Pursuing an MBA degree is one option for improving your management skills. But you may not need the in-depth business and high-level accounting classes that are requirements for an MBA. As an alternative, you may want to consider another type of advanced degree such as the online leadership degree program at Seton Hall University in South Orange, NJ.

Seton Hall’s online division, SetonWorldWide, has been honored as a technology innovator and a leader in Web-based learning. The program focuses on communications and leadership, both keys to success for the IT manager.

“If you would agree with the notion that management is really dealing with people and inspiring people and leading people, then the kind of courses that are required aren’t necessarily finance courses and information technology courses,” said Philip DiSalvio, Ph.D., director of SetonWorldWide. “They really are courses that deal with managing change and courses that deal with leadership skills and what it takes to be a manager. Communication skills are very important.”

The program, called the Master of Arts in Strategic Communication and Leadership, aims to improve the management skills of professionals. Since its inception in 1998, it has received several honors, including Forbes Magazine’s “Best of The Web” for online education programs in 2000. InfoWorld also named SetonWorldWide as one of the top 10 innovators leveraging technology.

Phil Morris, MASCL, a New Jersey sales engineer with Interwoven, Inc., is a member of the program’s first graduating class. Morris said the Seton Hall program differs from other graduate programs and MBAs he researched which offered accounting, economics, and statistics.

“But what I’ve found is that the real world revolves around corporate culture, strategic thinking, and effective communication,” Morris said. “This program is uniquely suited for addressing how to create and sustain change in those areas to make your business successful.”
SetonWorldWide’s leadership degree focuses on these areas:

  • Leading the modern organization
  • Practical and theoretical applications of leadership
  • Communication skills needed to deliver the message in small meetings, Web conferencing, and business presentations
  • How to deal with diversity in the workplace
  • Developing strategies for success
  • How to shape an organization’s goals and communication

How it works
When you enroll in the degree program, you will be grouped with 11 other students who have similar job interests. This group moves through the 20-month program online as a “learning team.”

The courses involve extensive electronic interaction between students and between students and faculty. The interaction may be through videoconferencing or asynchronous computer conferencing, which lets students participate in threaded discussions that are moderated by an instructor.

One group project includes a case study called the “Newark Subway case.” You are placed in a group of four students, and you have two weeks to put together a five-year plan for running the subway system. The project tests risk management and leadership skills and measures how well you cope in a crisis.

Continual communication and feedback between students and faculty is a priority throughout the coursework. Communication coaches are assigned to each learning team for around-the-clock mentoring.

The program is proactive about preventing any technical glitches as well. SetonWorldWide has partnered with eCollege.com to build and manage the online campus. ECollege.com provides 24-hour technical support for faculty and students.

Figure 1

Online advantages
Students must attend classes at the Seton Hall University Campus during three campus visits called residencies. During two of the on-campus stays, students make group and individual project presentations on assignments, such as detailing a plan to run an online company. But the majority of the program is delivered online.

“To tell you the truth, I never thought I would like this online education program because I thought it would lose the human touch, but it’s just the opposite,” said Don Lombardi, Ph.D., who is the program director of the program (see Figure 1).

Lombardi said online students often form closer bonds and learn more from each other than traditional classroom students because online classmates have to rely on each other more. Also, the online student team concept promotes collaboration, which may not occur in traditional MBA programs where students may drop out for a semester before returning to complete degree requirements.

“I formed relationships with people all over the United States with different opinions along with entirely different industry knowledge….I found it very enlightening,” said Michael Mahony, Director of MCI Telecom and a graduate of the program.

Students in this virtual classroom come from a variety of backgrounds—a factor that educators say helps students learn from different disciplines. In this program, 15 percent of the students are IT professionals, 40 percent are in business management or leadership positions, 25 percent have healthcare or community-related jobs, and 20 percent are in the government sector. Lombardi said he often comes across IT pros who say they’re top-notch when it comes to the technical side of their job, but they need help honing their management skills. The IT pros end up learning a lot from their classmates.

“When we talk about dealing with conflict on the job, we find the IT pros don’t want anything to do with conflict and one of their classmates will say, ‘It’s not so bad, here’s what you need to do, separate the emotions from the issue…’ and the IT pros are just sponges for this knowledge,” said Lombardi. “It forces them to get involved.”

Lombardi predicted that the future of higher education is online, especially for working professionals in the next 10 years. The Internet offers the flexibility needed to balance work, family, and a continuing education.
If there is one job skill or area of knowledge you could improve and expand—what would it be? Post a comment to this article or send us an e-mail.