2022 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Kati Dempsey, Lehigh University
“Reimagining through curiosity. Innovation through teamwork. Leading through vulnerability.”
hometown: Philly, PA
Fun facts about yourself: Prior to high school I was a competitive gymnast, and was recently inducted into my high school hall of fame.
Undergraduate School and Degree:
Bachelors of ScienceBiology
Where are you currently working?
Merck & Co., Inc.
Associate Director, Strategic Planning
What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? Taking a moment to reflect on my career, I recognize that I have a lot to be proud of and so much to be grateful for. Still, I have often had regrets in not pursuing a career in medicine. After graduating in 2009, I took a job in pharmaceuticals as a manufacturing technician. While many of my friends were struggling to find jobs, I could not shake my dissatisfaction. It was not until years later that I would recognize that it is not necessarily about being satisfied and more about what you can learn.
Eventually, after a winding early career path, I was afforded the opportunity to meld my experience with my passion as the Quality Lead in the onboarding of my company’s first autologous immunotherapy. It may not be super clear why that is so significant, but just imagine that you could “boost” your own immune cells to attack your cancer. Really cool, right? I thought so, too. And after almost a year of long days, frustrations, and celebrations, the first patient dose left the loading dock. I stood there with my colleague watching it drive away, and in that moment I felt satisfied. While I had not become a doctor, I had been a part of something that could change patients’ lives, and I was proud of that.
Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program?
“I am a big believer in boredom. Boredom allows one to indulge in curiosity, and out of curiosity comes everything.” – Steve Jobs
Now, I am not saying that I was necessarily bored and looking for something to fill the void, but rather I was curious. The business world always seemed so foreign. Although I had minored in Spanish, the business language was beyond comprehension. Eventually, my curiosity led me to a ‘Lunch & Learn’ at Merck, where Lehigh University introduced an opportunity to test drive their MBA. I thought to myself, “Sign me up!” And that was it. I never looked back.
Although, I must note that I had a little hesitation as it relates to my Bucknell roots (‘Ray Bucknell!), but I have no regrets as this journey has led to fortuitous growth and opportunity.
What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? Being part of a global company, my day-to-day often consists of virtual or hybrid meetings, presentations, and workshops. The opportunity to be online with a live cohort of students best reflected the reality of how many companies, including mine, communicate and do business. Additionally, it provided me the opportunity and flexibility to attend a university that otherwise would not have been geographically accessible.
What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? Don’t tell anyone… I actually prefer the online learning environment. Believe it or not, my preference is not related to the fact that I am an introvert.
Oddly enough, I relate my online learning experience to animals in the wild versus animals in captivity, where students more truthfully represent themselves in their ‘natural habitat’ than they do on exhibition in captivity. It introduces a level of vulnerability and authenticity that facilitates a different kind of interaction and connection. I also found the online environment to be more inclusive and accessible for students that may experience sensory, learning, or social determinant challenges.
How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? This comparison is actually quite challenging for a few reasons:
- The responsibilities of being a full-time student and part-time track athlete is very different from being full-time professional / adult and a part-time student.
- About a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with ADHD and anxiety, which likely would have reduced my struggle as an undergraduate student.
- Technology has changed significantly within the last 10 years as it relates to virtual connections, platforms, and tools.
- And COVID… I digress.
Beyond these life, technology, and societal shifts, though, I would not change the delivery or experience of either educational journey, as they both aligned appropriately with my stage in life.
What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Invest in blue light glasses and a comfortable desk set-up. Kidding… but not really.
All jokes aside, here are some key pieces of advice:
- Prioritize your well-being, even if you have to schedule it (a skill you will become very familiar with).
- You can be both flexible with your time while also defending your time.
- Have a support system, and it doesn’t matter who as long as you ready them for the ride.
- Outsource anything that doesn’t need to be done by you and saves time. Here are examples: grocery delivery, meal ordering, and a home cleaning service.
What would you change about an online MBA program? While I have always been a distance student in Lehigh’s Flex MBA, I only experienced two (2) hybrid courses before all courses transitioned to remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic restrictions and mandates. Out of necessity, the world adapted to this completely online and virtual environment, which highlighted a few key opportunities for improvement in online learning and engagement:
- In-person lectures are often not super engaging, and the information is not retained well if there is no additional interaction with the content, such as class or group discussions, activities, and in-class deliverables. This is exceptionally true for online programs.
- For hybrid learning environments, it is more inclusive and interactive for the online participants if the live students are also logged into the virtual environment with their camera on.
How has your online education helped you in your current job? Early in my online MBA journey, I made a career transition from R&D Quality Assurance to Corporate Strategy, which required an accelerated competency in business acumen and project management. I soon found myself situated in an ideal blend of educational and experiential learning, where I had the opportunity to apply what I was learning online directly to my strategy role, my department’s development, and the projects I was supporting. Ultimately, my online education provided me with an understanding in areas that I historically would have avoided, and a voice in discussions where I historically would have remained silent.
Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? While I did not receive a promotion during my online MBA program, I have been presented with opportunities prompted by the awareness of my educational endeavors.
Did you earn a raise during the online MBA program? I did not earn a raise that directly relates to my participation in Lehigh’s FLEX MBA program.
Number of Hours Per Week Spent On Online MBA: The time spent on my MBA correlated with both course credits and course content, and ranged anywhere between 15-30 hours per week.
What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My ultimate professional goal is to be passionately curious and aptly uncomfortable. It doesn’t matter what company I work for, the title I have, or how much money I make, so long as growth continues to exist.