When it Comes to Online MBA, 'Stevens is Ahead of the Game'
Pfizer Manager Says Engaging Classes, Delivered Live Online, Empower Him to Add Value at Work
Craig Sem is the sort of leader who’s always thinking about how to provide more value for the business, like when he pressed the idea of bringing PET imaging to the Comparative Medicine department of Pfizer, where he’s an associate director.
“It gives us a great link to the clinic” where cancer therapies are developed, Sem said. “Clinical can outsource a study and get results in six to eight months — or, now, we can do it and have data in six to eight weeks. That speed allows our clinical project team to adjust much faster. That speed is invaluable.”
No surprise he expects the same kind of value from the MBA he’s pursuing online at Stevens Institute of Technology.
“I’ve learned a lot about myself through my MBA coursework,” Sem said. “Even just something like understanding the different professors, their methods, and their expectations, has me thinking about the various teams that I meet with at work — oncology, vaccines, facilities and so on — and how I can adapt my communication style and methods for success with each group.”
Sem’s work at Pfizer involves oversight of facilities and business resources for the Comparative Medicine department in San Diego, CA, where he relies on his high emotional IQ to motivate the technically oriented members of his team.
“I’m interested in trying to understand how I can bring more value to the role,” he said. “You have to constantly provide value and align that with the goals of the business. At Pfizer, one of our goals is to cure cancer. So, what can I do to ensure my department is a partner in that goal? How and where can we advance to be the best partner in that goal?”
That’s where his drive for value adds — like on-site PET imaging — come from, making his department a key partner in the business, instead of just an expense that could be outsourced.
Faculty 'willing to share their insights with you'
Sem took his time choosing where to do his MBA, selecting Stevens for its curricular rigor, scientific emphasis, and the engagement with faculty and other students made possible through live online delivery.
“My learning style doesn’t match the typical online program — reading articles or case studies, posting about them and reacting to other peoples’ posts,” he said. “What I enjoy most about Stevens is the engagement you get with your professors through the live classes. Stevens professors bring so much industry experience to each class, and they’re so willing to share their insights with you.”
Sem is currently taking Dr. Peter Dominick’s class on leader development, the centerpiece of which is a 10-page paper that challenges students to better understand themselves and to awaken their own unique leadership style. It’s one of several assessments Dr. Dominick employs in class to help students bring their talents to bear in the real world.
“Every once in a while, you see someone score high on opposite ends of an assessment — someone who is outgoing and directs his energy toward helping others, but is also a detail-oriented person,” Dr. Dominick said. “Craig is one of those people. It’s certainly something I appreciate about having him in the classroom — he’s good at drawing students in, even in an online environment.”
Sem said he doesn’t think he’d be as successful in class without the live online environment.
“Being in a live classroom gives you the opportunity to form those relationships with the professors and with your classmates,” he said. “I feel those relationships are an important piece of an MBA and I don’t feel as though I’m missing out on that. Stevens really makes that work, even virtually.”
One of Sem’s favorite classes was strategy with Dr. Ann Murphy — a course that spoke to his work responsibilities, taught by a professor he admired.
“She’s a great example of an engaging professor,” he said. “I’d bring up a topic and she’d listen, really think about it and then open it up to the class for further exploration.”
Dr. Murphy said Sem brought good humor to the class, helping his classmates enjoy the discussions.
“He was always interested in hearing others’ opinions and would actively solicit them — mine as well as his classmates,” she said. “He was good at connecting what we learned in class to his work.”
Unique experience for working professionals
Professional students at the School of Business are part of what’s called the Stevens Partners program. They take one class per semester — the same day and same time each week — to offer them the greatest flexibility and help them manage busy personal and professional lives.
“Some programs move a bit faster, but I don’t know that you’re really engaging with the material in those programs, or relating it to your work,” Sem said. “My job is important to me. Being a good father and spending time with my family is important to me. The pace at Stevens is perfect because I can give my all to a single class without feeling stretched too thin.”
It’s clearly working for Sem, who has been invited to join the Stevens chapter of the Beta Gamma Sigma honors society.
“I’m really enjoying my education — how much I’m learning about strategy, management and marketing, but also how much I’m learning about myself,” Sem said. “I really believe that what I’m learning at Stevens will help me in my current role and throughout my career.”