Interview with Michelle Wieser, Ph.D. - Dean of the School of Business and Technology at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota
About Michelle Wieser, Ph.D.: Michelle Wieser is the Dean of the School of Business and Technology at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota. In this role, she guides all undergraduate and graduate programs and certificates within the school, providing strategic leadership to ensure academic excellence and sustained success and growth. Earlier in her academic career, Dr. Wieser was Director of the Graduate Business Career Center with the University of Minnesota’s Carlson School of Management, and she served in a variety of career development roles with the Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis. She is passionate about mentoring students at all levels to achieve their career goals. Prior to her time in academia, Dr. Wieser held several roles in marketing, recruiting, and consulting, including Vice President for Brand Management Executive Recruiting at the O’Connell Group Executive Search and Manager and Senior Consultant at Ernst & Young (EY).
Dr. Wieser received a Ph.D. in Organizational Leadership, Policy, and Development from the University of Minnesota, an MBA in Marketing from Washington University in St Louis, and a Bachelor of Journalism degree from the University of Missouri. Her research examines the experience and outcomes of MBA graduates across the U.S. and Europe, and particularly focuses on gender and racial disparities in this space. Dr. Wieser has been a leader within many professional and community organizations. She was recently a part of a large mentoring pilot program with Menttium called “Women Mentoring Men: Standing Together for Change.” She mentored the president of a large financial services firm. Dr. Wieser has served on the Board of the MBA Career Services and Employer Alliance, the Forté Foundation, and Minnesota Women in Marketing and Communications. She was recently selected by the Minneapolis-St. Paul Business Journal to join a region-wide leadership group called “Women to Know.”
In her role as Dean, one of Dr. Wieser’s primary focus areas is growth – primarily of our bachelor’s completion and master’s programs. This growth can come in two ways: Organically through better means of telling our story, and through innovation through the launch of new types of programs and credentials. Key to this has been the launch of the new Saint Mary’s Accelerators (stackable 12-15 credit graduate certificates).
[GraduateCertificates.com] May we have more information on Saint Mary’s Accelerators, the graduate certificate programs that are offered at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota? Specifically, could you please give an overview of the 11 Saint Mary’s Accelerators programs offered through the School of Business and Technology and the School of Education? What is the structure of the curriculum for these programs, and what student populations do they serve in particular?
[Dr. Michelle Wieser] The Saint Mary’s Accelerators are 12-15 credit graduate certificates designed to help individuals advance their careers. We recently launched 12 of them, with additional certificates launching in May . The graduate certificates are designed for students who want to advance their careers along their current track or change careers into something completely different. One of the hallmarks of our “accelerators” is that they are stackable into or onto full degree programs. Students can pursue a graduate certificate and then decide to continue into a full degree program in the same or a different discipline. Conversely, students can start in a full program (such as an MBA) and decide to stack a certificate onto their degree – allowing them to specialize and customize their education.
We designed the Saint Mary’s Accelerators to be financial aid eligible if students desire to leverage federal financial aid. Whether or not they utilize financial aid, students can complete a graduate certificate in a year or less.
Current graduate certificate offerings include:
- Business Analytics
- Healthcare Analytics
- Artificial Intelligence
- Data Engineering
- International Development
- Human Resources Management
- Project Management
- Nonprofit Management
- Healthcare Administration
- Innovation and Entrepreneurship
- Critical, Creative and Design Thinking
- Teaching Training, and Leading with Technology
[GraduateCertificates.com] As these programs are delivered online, what is the delivery/instruction method, and how does it facilitate interactions between course instructors and students in the online environment?
[Dr. Michelle Wieser] All of the graduate certificates launched thus far are offered exclusively online. They mainly involve asynchronous learning, but some courses may also include synchronous class sessions. Learning is delivered through lecture, video, case studies, group assignments, discussion boards, and other types of activities. Currently, graduate certificates are either delivered via Engage or Blackboard. Saint Mary’s is in the process of transitioning to a new learning management system, Canvas, so all courses will be offered in one system in the near future. In the School of Business and Technology, we do not have residencies or other on-campus events associated with our graduate certificates.
[GraduateCertificates.com] Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota also offers master’s degrees in many of the fields for which it offers graduate certificate programs, and allows current master’s students to earn graduate certificates to complement their degree. Can you explain the difference between the master’s and graduate certificate programs offered by Saint Mary’s? What is the target audience for the master’s degree, versus the graduate certificate, and in what instances do they overlap?
[Dr. Michelle Wieser] For the graduate certificates launched thus far, many of the courses do overlap with existing master’s degrees. For example in the School of Education, learners who complete both the Teaching, Training, and Leading With Technology Certificate and the Critical, Creative, and Design Thinking Certificate also earn an M.Ed. in Learning Design & Technology. As we launch additional certificates in the near future, this will mostly be comprised of new courses. Students do take classes with students in our full master’s programs. This allows students to engage with a variety of different peers.
