On the surface, Chip Swearngan and Edith Hudson are about as different as two professionals could be. One has worked in a variety of corporate environments, finding his niche in the financial services sector, advancing his way to a senior executive position. The other is a 22-year veteran of the Milwaukee Police Department, working hard to have earned the title of Inspector, making her the highest-ranking female officer on the force.
Yet, despite apparent differences, both Swearngan and Hudson made the decision to pursue a graduate degree, both decided on Alverno, both were among the first to graduate from the program and, most impressively, both have realized a dramatic and positive change since earning their Alverno MBA.
The MBA Pursuit
After earning an undergraduate degree from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee in 2002, Hudson knew she would one day earn a master’s degree, but wasn’t immediately sure in what field. After taking graduate-level courses in both urban studies and mediation and negotiation, she ruled out both.
“After taking some classes, I realized it wasn’t fulfilling exactly what I was looking for,” explained Hudson. “I couldn’t necessarily identify it precisely at the time, but I was narrowing it down to something that was completely unrelated to law enforcement or any of the social sciences.”
A friend alerted her to the MBA program at Alverno and, after a thorough investigation, she realized it was exactly what she needed. An advanced degree in business would provide benefits immediately and into the future, plus Alverno’s program offered the flexibility she needed and the curriculum she desired.
“I loved the integrated approach to learning,” explained Hudson. “Every business philosophy was taught in a way that I could apply to my current position.”
Like Hudson, the pursuit of an advanced degree appealed to Swearngan, as well. Although he always knew his career plans included graduate school, it wasn’t until he attended a weeklong executive education program at the University of Michigan in 2006 that his graduate search really took off.
“After picking up literature from the Ross Business School (University of Michigan), I was pleased to see they did not require the GRE,” explained Swearngan. “For me, that has always been a bit of a hurdle to pursuing an MBA. For starters, I’m not fond of standardized tests, plus I knew that studying for the GRE can be a significant investment in and of itself.”
Relieved to know that some business schools weren’t requiring the standardized test, Swearngan started researching similar schools in the greater Milwaukee area where he was working at the time. He learned about Alverno’s School of Business, which had just started the MBA program.
“What attracted me to the program was the alternative educational perspective,” shared Swearngan. “Its focus was on leadership development and it had a cross-disciplinary approach to the academic subjects and an integration approach among those subjects.”
Having attended a high school that utilized an open education concept, Swearngan was impressed with the curriculum structure at Alverno. He also appreciated that the College’s faculty had researched current trends in business education, as well as business models at other learning institutes, which offered a fresh perspective for incorporating ideas into the Alverno model.
The Drive to an MBA
Almost immediately after starting the MBA program, both Hudson and Swearngan began incorporating things they learned in class to their professional lives.
Hudson shared, “By collaborating with classmates who may have been in other industries, but who were dealing with almost identical workflow and personnel structures, we could learn from one another. On the topic of employee management, for example, I could see that I was positively refining my management style and becoming a much better supervisor.”
Although they were taught by different instructors, both Hudson and Swearngan cite the change management class, MGT 640 “Creating Agility in a Dynamic Environment” as one of their most memorable with a plethora of relevant takeaways.
“The principles taught in this class put me in a great position for the company I worked for while completing the MBA program, as well as the company I work for now,” explained Swearngan. “I saw my previous employer through a public offering along with its sale to another corporation, all of which is a lot of change to manage. Then in my current position, I oversaw the creation of new Vision, Mission, Value statements to coincide with a new corporate branding initiative, as well as the restructuring of the global communications team.”
Life with an Alverno MBA
Shortly after completing the MBA program, Swearngan made the move to Atlanta where he currently holds the position of senior vice president of global communications and investor relations for First Data Corporation, a Fortune 250 company headquartered there.
“Having an MBA helped me move to the next level of advancement as a member of the executive management group,” Swearngan explained. “Furthermore, the Alverno MBA program has prepared me well to interact with a wide variety of corporate team leaders. As a result of the program, my interactions with these leaders have been more competent and cogent and I have broader exposure to ideas that are relevant and current to their thinking.”
Likewise, Hudson attributes her promotion from Captain to Inspector to business ideologies she learned while pursuing her MBA. Specifically, while serving as Captain in District 5, Hudson developed and executed a change management plan which netted a substantial return on investment.
“Not only was I able to assemble a great team, but I was also able to develop a great relationship with external stakeholders such as business owners and leaders,” she explained. “I was able to incorporate what I learned in class to the development of this plan and I was able to implement it very effectively.”
In addition to significant promotions since earning an MBA, both Hudson and Swearngan apply what they learned at Alverno on a much broader level, as well. Both feel fortunate to have interacted with other professionals from a wide range of industries, disciplines and even life experiences.
For instance, it wasn’t until after accepting a diploma that Swearngan realized he was the first male to graduate from Alverno’s MBA program. “Being part of a women’s-only college at the undergraduate level provides a unique environment, one that I found to be quite beneficial,” he explained. “When applied to the graduate level, I found a much more balanced approach to learning. Since men and women often approach problem-solving from different perspectives, it’s very helpful to be engaged in an MBA program that’s balanced. It’s definitely worth being immersed in a learning structure that brings together teams representing different perspectives in their business life, undergraduate training and personal life.”
Hudson had a similar takeaway, “Leadership and management skills and the knowledge to be effective – that’s universal. You can apply those concepts to any industry. Every industry that was represented in class took away the same thing, but perhaps applied it differently.”