Nancy Oswald and her team at Otis Elevator.
Nancy Oswald (third from left, second row) and her team at Otis Elevator.

How I’ve been able to make lasting connections in a completely online MBA program

After being out of school for 25 years, Nancy Oswald decided it was time for her to return to pursue an MBA. While she initially chose the UF MBA Fully Online program to work around her early schedule in the construction industry, she would find the flexibility of a completely online program a necessity after a serious burn injury. Despite not commuting to campus for her courses, Nancy was able to use her connections with her classmates and the UF MBA staff to find the best solution to continuing the program while recovering.

Read Nancy’s story about how she’s been able to connect and succeed in the completely online UF MBA program.

Nancy Oswald

By Nancy Oswald, MBA ’20

Why an MBA?

People often ask me why, at nearly 50 years old, I decided to pursue an MBA. I don’t have a good answer other than I wanted to, I can and why not? I’ve been with Otis Elevator for 15 years, currently as Senior Project Manager, Modernization, and while I don’t have a specific plan to change careers, I believe that I have greatly increased my opportunities for different career paths. I believe education is always valuable.

The search for the perfect program

When I first began looking into an MBA, internet searches for “best online MBA program” routinely included UF among the top programs. Because I work in the construction industry, my daily schedule is shifted significantly earlier than most people, and I knew sitting in a classroom until 9 p.m. at a school relatively close to home was not an option for me. In addition, many online programs still require some on-campus time for finals or other important aspects of a program. Needing to travel to school at specific times would present a challenge for me as well between responsibilities at home and my husband’s extensive work travel. The fully online program at UF was the perfect fit for me. I am able to give the 15-20 hours a week most classes require, but I can do so from home, or a local library, on my schedule. Sometimes that’s 4 a.m. on a Tuesday trying to finalize my portion of a group project before heading out the door to work.

When I began talking to Christine Wilson Plumley in the UF MBA office, she was very helpful with understanding what I needed for my application – it had been 25 years since my undergraduate days! I was able to pull my school records, take the GMAT with some help from fellow UF student and coworker, Matt, and get all of my application items submitted in time for the looming deadline to join the very first fully online cohort.

I was very nervous about starting school back up after such a long hiatus. But after a terrific first class with Dr. Fiona Barnes, I was soon in the swing of things as a Gator. The five-week classes seem to fly by. Before I knew it, two classes of my MBA program were behind me. I decided to visit campus during the short break in early August. Shane Van Deree had been so helpful and friendly during orientation and other needs along the way, so I reached out to ask about getting a tour or what options I might have. I met up with Shane for a terrific tour of campus, of course including a stop at the bookstore to stock up on Gator merchandise. I then met up with Dr. Barnes for coffee and really enjoyed our visit. I was also able to meet and say hello quickly to my next instructor who happened to be on campus getting his office ready for the upcoming semester. Despite being in a completely online program, I found that I was easily able to connect with my professors and the UF MBA staff.

The UF MBA Online program also made it easy to connect with my classmates, despite living across the nation from one another. For instance, the Zoom video conference meetings are a great way to connect with other students as well as course instructors. I highly recommend attending them if at all possible, as just watching the recorded lecture without discussion is not as effective in helping you learn the material.

Building relationships in a completely online program

N: Are you in a closet?

J: No, this is my office.

N: It looks like a closet.

J: Well, I suppose it IS a glorified closet that is called my office.

This was the beginning of a friendship with a classmate that became very valuable to me in the coming months. Jessica and I would both attend most of the Zoom meetings for our classes when they were available, and I would always wonder about her surroundings. You can send a private message to a classmate, or the entire group, during the meetings. So, I asked about her office. We began emailing each other often to talk about school – where are you getting books, did you understand #4 on the accounting homework, our next professor had great ratings from previous students, etc.

Nancy Oswald in an elevator machine room.

Oswald, Senior Project Manager, Modernization at Otis Elevator, working in an elevator machine room.

Unfortunately, just before starting our second class of the fall 2018 semester, I suffered serious burns requiring skin graft surgery and an extended hospital stay with rehab after. I was laying in my hospital bed worrying about school (among other things!). I didn’t have my laptop or means to get it anytime soon, class was about to start and I didn’t know what to do.  Then I thought – Jessica! I could ask her to help me get in touch with the MBA office to figure out what my options are.

She jumped to action and reached out to Shane, asking him to call me as soon as possible.  Shane was terrific, enlisting the help of Gus Kreatsoulas to withdraw me from the class that was about to start. I wasn’t sure what exactly the future held for me at that time, but I knew this class at this time was not to be part of it.  Fortunately, Shane and Gus handled everything for me so I could focus on recovering.

Luckily, my stubborn nature became a terrific asset during my recovery. I stayed in contact with my pack of friends, especially Jessica and Shane over the next several weeks as I slowly climbed out of the hell only burn survivors truly understand. And I was lucky in comparison to most survivors of serious burn injuries. I was able to jump back in for the next class that started in mid-November and got right back into the swing of things with coursework, assignments and exams. While I will have to make up the class I missed, the flexibility with which it’s offered will allow me to complete my degree in a timely manner. The fully online program was the only way I could make it work while I was recovering. Traveling to campus would not have been possible for me for several months.

Everyone at the University of Florida, UF MBA in particular, has been extremely helpful in every aspect of my UF experience. From making the decision to attend, getting the paperwork organized and submitted, orientation, fantastic instructors, and of course, true friends both classmates and staff who were there for me when I really needed help during a difficult time. Deciding to attend UF MBA has already proven transformational. I couldn’t be happier with the program and people I have met along the way.

Is making a lasting connection with peers, faculty and staff important to you in an online MBA program? Schedule a call with an admissions officer to learn about the benefits of UF MBA’s completely online program.