“It is my goal for students to leave my classes with a set of tools in their toolbox and with the knowledge of how to analyze and tackle problems. While having an MBA may get them an interview or a job, it is what they learn in the program that will make them successful.”
Associate Professor Susan C. Steffan, MBA, currently serves as the chair of Medaille's Department of Business, Management & Leadership and as program director for the College's MBA (master of business administration) program. After earning an MBA with a concentration in corporate finance herself, Steffan went to work for General Motors and held positions in finance, purchasing, sales, marketing and business planning during her 10 years there. Feeling a desire to teach and impart her knowledge and experience to others, Steffan started teaching as an adjunct professor at Medaille when the College launched its accelerated learning program for working adults in 1997. She continued as an adjunct for twelve years, while professionally transitioning from General Motors to Hearst Publishing, handling the company’s operational budgets, forecasting and contract negotiations. She eventually switched her primary focus to academics, joining Medaille’s full time faculty in 2009 and becoming chair of the Department of Business, Management & Leadership during the 2016-17 academic year. In addition to her responsibilities as MBA program director, Steffan also currently teaches accounting, finance and capstone courses in the program.
Here, Steffan discusses how her business background allows her to focus course lessons and projects on real-world application, and she describes what makes Medaille’s MBA program so unique.
How does your background in finance, marketing and managerial positions in the corporate world influence the content of the MBA courses you teach?
My courses are very focused on the practical application of the concepts being learned. For example, in my managerial accounting course, I give the students multiple exercises that I actually encountered in the real world. I’ve even had students get raises at work from implementing some of their class projects! My favorite class to teach, though, has to be our capstone course. In addition to my professional work as a business planner for General Motors, I also consult on aspects of business planning with the Center for Entrepreneurial Leadership and the Entrepreneurial Assistance Program. I’m able to bring the latest issues facing entrepreneurs back to my students, and sometimes get my students involved in helping the entrepreneurs. My students will all tell you that I don’t believe in teaching anything unless I can show them precisely how they will utilize it in their careers, because I have!
What do you think makes Medaille’s MBA program unique or different from other similar programs?
I really think the capstone course is what sets Medaille’s MBA program apart from any other. All MBA programs have to prove that their students “mastered” business administration to their accreditors with a culminating project. Our faculty have chosen to have students demonstrate their knowledge in all areas of business by creating a comprehensive business plan for a start-up or expansion in their final course. Our students have successfully launched businesses for themselves or for community partners as a result of this project. I now maintain a waiting list of entrepreneurs who want to work with our students to create a business plan for their company. We have had many great success stories that have helped our community, and the students learn so much and receive great references from this project.
How would you describe the value of an MBA degree in today’s world?
An MBA has always been considered the “gold standard” in business education. It used to be that you could start in business without a degree, and having a degree set you apart. Now, you need a bachelor’s degree most often to start in business, and an MBA is what can set you apart. I am not, however, a believer that a student should get an MBA just to “check that box.” While not having one will hold workers back from higher level jobs, the purpose of furthering your education is much bigger than that. Education forces you to change how you think and perceive the world. It’s my goal for students to leave my classes with a set of tools in their toolbox and with the knowledge of how to analyze and tackle problems. When they face a challenge or opportunity at work, they will think back to the tools they have and analyze the problem in a more systemic, thoughtful way, because of what they have learned. While having an MBA may get them an interview or a job, it is what they learn in the program that will make them successful.
What is your favorite aspect of the MBA program at Medaille?
My favorite part of the MBA program is our students. I consider myself a life-longer learner, and I love the students who come into our program and bring their experiences to the classroom. I like to learn from them, I like them to challenge me to think about something differently, and I love when they embrace learning and take advantage of all the opportunities we offer. I can honestly say that leaving industry to teach full time requires a financial sacrifice. The reason that I, and my colleagues, make that choice is because of the benefits that industry doesn’t really provide. When I see my students getting new jobs or moving up in their careers, and then coming back to tell me what an impact I had on their lives, it reminds me of exactly why I do what I do. My favorite day of the year is graduation day, where I get to sit on stage and just beam at my students walking across.
What advice would you give to current MBA students or those interested in pursuing such a degree?
My biggest advice for incoming students is to take advantage of all that the College offers. My most successful students have been those who ask for help when they need it, get to know their professors and classmates, attend the workshops and other events offered, and really embrace their time at Medaille. We all want our students to succeed, and we have lots of help, such as tutoring labs, library resources and IT assistance available. But students need to learn to ask for help as soon as they need it, rather than waiting until bad grades make recovery difficult. I also can’t encourage students enough to get to know their faculty. We purposely put industry-connected academics in front of them for every class, and that opportunity to network and learn is priceless. I get calls all the time from colleagues throughout the area looking to hire, and the students who have demonstrated interest and hard work can take advantage of those connections. I tell my students that coming to see me during office hours, or chatting over email about career questions, etc. actually makes my day – that’s why I’m here!