where I had the opportunity to apply what I was learning online directly to my strategic role, the development of my department, and the projects I supported. Ultimately, my online education provided me with an understanding of areas I would historically avoid and a voice in discussions in which I would have historically remained silent.

Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? Although I did not receive a promotion during my online MBA program, I was presented with opportunities motivated by awareness of my educational efforts.

Did you earn a raise during your online MBA program? I did not earn a raise that is directly related to my participation in Lehigh’s FLEX MBA program.

Number of hours per week devoted to online MBA: My MBA time correlated with both course credits and course content, and ranged from 15 to 30 hours per week.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate professional goal is to be passionately curious and aptly awkward. It doesn’t matter what company I work for, the degree I hold, or how much money I earn, as long as growth continues to exist.

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