STEM MBA’s Are the Next Big Thing to Hit Business Schools
Sponsored by Worcester Polytechnic Institute
In recent years, the technology and business landscapes have evolved to create groundbreaking developments, from start-ups in the life sciences and bioengineering, to robotics companies pioneering AI to organizations seeking renewable energy resources.
All of this change in the marketplace has created a need for professionals who have the technological skills and business expertise to lead. Hence, the rise of the STEM MBA: a hybrid degree which prepares leaders for the growing tech/business employment gap.
If you’re looking to go into a tech field such as data science, the Internet of Things (IoT), or even environmental engineering, you may want to consider studying an MBA specifically geared toward STEM professionals. (But, don’t get it confused with a STEM-designated graduate program. That is another option that offers extra time for international students to spend in the US after completing their degree. The aim for those programs is to strengthen the US STEM workforce.)
We spoke with those in the know at Worcester Polytechnic Institute in Massachusetts in the US to find out more about their newly revised MBA for STEM professionals and their STEM-designated graduate programs. They helped us understand what to expect from a traditionally tech university offering management programs. We also learned a bit about how modern students use “blended” learning—programs that combine both in-class and online learning—to earn a degree while balancing other commitments like work and family.
What is a STEM MBA, and why should I consider one?
Sandy Wellinghoff is the Director of Blended Learning for the Foisie Business School at Worcester Polytechnic Institute. She also directs the school’s MBA program, so we asked her what the motivation was for re-designing the MBA program for STEM professionals.
She told us: “We decided to redesign our MBA more intentionally to build on WPI’s strengths and focus on bringing value to STEM professionals as their managerial responsibilities increase within their careers.
“The MBA market is crowded and highly competitive, especially in the north-east [of the US]. There are also plenty of life sciences, robotics, and tech companies thriving, so we wanted to both differentiate our program from the others and offer a specialized program with the WPI MBA.”
Although the STEM MBA is still a fairly new concept to the world of education, it’s getting a lot of attention from STEM professionals interested in levelling up their career and moving into management.
When asked exactly how the curriculum integrates STEM with business, Sandy said: “We focus more on case studies that incorporate STEM companies or are more technology focused, and we also have students work on projects that are tech focused and bring in guest speakers from STEM industries.”
She also added: “We’re able to better relate and speak to a STEM audience in order to bridge the technical and business skills of STEM professionals. Our students benefit from being in classes with like-minded individuals and are taught by faculty from a variety of STEM industries who best understand where our students are coming from and what they need to be successful leaders.”
Alumnus Allison DiPietro, who studied the STEM MBA in 2016, and current student Breanna Boyden also talked to us about their experience.
Can you tell us a bit about your experience of studying the MBA for STEM Professionals at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Foisie Business School?
Allison: Obviously one of the most important aspects of an MBA is the network you develop and being a woman in tech meant I didn't know a lot of people with backgrounds similar to mine. Our group of 20 or so students in the cohort were so diverse, but all STEM professionals are extremely driven.
Being surrounded by people that are just as passionate about something as you is really motivating, and that instant support network was a huge benefit.
In terms of the classes, I really enjoyed that I was exposed to some things I would never seek to learn on my own. The curriculum is so well-rounded.
What have you enjoyed the most about studying the MBA for STEM Professionals?
Allison: I really enjoyed the capstone project. It was fun to focus on something so closely and see it become something you're really proud to talk about. The program's flexibility with electives was great, also, since it allowed me to tailor the program to my interests.
Breanna: I enjoy getting to learn about subjects that I never had in my chemical engineering undergraduate degree, such as marketing, finance and accounting. It’s been really great to focus more on the “soft skills” aspect of business.
What has been your favorite aspect of the MBA for STEM Professionals?
Allison: Having the cohort helped immensely. Balancing full-time work, school, and life is challenging, so knowing there are others doing the same thing was reassuring. Also, the professors were fantastic! They found ways of making every subject, every assignment relevant to "real world" work.
Breanna: I travel frequently for work, so my job made it nearly impossible for me to attend a fully in-class program. I love the facetime with my professors and classmates, which really drives home the online interaction and reinforced great connections.
What factors led you to decide to study the MBA for STEM Professionals at Worcester Polytechnic Institute’s Foisie Business School?
Allison: I grew up knowing WPI was an amazing school with a great reputation. When they began putting more emphasis on the business school, I knew it was a perfect opportunity to pursue my MBA there.
My first on-site visit, prior to applying, was great. I met actual students, professors, and admins of the program who took the time to answer my questions in very thoughtful ways.
Breanna: The blended program is really unique, and I believe is the best of both worlds for MBA programs. I also like that WPI specifically recruited me as a STEM professional.
The STEM classification is still really broad, but it’s been nice to be able to talk about my work experience with classmates that are dealing with some of the same issues in a technical field, such as working with intellectual property, working through issues with manufacturing, and so on.
How has your STEM MBA benefited you?
Allison: For starters, I doubled my salary by the time I graduated! The network I made landed me an amazing job that put me on a path for faster success. I still use a lot of the skills I learned that I thought wouldn't transfer to the type of work I do.
As I've progressed in leadership responsibility, understanding things like market forces, advanced finance, and even "soft skill" management has become really important. My entire way of working has shifted – I see things from so many angles now, and it makes me a better employee and manager.
Breanna: Halfway through this degree, I was promoted to a management position at my job largely because I was pursuing my MBA. This degree has already positively impacted my career.
Lead image: Worcester Polytechnic Institute
This article was originally published in July 2019 . It was last updated in January 2020