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Hallmarks of Mount Saint Mary's Business Education

A Competitive Advantage

January 27, 2021

Professor Joy Bejarano, MBA, looks on during class early in 2020 while a student discusses accounting.
Professor Joy Bejarano, MBA, looks on during class early in 2020 while a student discusses accounting.
Faculty member Melissa Cook, MBA, shares a lighthearted moment with student Roy Wujatson in February 2020.
Faculty member Melissa Cook, MBA, shares a lighthearted moment with student Roy Wujatson in February 2020.

Last summer, Melissa Cook ’12 MBA taught a management seminar course in Mount Saint Mary’s Weekend/Evening & Online College for working adults. Many of her students were looking to infuse new technologies into their work, so Cook—a former small business owner and marketing consultant—added a new wrinkle to the seminar: Each student would research emerging tech trends and become a subject matter expert in a technology platform of their choosing. Cook’s only rules were that the platform be something the students could use in their own careers or apply to their future coursework—and that they could teach the technology to their classmates. 

Some students learned how to leverage the app Mendix and other e-commerce platforms for online stores and retail point-of-sale systems like Shopify and Wordpress. Others explored presentation software and graphic design platforms like Prezi, Canva and LogoMaker. Everyone learned how to use Zotero software to better manage research materials.

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BUSINESS PATHS AT MSMU

No matter the program, a business education at the Mount prepares students to be real-world leaders. Degree options include:

AA in Business Administration
This two-year associate’s degree program focuses on business fundamentals while also stressing the communication and critical thinking skills necessary to succeed and advance in a business career.

BA in Business Administration
This traditional baccalaureate degree offers emphases in accounting, marketing, management and international business. Students progress through theory and business writing courses to career development and business ethics. The BA degree also includes travel study and internship programs. 

BS in Business Administration
Designed for working professionals looking to advance their business careers, this bachelor of science program is offered through the Mount’s Weekend/Evening & Online College.

Master of Business Administration (MBA)
The University’s weekend-format MBA program enables students to graduate in 20 months. Coursework begins with “Sky View” courses that provide an overview of the primary business disciplines of management, marketing, finance, accounting and economics. The program highlights global perspectives and culminates in a real-life consulting project for a corporate client. Concentrations include entrepreneurship, project management and organizational leadership.

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All that high-tech learning translated to real-world results. One student launched a new blog platform at the architecture firm where she works. Another student mastered Asana, a digital project management system that she used to coordinate a “drive-up” graduation event for her employer, an LAUSD high school.

Ileana Puentes ’21 learned best practices for creating and maintaining an Instagram for Business account—one that she now uses to earn supplemental income selling her handmade embroidery. “I love that in a class where we were learning a lot of business principles we were also learning practical skills,” says Puentes. “And we weren’t just learning technologies abstractly. Professor Cook encouraged us to learn them in a way that we could use them in real time to progress in our careers.”

Cook says the class demonstrates one of the distinctions of a Mount Saint Mary’s business education: Students learn from faculty who are real-world practitioners—who own their own businesses, work as business consultants and have a diversity of professional experience to draw upon.

“We understand that external business environment because we’re out there in it, too,” Cook says. “That understanding gives us the flexibility to adapt our classes to make them more timely, relevant and attuned to current trends or student needs.” 

Business students and faculty mingle at their annual luncheon, this one held in February 2020. Katherine Whitman, MAM (left), and Michelle French-Holloway, MBA (right), are in the forefront.
Business students and faculty mingle at their annual luncheon, this one held in February 2020. Katherine Whitman, MAM (left), and Michelle French-Holloway, MBA (right), are in the forefront.

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INNOVATION BEGINS HERE

In recent years, students have benefitted from a range of dynamic new programs and initiatives designed to add value to their degrees — and their careers.

A reimagined MBA program
In 2019, the MBA program earned a $3 million grant from the U.S. Department of Education’s Title V Program —Promoting Postbaccalaureate Opportunities for Hispanic Americans. This grant is helping the MBA program develop a new accounting concentration, create graduate assistantship positions and provide more scholarship support to new students. Some of the funding will also enable the University to offer financial literacy training to all Mount graduate students.

MBA-MFA dual degree
Launching in the spring, this innovative program trims one semester off each degree and provides a producer-centric, business-oriented entry into the entertainment world.

At the spring 2020 Vantage Point Speaker Series event, Chalon business students gather with faculty member Dennis Signorovitch, MA, and speaker Leslie Appleton-Young, senior vice president and chief economist for the California Association of Realtors.
At the spring 2020 Vantage Point Speaker Series event, Chalon business students gather with faculty member Dennis Signorovitch, MA, and speaker Leslie Appleton-Young, senior vice president and chief economist for the California Association of Realtors.

