Journey to an MBA Case Competition

A conversation with online MBA student Paige Jarvi

We talked to Paige about her path to her MBA, her recent participation in an MBA case competition, and her experience at Utica College thus far.

Tell us a little about your background.

My story is a bit out of the ordinary. I attended Virginia Commonwealth University (VCU) for two years before having a baby at 21. I later completed my undergrad in finance online through another university, but I didn't feel like I learned much. Luckily, after graduation, I found a position based on my previous experience and have been working there ever since. What I'm doing [for work] now has nothing to do with my undergraduate focus.

Why did you decide to pursue an MBA at UC?

For me, it was about really getting something out of my education. I spent so much money on my undergrad and wasn't using that knowledge in real life, so I made a commitment to myself to pursue my MBA.

A year into my current position, I told my supervisor it was a goal of mine. It's been said that if you take a break from education, you'll never want to go back, but once it was on my goal sheet, I had to commit and go for it. So I did.

When I started looking around for programs, the MBA program at Utica College (UC) came up as an option. I also got accepted into Syracuse, Rutgers, and William and Mary. Some of the schools I looked into wanted more than $70,000 to pursue their program.

I have a child, a full-time job, a family, and a house, so I needed a program that fit into my life. All of the schools I applied to had the blended program option, allowing students to talk to professors real-time via webcam and offering group interaction over the web. The programs were very similar, so the cost was the main deciding factor. It wasn't worth it to me to pay a higher price for the exact same education.

So, you participated in an MBA case competition. What was that like?

Professor Ferrara introduced the opportunity to our strategy class. We were working in groups at the time, and my group members and I agreed to give it a try—as long as we got to do it together.

The case was on fleet maintenance, software, and transitioning from preventative maintenance to predictive maintenance. We were trying to keep fleet vehicles on the road longer, with less downtime, by identifying maintenance items that could be prevented by taking care of them prior to an accident.

This competition and the support of the faculty really, really helped me expand my experience and challenge myself. I was very blessed to work with a great team.

How did your experience at Utica College help prepare you for the competition?

The faculty support was amazing. Professor Ferrara and Professor Nesbitt helped us along the way, and Professor Orzechowski's knowledge of data analytics was crucial in helping us to move forward in the competition.

The UC MBA program is full of people who are not only pursuing higher education, but who also have real-life experience. We all have careers and have been in different industries and services, and that definitely gave us an edge over our competitors.

Plus, because of the unique experience of students at UC, we worked really well together, despite the fact that we used Google Hangouts to interact and had never met in person.

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What were your competitors like?

They were mostly on-campus students—I don't recall any blended teams—and students who enrolled in the grad program straight out of their undergrad, so they were a little younger as well. We were the oddballs, but in a good way. The other teams in the competition were shocked to know that we were all pursuing an MBA, working full-time, and competing alongside people we'd never met face-to-face before.

Does your current job relate to what you've been studying at UC?

Right now, I'm in a nonprofit trade association working with packaging and processing machinery manufacturers. I'll be done with my degree in December, and so far, all of the courses I've taken have applied to what I do on a daily basis. I think that's what UC aims to do, and they're doing a great job.

I think I can attest for both myself and my teammates, based on conversations we've had, our classes teach us how businesses excel and move forward and are very applicable to the work we do. What I did in my classes, from learning strategies and global logistics to risk-management, is exactly what I deal with in imports and exports.

How did you balance your career, classes, and the competition?

The professors are very accommodating. We are a unique college in that we don't have only on-campus students, so they're used to being flexible with us. I just give my professors a heads up that I'm going to be out of the country for work and they understand.

Most of the time when I'm traveling, I will still be able to attend class. For instance, if my class is at 6 p.m. on a Monday evening, I'll be attending Tuesday at 6:00 a.m. because of the time difference. Sometimes it's a little tough, but I can see the light at the end of the tunnel. It's manageable and it's temporary. Through this work, you're not only gaining an education, you're also creating a stepping stone to excel in your career path.

What would you say to someone considering an MBA?

They say the master's is the new bachelor's, and that's what's going to set you apart in the job market these days.

Finally, did you win the MBA case competition?

Unfortunately, we didn't win—but it was still an amazing experience. I'm not a person to typically do things like this, but in an MBA program, it's important to get out of your comfort zone and try to thrive as best you can. This competition, and the support of the faculty and my classmates, really helped me do that.

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