Harms’ Way: Father And Son Pursue Gies MBA Together

Al Harms and his oldest son Kevin have a lot in common. They were both born in Urbana, Illinois and found a college home at the University of Illinois. Both married Illinois graduates, too. Al met Gina at freshmen orientation, and Kevin met Pam in Physics 106 their first year. After graduation, both men had long, successful careers with the US Navy. Al, a vice admiral, retired in 2005 after 34 years, and Kevin, a naval aviator for 20 years, transitioned to the civilian workforce in 2012.

Their paths converged once again when they both joined the Gies College of Business online MBA program (iMBA).

“One thing I always loved about the military is that there was always a new experience around the corner, new people, new countries, new challenges,” Al said. “Lifelong learning has also always been important to me.”

So when he received an email promoting the Gies online MBA program, his interest was piqued. Heading back to academics after a long hiatus wasn’t a stretch for Al; he’d done it several years after graduation from Illinois when he earned a master’s degree in statistics from Texas A&M University in 1978. Plus he’d watched his father, Alfred Sr., return to school in his forties to earn a master’s degree and a PhD in agricultural economics from the University of Illinois.

On top of that, Al had been directly involved with higher education from 2005 until 2013, serving as the vice president for strategy, marketing, communications, and admissions at the University of Central Florida.

“When I thought about this learning opportunity, the challenge fascinated me,” he said. “Don’t get me wrong. It was also daunting because the online delivery system wasn’t one I knew. But as a board member for a prep school in Orlando, I knew that third graders were doing it, so I thought: ‘Come on Harms, you better get comfortable with it.’”

Al’s comfort level grew considerably, and so did his knowledge base and his connections.

“The iMBA program expands your capability to operate in today’s global business community,” Al said. “The learning experience mimics today’s business environment because our cohort includes people from around the world. There is an extraordinary diversity of cultural and educational backgrounds that the group brings to the learning environment and the team projects. I feel fortunate to have the opportunity to learn with and from such a diverse and talented group.”

Kevin shares his father’s commitment to lifelong learning. In addition to his bachelor’s degree, he has earned a master’s in electrical engineering from Illinois and a master’s in national security and strategy from the Naval War College. Kevin is now a senior analyst and member of the executive leadership team for a veteran-owned company that works on analysis projects and acquisition programs in support of the Naval Air System Command.

“My previous educational endeavors had been primarily technical and professional military education,” Kevin said. “I look at the MBA as an opportunity to get a solid grounding in economics, finance, and marketing and as a way to round out my knowledge and skills so that I can make stronger contributions to my company and my community.”

Kevin ruled out residential MBA programs because he didn’t want to interrupt his career or move his young family. A communication he received about the iMBA program was perfectly timed.

“I thought about its benefits, which would allow me to continue my work and keep my family in Maryland. Plus, it’s super flexible and affordable and would give me a chance to expand my network and meet lots of talented people from around the world.”

So father and son jumped in – Al taking his classes from Florida and Kevin from Maryland – or where they happened to be traveling for business or pleasure.

For Kevin, there was an immediate practical application from his first two classes – microeconomics and everyday leadership. “I was already able to make more meaningful contributions in real situations within my company because of the information and strategies the courses provided.”

Al saw the benefits of the MBA in his work as a board member for for-profit and non-profit organizations and in his role as a concerned and active global citizen. Plus, it kept him engaged with the younger generation.

“If you’re going to be relevant in the world, you’d better know what young people from countries and cultures different from your own are doing and thinking. The MBA is a stimulating experience that gave me the opportunity to that.”

Kevin agreed. “Colleagues in the cohort and those teaching and administering the program are a very motivated group. It’s professionally rewarding to interact with people with various life experiences and who bring different perspectives to the conversation.”

For Al, who was awarded the University’s Alumni Achievement Award in 2005, there’s another compelling reason to be a part of the iMBA. “An MBA is so universal in its utility. It is a degree that would serve most people extremely well regardless of their career trajectory, but the iMBA is even more valuable because it has the reputation of the University of Illinois behind it.”

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