Target student audiences overlap for certificate and master’s programs. That said, there are some key differences. Students in the graduate certificate programs may have a need for a lower overall time and financial investment. They may already hold a master’s degree and have an interest in supplementing their education or adding a new skillset. The hurdle is lower for certificate students in choosing to return to school. Students in the full programs may know that they need a particular master’s degree to move up or move into their desired field. Students who complete a certificate may return and complete a full master’s degree in the same or a different field (at an accelerated pace).
[GraduateCertificates.com] How are the graduate certificate programs offered through the School of Business and Technology and the School of Education at Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota different from professional development programs and training seminars offered through employers and professional associations? What are the advantages of a graduate certificate program offered at a university, relative to these other options?
[Dr. Michelle Wieser] There are a few key differences between the Saint Mary’s Accelerators and professional development or training programs:
- These graduate certificates appear on a transcript, adding credibility and substantiating the rigor of the educational experience.
- Graduate certificates are financial aid eligible.
- The graduate certificates may be stacked now or later into full master’s programs at Saint Mary’s.
- The Saint Mary’s Accelerators are graduate-level credentials – putting them in a different category than typical training or development programs.
Professional development and other training programs play an important role in educating and motivating individuals; however, a “transcripted” certificate not only offers a graduate-level education, but also provides a strong signal to the market of a person’s employment goals.
[GraduateCertificates.com] What are the admissions requirements for Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s graduate certificate programs? How are these admission requirements different from those of the master’s degrees offered through Saint Mary’s? How do you recommend students put forth a competitive application to their desired graduate certificate programs?
[Dr. Michelle Wieser] Within the School of Business and Technology and the School of Education, the admissions requirements are the same for graduate certificates and full master’s programs. This is because of the stackable nature of these offerings (where students may choose to move right into a full program from their certificate), and the fact that many of the courses overlap. For these reasons, it is essential to evaluate students against the same admissions criteria. This also ensures that a certificate student who decides to continue into a full program will not need to reapply.
When applying for either a program or a graduate certificate, the personal statement is the opportunity for candidates to showcase what makes them unique. What about their education, work experience, community service, or other life experience makes them stand out? The School of Business and Technology recently removed the requirement for letters of recommendation, and rather, replaced them with references that can be contacted in case the admissions committee has questions about an applicant’s qualifications. This reduces the application hurdles. It also makes the personal statements play a more important role, as it is the only place for presenting a person’s qualifications outside of more extrinsic measures like work experience, grades, and other tangible elements of a person’s background.
[GraduateCertificates.com] Outside of faculty guidance and support in classes and office hours, what support structures are in place for students of Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s graduate certificate programs?
[Dr. Michelle Wieser] Students enrolled in our Saint Mary’s Accelerators have access to the same student services as our students enrolled in full-time programs, including access to our alumni network. This network can be very beneficial as students seek to leverage their graduate certificate into a new career. In addition, we are excited that we are building out enhanced career and student services for our entire set of graduate programs and graduate certificates. It is an ideal time to pursue a certificate and take advantage of the new things in the works for students.
[GraduateCertificates.com] May we have more information on the School of Business and Technology’s mission statement, and how the graduate certificate programs the School offers fit into its overall mission? How does the diversity of graduate certificate programs offered help further the School’s objective to help professionals excel in fields of practice?
[Dr. Michelle Wieser] The vision of the School of Business and Technology is as follows:
To support Building a Future Full of Hope 2025, the School of Business and Technology has established a vision around three high-level pillars: strengthen, innovate, and differentiate.
- Strengthen: Evaluate and acknowledge what the school does well and what we could do better, and refresh and enhance our offerings to provide a best-in-class experience for students and all stakeholders;
- Innovate: Develop new partnerships, collaborations, programs, and experiences to attract and serve our students while building a bright future for the school;
- Differentiate: Reimagine our offerings in a way that allows the school to differentiate our educational experience in a compelling way – making Saint Mary’s a destination for business and technology.
The Saint Mary’s Accelerators have really brought this vision to life. The launch of our new graduate certificates ties directly to the “innovate” and “differentiate” elements listed above. Our goal was to find new ways of delivering education – new modes and formats that help people accelerate their careers, are more affordable, and allow students to stack credentials and customize their degrees. We recently launched 12 certificates in everything from artificial intelligence to teaching, training, and leading with technology. We are approaching the launch of additional cybersecurity certificates in the near future.
[GraduateCertificates.com] In your opinion, where do you see graduate certificate programs in the overall post-baccalaureate education landscape, and how do you see graduate certificate programs as a graduate education option evolving as various industries from health care to technology, business, and education continue to expand and evolve?
[Dr. Michelle Wieser] I believe graduate certificates play many different roles depending on the student. They can certainly serve as stand-alone credentials – as a means to help students rapidly gain new skills and advance their careers. Certificates can also serve as either a steppingstone to a full master’s degree, or as add-ons to a person’s prior or current master’s program. With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, the need for these types of educational credentials increased. Questions about the economy, combined with an increased focus on areas such as healthcare, science, and analytics, makes it an optimal time for students to pursue new education and solidify their futures.
Thank you, Dr. Wieser, for your excellent insight into Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota’s School of Business and Technology’s and School of Education’s graduate certificate programs!
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