Business Administration and English double major
This combined undergraduate degree program — available through both the Weekend/Evening & Online College and the traditional undergraduate BA program — mixes the liberal arts disciplines and critical analysis of the traditional English degree with the professional preparation of the Business Administration major. 

Spanish and Business Administration
Another interdisciplinary program, this degree mixes upperdivision Spanish studies with business administration coursework. Graduates are prepared to join public- and private-sector organizations in need of business personnel who can effectively communicate with Spanish-speaking clientele.

Business writing challenge
This annual department challenge gives students a business case study to write, with cash prizes on the line. Each case study is designed to bring students into a hypothetical real-world situation where they’re in charge of a company’s business plans. 

Vantage Point speaker series
Founded in 2006, this speaker series brings leading executives, founders and entrepreneurs to campus to share their career journeys. Thanks to conversations with these guests, business students gain new insights, chart new career paths and make connections that lead to internships and job opportunities.

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A business education with a liberal arts perspective

What does it mean to earn a business degree at a liberal arts university? At Mount Saint Mary’s, it means the chance to graduate with the best of both worlds: practical skills for employability today combined with critical thinking skills to adapt to — and shape — the business world of tomorrow.

“You don’t want to be the employee that the boss has to tell exactly what to do,” says Michelle French-Holloway, EdD, chair of business administration at the Mount. “With practical business experience and a liberal arts foundation, you’re prepared to think creatively, be proactive and problem-solve for complex issues. By the time our business students graduate, they have it all—theory, practical knowledge and real-world experience.”

A business degree within a liberal arts context also helps students develop the three skills that employers in a National Association of Colleges and Employers survey say they value most: oral and written communication skills, critical thinking and the ability to work collaboratively in teams.

“Research has consistently shown that if you can do those three things well, you’ll be prepared to pivot when the business climate changes and new trends emerge,” French-Holloway says. “We want our alums to be prepared for the jobs that don’t exist yet.”

MSMU business students are also encouraged to take nonbusiness classes, explore non-business minors and take advantage of travel opportunities to broaden their perspectives. “We know that our students often aren’t here just for themselves,” says Mark Alhanati, MBA, director of the University’s BA in Business Administration program. “They’re here because they want to be leaders. They want to give back to their families and their communities.”

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JOSIE DEBELLIS ’22

Undergraduate program
MAJOR: Business Administration
EMPHASIS: Marketing

Josie DeBellis '22
Josie DeBellis '22

Josie DeBellis isn’t one to miss an opportunity. As a first-year student at the Mount, she joined the Sigma Beta Delta

business honor society (which later transitioned to Delta Mu Delta). Her sophomore year, DeBellis turned an encounter with a visiting speaker—the vice president and chief economist at the California Association of Realtors—into an internship. DeBellis then parlayed that internship into a job. 

“My academic career at the Mount has provided me with the best possible learning experience imaginable,” DeBellis says. “The environment fosters a sense of intimacy, and I have never felt overlooked in the classroom. Our questions are always answered and we are always welcome to pick the brains of our professors.”

She’s grateful that her business professors also encourage and equip students to put their knowledge to work outside the classroom. For DeBellis, that has meant serving as president of Delta Mu Delta this year. In that role, she helps the honor society co-host the University’s Vantage Point speaker series, which brings business leaders to campus to share their stories.

“When I graduate, I will look back on Delta Mu Delta as more than just something I did in college,” she says. “It gave me the confidence to grow into the career woman I was destined to be.”

DeBellis carries that confidence into other arenas, too. Last year, DeBellis led the Mount’s ADthenians team, under faculty advisor Keith Gosselin, MBA, to a third-place finish at the District 15 championships in the National Student Advertising Competition. The annual competition pits Mount Saint Mary’s against Southern California rivals like UCLA, USC, UC San Diego and Chapman University.

As creative director, DeBellis helped Mount Saint Mary’s team research, execute and pitch a comprehensive marketing and advertising campaign for Adobe, a real-world client. It was a tall order, complicated by disruptions due to the Getty Fire and the coronavirus pandemic.

