On a Friday night at Catapult Creative House in downtown Cape Girardeau, members of the Southeast Missouri State University Graduate Business Students’ Association (GSBA) gather in an upstairs conference room. The heavenly scent of home-made chicken tikka greets all who enter the room, and anticipation builds over the promise of crepes– also made by a graduate student– for dessert. The atmosphere is relaxed and friendly, the camaraderie evident as the students eat and catch up on the events of the week.
The room is packed, and more chairs are rolled in. Dr. Foster Roberts, the faculty advisor of the GSBA arrived early; Dr. Kenneth Heischmidt, former director of Graduate Business Programs who has been teaching in the Harrison College of Business for more than 20 years, is greeted warmly as he and his wife join the crowd. The chatter dims as the visiting speakers, Curt Buchheit and Casey Crowell– both Southeast graduates and Bank of Missouri executives — begin their remarks. The students smile as they listen. The guidance and mentoring they receive from experienced business professionals like these is one of the many reasons why they chose Southeast’s Master of Business Administration (MBA) Program.
In the fall of 1996, professors in the Harrison College of Business at Southeast decided to bring an MBA back to Southeast; a prior program had lost traction nearly a decade earlier. The effort was led by Heischmidt, who realized an MBA program could be successful in southeast Missouri provided its mission included two key components: first, to give students the education they wanted, and second, to give businesses the educated professionals they needed. The two objectives married happily and the revamped MBA program has enjoyed unparalleled success over the last two decades.
This year Southeast’s MBA Program is celebrating its 20th anniversary.
Dr. Foster Roberts leads a Graduate Entrepreneurship class.
When the MBA was launched in 1996, not everyone was convinced the people of southeast Missouri would be interested.
“There was concern that the MBA market was in St. Louis, not Cape Girardeau,” Heischmidt said.
The faculty launching the degree decided to move forward with a small program providing two options: a traditional MBA management program; and a second MBA option with an emphasis in accounting. Both programs generally take two years to complete.
“We expected that the program would grow to 70 or 80 students, and then enrollment would level out” recalls Dr. Gerald McDougall, dean of the Harrison College of Business. “Clearly, that did not happen – we exceeded our expectations.”
Enrollment for the inaugural semester, fall 1996, was 32. Ten years later, enrollment was up to 104. Now, 20 years later, total enrollment in all focus areas, including both the traditional and online graduate programs, is more than 200 students.
The MBA program received accreditation from the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB) in the fall 2000 semester. Receiving AACSB accreditation was an important step in bringing high-caliber students to Southeast.
“When we were first reviewed, I was asked how many students we admitted that did not satisfy our published admission requirements” Heischmidt said. “I told the reviewer that all of our students had met those requirements, every single one of them. We had set a standard and we didn’t deviate from it.”
The accreditation was awarded shortly thereafter, and has been maintained by the Harrison College of Business ever since. Only 5 percent of business schools worldwide have earned AACSB accreditation.
The MBA program revised its admission requirements in 2010 and 2013; both updates ultimately increased enrollment.
“We compete with schools that are much larger, that have higher name recognition,” said Heischmidt, “but the students—intelligent, driven students from all walks of life—choose to come here because of the quality of the education we offer.”
The Graduate Studies faculty in the College of Business pride themselves on their close relationships with their students, developing courses that satisfy student goals and interests.
“We started with programs in management and accounting,” said Dr. James Caldwell, director of Graduate Business Programs, “but we now offer a full portfolio of award-winning educational opportunities, including a total of nine MBA concentrations, many of which are interdisciplinary, offered in cooperation with other Southeast departments.”
The various tracks include opportunities in international business, health administration, environmental management and sports management The Harrison College of Business also offers two additional graduate degrees: a top-ranked Master of Science in management, and a Master of Science in healthcare management. Moreover, the traditional MBA program can now be fully completed online.
“The nationally ranked online MBA, like our other programs, caters to the specific needs and desires of the students” said Heischmidt. “Our online component serves the immediate region and expands the reach of the program, while allowing business professionals to continue working while in school.” According to Heischmidt, “some of our best students are those coming back to school utilizing the online format.”
Online students are welcome to all face-to-face events, and many pursue a “hybrid” degree, taking advantage of both online and classroom courses.
