Studying an online MBA at RGU

Online MBA student Nicholas Kern discusses his education journey and how it all led him to studying at RGU.

Through tragedy came hope and new horizons.

My learning adventure started with tragedy when my family was struck by a drunk driver whilst driving home after visiting my in-laws and wife’s ailing grandmother. It might seem like an odd place to begin my learning journey. However, through our family’s trauma came our ability to overcome misfortunes. Events like this can alter your life’s course. Up to this point, I was highly entrepreneurially driven in the advertising, creative technology and graphic arts sectors.

I was inspired by those that helped us through that and our life journey would have been much more difficult if not for them. I was already drawn to being altruistic, I wanted to pivot from using my skills to sell products, to utilising them to help my community find more effective and appropriate support when in need. We struggled to understand the court system and supports during our recovery. I wanted to help make a difference by improving communication methods to the public, so I applied to the State of Oregon, U.S.A. I am now the Director of the Publications and Creative Services and serve the Oregon Health Authority (OHA) and Oregon Department of Human Services (ODHS) with communication focused supports.

What led you to study an MBA?

While working in the public sector, I realised my altruistic nature might be limiting my ability to learn. My behaviour of caring about those around me first seemed to be inhibiting my personal development. I decided to take a risk and applied to the State of Oregon ODHS|OHA Leadership Academy and was accepted. My revived thirst for continual learning started with this one risk. It reminded me of my love of interacting, listening, sharing commonalities, debating and honouring differences, and just talking about ways to approach problems and solutions inclusively.

The agencies leadership program was an excellent gateway for me to realise I needed to improve myself to help develop others around me more effectively. I then decided to apply to the Atkinson Graduate School of Management Executive Development Centre and then completed the United States Certification of Public Management (CPM). I became more and more deeply fascinated and passionate about organisation development, Human-Centered Design (Design Thinking), service improvements, user experience, customer journeys and more.

Through an MBA program, I wanted to gain more depth in these ever-evolving areas through the expertise of faculty experience, peers, the institution, cultural diversity and my desire to learn and push the limits of my knowledge. So, I decided to pursue an MBA.

Why did you choose RGU?

I researched and visited several institutions, and Robert Gordon University (RGU) appealed to me due to its rich heritage, diversity of students, cultural awareness, faculty, institutional infrastructure and curriculum. I was impressed with the university blending of student-centric educational focus and practical applications. I felt reassured that RGU would refine and expand my capabilities as a leader and learner and improve myself within my community. My life journey aligned with RGU’s commitment to providing equality and diversity. From all the universities I researched, I discerned that RGU’s MBA would increase my knowledge and provide a diverse global learning perspective, and RGU did.

What part of this course have you enjoyed the most?

I’ve enjoyed the journey of the complete MBA itself. I can’t hone in on a singular aspect or course topic. However, the curriculum refreshed my perspectives through research, sharing with peers, dialog and inspiration from RGU faculty. Every time I experienced an awe ha moment, or new vantage point of looking at something in a completely foreign context it was fantastic. In the end, it was the sum of the whole for me. The most important aspect outside the course itself was the importance of building relationships with your study group, other students, and the faculty. Several of my assessments have been, or are being implemented within either the program I administrate or within the agencies. I have been able to apply or use the data, from all of the curriculum and assessments data from my modules, which has been fantastic.

Can you tell us a bit more about your Consultancy Project?

The agencies have struggled with training program curriculum development and training completion rates for years. There have been several other assessments, evaluations and audits performed. It was a heavy lift. However, I wanted to look at it from a different angle and approach. Through the use of graphics, staff assessments and dissemination of past data, I wanted to tell a story about the importance of “Learning Together”. A learning culture can create clarity of the organisations vision, value alignment, increase teams to embrace change and create a culture that shares knowledge. It fosters continuous improvement, accountability and increases production efficiency and retention of staff. All things the agencies have struggled to attain.

The consultancies scope was to investigate the current methods and frameworks used for the ODHS c-suite to leadership employee development planning, and how it is integral to foster an organisational culture of learning. The aim was to inform a comprehensive strategic leadership development framework. Once the project was complete, it was gratifying to hear from the Chief Administrative Officer (CAO) that “The dissertation, Learning Together. By the time I completed reading sections 1 and 2, I was aware that the work had already exceeded my expectations and provided the data and research needed to assist in constructing our enterprise training program. The HR data analysis is exceptional and absolutely relevant to the work we’re doing right now. The subsequent recommendations will accelerate our workgroup’s ability to present a comprehensive plan to the ODHS executive group for review.” ODHS CAO.

What advice would you give to someone thinking about studying for an MBA?

I went into it not seeking a diploma for a promotion, recondition, or a job change but to learn, improve and prepare myself to never stop learning.

Pursuing my MBA was one of the most gratifying things I have ever accomplished in my life. Some things I did that might help you are I started with getting to know myself better through assessments, looking at my performance reviews, established professional mentors and continuous feedback. I developed a learning self-improvement plan, performed a personal SWOT (Strengths, Weaknesses, Opportunities and Threats) analysis on myself and utilised a tremendous amount of self-reflection. It can be hard to look at your reflection, but I found it beneficial. However, knowing yourself well may help you get through it all and gain the courage to apply for your MBA.

If you want to pursue your MBA, it should be the quest to gain knowledge, build relationships, challenge ideas, create new ideas, solve problems, or bring issues to light. Knowing myself more helped me increase my performance at the university. Embrace that not everything has an answer and what used to be the answer may no longer be applicable.

Next learning journey for me… DBA application (at RGU I hope).

Nicholas M Kern – dreamer, learner, father, explorer, spouse, musician, designer, leader, supporter, hillwalker, follower, football (soccer) coach and RGU believer.

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