The hard work paid off. In addition to the ADthenians’ podium finish, DeBellis earned the award for Best Q&A Presenter. “We never let anything stop us,” she says, “not the fire, not even the pandemic. The day before the awards, I didn’t care what the judges said. I knew we were winners because I have never seen so much resilience manifest among such a small group of dedicated women.”
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Applying an ethical lens

The Mount’s business curriculum weaves ethics throughout a student’s time in the program, based on the “unifying love” charism of the University’s founding Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet. “We focus on treating everyone with dignity and respect,” says French-Holloway. “We all need to understand the differences that everyone brings to the table. When we do that, it’s typically a win-win. It’s good for society and it’s usually good for business.”  In addition to a standard business ethics course, the Mount also offers a class called “Issues of Corporate Responsibility and Ethics,” taught by Neal Anderberg ’11 MBA. The course dives into the role of the business sector in drawing ethical boundaries in society. Students examine the relationship between government and business, look at major industries with specific ethical concerns and explore what proactive “social responsibility” looks like. “Understanding how and why things work the way they do in the business world is the avenue through which we can ensure that our students find their paths as humanitarians and as socially and environmentally conscious leaders,” Anderberg says. 

Professor Michelle French-Holloway, EdD, and Naomi Prazak, recipient of a Dr. Janet Robinson MBA Director's Scholarship.
Professor Michelle French-Holloway, EdD, and Naomi Prazak, recipient of a Dr. Janet Robinson MBA Director's Scholarship.

Beyond the degree: MAPs alumni network

A dozen years ago, Nancy (Valdivia) Antoniou ’05, ’09 MBA, founded the MBA Association of Professionals (MAPs) alumni network at MSMU. She also founded the first MBA scholarship. In each instance, she was motivated by her own experience as an MBA student.

“I transferred from another school and during the application process, the dean at the time called me one evening to learn more about me and my interests,” Antoniou recalls. “I was transferring from a school that was only interested in my student ID number, and here I found myself on the phone with the dean as he referred to me by name. That’s the difference at Mount Saint Mary’s that I love. That’s why I give back.”

Today, Antoniou is the senior vice president of strategic operations and chief human resources officer for a leading biotech firm. Meanwhile, the MAPs alumni group she started is flourishing. 

“Any alumni group is only as strong as its network,” Antoniou says. “The benefit of the MBA alum community is that everyone genuinely cares about one another and wants to see each other succeed. I know that I can pick up the phone and ask an alum for guidance and receive it willingly — and vice versa — without judgment or reservation.”

Joy Bejarano ’15 is the current president of MAPs. During the COVID-19 pandemic, she and Johnathon Ngeth ’16 have worked with the MAPs board of directors to develop a webinar series that’s keeping resources flowing to its alumni network. 

MAPs is also still helping connect current business students with alumni who can serve as mentors or answer industry-specific questions. Since the pandemic began, MAPs has hosted 14 Zoom networking sessions between current students and MBA alumni. Best of all, MAPs continues to serve as a valuable talent pipeline. “Our MBA alums know the rigor of the program and they consistently come back to us to tap this pool of talent for their own businesses and entrepreneurial ventures,” Bejarano says.

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ANDRÉ PILE ’20

Weekend/Evening & Online College
MAJOR: BS in Business Administration
CONCENTRATION: Management 

Andre Pile '20, far left, shown with his family, fulfilled a promise he made to his grandmother when he obtained his degree through our Weekend/Evening & Online College.
Andre Pile '20, far left, shown with his family, fulfilled a promise he made to his grandmother when he obtained his degree through our Weekend/Evening & Online College.

After graduating from high school in 1989, André Pile left his native Jamaica for Los Angeles, in pursuit of his college degree. Family issues arose, however, and Pile had to enter the workforce earlier than anticipated. Amidst it all, his grandma made him promise one thing: No matter how long it took, he would get his degree. 

Years passed as the demands of adulthood took precedent. Without a degree, Pile missed out on some promotions that he was otherwise qualified for. All along, the promise gnawed at him, even as he found success as a human resources professional, got married and became a proud father of four children.

Nearly three decades later, Pile’s promise was finally fulfilled. In December 2019, he earned his BS in Business Administration from Mount Saint Mary’s Weekend/Evening & Online College.

“The Mount was the perfect fit for what I needed,” Pile says. “The camaraderie is amazing. And it’s not just with students. You get to know your professors on a personal level, too. They’re so passionate about what they teach, and it shows in the classroom. It’s a really uplifting, motivating community you become part of here.” 

He also gained new business acumen that he’s applied to his current job at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, where he
recruits PhD-level academic and research scientists. “I learned so much about how to better work with people, how to
communicate and understand different viewpoints,” Pile says. “I often find myself harkening back to scenarios in class that have come in handy at work.”

Pile has long championed his own children’s educational dreams. His oldest son will graduate from UC San Diego this
coming spring with dual degrees in biochemistry and global health. When he does, Pile will likely send a crowing message to a certain group chat on his phone.

“The friends I made at the Mount, we still have a running group chat on WhatsApp called ‘MSMU FAM-BAM,’” Pile says.
“It’s a way to stay in touch personally and professionally. I love that we still have this bond. Our shared journey continues.”
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