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Maryland’s Customized Leadership MBA Programs Enhance Success

Smith Executive MBA students often compare their experience to studying in a “think tank,” where they share workplace problems and find solutions.

By Jessica Walker Boehm on August 17, 2016

The executive MBA and executive development programs at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business are highly customized to help individuals and organizations fearlessly pursue their goals.

Custom-Built Executive Development Programs

Companies like Under Armour, Lockheed Martin, CSX Corp., U.S. Customs and Border Protection, and the University of Maryland Medical System have chosen Smith executive development programs because of Smith’s uniquely customized approach to executive education.

All coursework is developed in close consultation with company leadership. “First, we learn the needs of the client and understand their problems,” says Dr. J. Gerald Suarez, professor of the practice in systems thinking and design at Smith. “We then build a customized program for them and tailor each program to accomplish our client’s specific goals and aspirations.”

Participants don’t just sit behind a desk and listen to lectures. Memorable experiences help students practice what faculty teach. Smith’s Lessons on Leadership takes students to the battlefield of Antietam, Md.; Gettysburg, Pa.; or Manassas, Va. The program pushes participants to think differently about their individual and organizational challenges through battlefield tours, lectures, discussion sessions, videos, role-playing and team exercises, all led by Smith’s faculty and a professional guide and executive trainer specific to each battlefield.

Action Learning Projects also offer a chance for participants to bring immediate value back to the organization. Smith works with clients to identify real-world issues facing the enterprise, and then facilitates work groups so participants can apply their classroom learning to persistent or emerging challenges. At the program’s conclusion, participants present their project business plans to company executives. There is a high rate of adoption and operationalization of these projects, says Gary Cohen, associate dean in the Robert H. Smith School of Business’ Office of Executive Programs.

“These programs have been enormously successful,” Cohen adds.“ A lot of business schools and consulting firms say they do custom programs, but that word is a relative term. We do a very deep dive into the organizations we partner with; we aim to create a customized curriculum that will help them fill their gaps while also blending in nicely with their culture. We go the extra mile every time.”

A No. 7 Ranked Executive MBA Program

The school’s EMBA program, ranked No. 7 in the country by Financial Times in 2015, is a 19-month program offered at Smith’s main campus in College Park, Md. Starting in January of each year, a cohort of about 45 executives attend classes every other Friday and Saturday, in addition to participating in action learning projects, interactive simulations and field visits.

“Although the curriculum has all the core courses you would expect in an EMBA program, such as corporate finance, managerial accounting and operations management, we include a huge leadership element – this is very unique, and it’s a major differentiator for us,” Cohen says.

Executive coaching is a key component of the program. Coaches help students design a personalized leadership development plan based on a series of assessments.

“My executive coach had a way of showing me things I might not have seen on my own,” says Ani Matson, a graduate of the EMBA program.

“It opened my eyes to opportunities that were available to me if I looked in the right places. As a result, I got a better job while I was in the program.”

Matson credits executive coaching and the knowledge she gained in her coursework with helping her achieve her position of senior vice president of marketing and engagement at Worldwide ERC.

The EMBA provides a rigorous curriculum that aims to impact overall management and leadership competencies. Most students have approximately 15 years of work experience and significant management and leadership experience.

“We are looking for individuals with progressive careers that have grown in both accountability and impact to their organizations,” says Shelbi Brookshire, senior director of EMBA recruiting and alumni engagement at Smith. “We want people to be successful in their academic coursework, so they need strong critical thinking skills; we want them to be engaged and add value to the program; and we want them to possess a good executive presence.”

This article is sponsored by the Robert H. Smith School of Business.

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