“We will continue to develop programs as student demand for those programs increases, or the market for a particular knowledge base increases,” said Caldwell. “Usually there’s a correlation between the two. Students want the skills that allow them to excel in their chosen field. We work with both students and business leaders to develop those skills.”
Key to the program’s success has been the commitment of the faculty to ensure each student gets the maximum benefit from their time spent at Southeast.
“Our faculty is experienced, educated, and, most importantly, service oriented, offering multiple opportunities for face-to-face interaction with professors and peers, including the Graduate Students’ Business Association,” said Caldwell.
Bobbie Dampier from Springfield, Missouri, found this to be the case.
“I came to Southeast because it looked like a great program, and because it was less expensive than some other programs I considered, but I was also impressed that the placement rate after graduation was really good,” she said.
Dampier, a second year student in the MBA accounting track, already has a job lined up when she graduates next year.
“I interned last summer at a big accounting firm in St. Louis,” she said, “and I will be going back there to work full-time after I graduate. I am happy with the education I am receiving as it relates to my future career in accounting.”
Jue “Violet” Zhang is a graduate of Southeast’s MBA Program and now has a successful e-commerce business in Beijing.
Jue “Violet” Zhang is one of the hundreds of international students who have chosen to study business at Southeast. International students currently make up 35 percent of the graduate student body within the Harrison College of Business.
Zhang graduated from Southeast with an MBA in 2008, honed her professional skills working for Alibaba, China’s largest e-commerce company, and continues a successful career in e-commerce in Beijing, China. She insists the faculty was crucial to the success she now enjoys.
“I believe that I learned much more than what was in my books,” Zhang explained. “The professors made sure of that. I spent hours talking to them about classes, about books, and about life. I spent every Sunday at Dr. Young’s house eating Sunday dinner, learning about the demands placed upon women in the business world, and talking about the opera.”
According to Zhang, the Southeast experience was far more than what could be discerned by brochures or a list of program requirements.
“I had looked at another program, but after visiting Southeast, I knew that there were no better professors. They were very sweet, nice, professional and patient. They treated the students as their kids. They inspired me, even though they said that they were inspired by us.”
Ever-improving modern technology means that anyone can have access to goods, services, information and people anywhere in the world, at any time, instantly.
“The internet means all business is international business,” said McDougall. “International students are a vital part of our MBA program. They add interesting diverse viewpoints to the curriculum as a whole, not merely to topics dealing with international trade.”
Students in the MBA program also have opportunities to learn by studying abroad; the College of Business has cooperative agreements with two universities in Germany.
A consistent theme among MBA students and professors is the emphasis on graduating well-prepared professionals. According to McDougall, the College of Business has been successful in this endeavor because of closely developed relationships with business leaders in the southeast Missouri region.
“When our students wanted a program in healthcare administration, we consulted with executives at our two largest healthcare providers, Southeast Health and Saint Francis Medical Center. When a program needs to be modified, we talk to the experts in that field. Professional development is of key importance,” he explained.
Caldwell also emphasized the importance of offering courses that were developed in cooperation with working business leaders.
“When we graduate professionals ready for the demands of an ever changing global business community, it adds value to our students’ portfolio of skills,” said Caldwell.
Enrollment in all focus areas of Southeast’s MBA Program, including both the traditional and online graduate programs, is more than 200 students.
Off- campus events are also a regular part of the Southeast MBA experience. The GBSA gatherings are held at Catapult on the first Friday of every month, and speakers include many prominent business leaders from the region.
“We want to give students opportunities to enhance their classroom experiences,” said Caldwell.
Students also come together to bowl, tailgate and network. As for life in Cape Girardeau? On that Friday night at the Catapult Creative House, Sia Sharma, a second year graduate student from New Dehli, India, was all smiles.
“The people here, both at Southeast and in Cape Girardeau, are so nice, so welcoming. It’s exactly what I wanted it to be,” she said.
Sharma, who plans to work in human resources, said the experience at Southeast is more than what it might appear to be on paper.
“The program makes good financial sense. The cost of living here is low, and the school’s placement rate is high. Those are reasons to come here, but that’s not why I decided to stay,” she said. “The business school at Southeast is like a big family. That’s what I wanted. That’s why I am here.”
Sharma smiled as she glanced around the room watching students and faculty enjoying the chicken tikka she had made.
“In the big city, and at big schools, you are just one of many. At Southeast, every person has something to contribute,” she said. “Every person is important.”