After more than 20 years working in supply chain systems and e-business integration in healthcare and other sectors, Michael DeLuca, 47, first considered an MBA in 2020. Then, his healthcare technology company, Prodigo Solutions, Inc., was about to enter a commercialization phase, and he felt the advanced business acumen would help him navigate the impending changes.
He looked no further than his own backyard. The Executive MBA in Healthcare at University of Pittsburgh’s Joseph M. Katz Graduate School of Business was a match made in heaven.
“Joining an MBA program with physicians and clinicians would allow me to interact and understand their psyches while at the same time immersing myself in a ‘business of healthcare’ focused curriculum,” says DeLuca, EMBA ‘22 and executive vice president of operations at Prodigo.
“I only considered an Executive MBA program, because it was important for me to continue working while furthering my education,” says the husband and father of two. “My goal was to infuse immediate learnings into my business to drive it forward. I wanted to surround myself with other “seasoned” healthcare focused professionals to learn from their experiences as much as from the professors and curriculum.”
PITT BUSINESS EMBA SPOTLIGHT
The EMBA in Healthcare (EMBA-H), which began in 2017, is one of two executive MBA programs at the Katz Graduate School of Business. The more traditional EMBA program is celebrating its 50th anniversary in 2023 and is inviting more than 2,300 alumni back to campus this September.
Both programs are built around small, tight-knit cohorts of about 25 to 30 students each, and take 19 months to complete. In-person classes are one weekend per month with online distance learning delivered in between. For the traditional EMBA, there is a required global residency that is built around the industry and world region chosen by the cohort at the start of the program. Both programs require a practicum project derived from students’ own organizations.
For DeLuca, his practicum project on healthcare provider optimization and consignment inventory was the most valuable part of his EMBA experience. HIs team was able to provide recommendations for a hospital to lower costs for specific high-volume orthopedic and cardiac supplies.
He tells Poest&Quants that the Katz EMBA-H provides the right balance of business and healthcare policy and economics. In fact, it was the only program he considered.
“The University of Pittsburgh Katz EMBA-H program is well respected and unique. The business of healthcare is critically important to understand in an economy where healthcare represents approximately 18% of the nation’s GDP,” he says.
“By leveraging its position in a city redefining itself on ‘Eds and Meds,’ The University of Pittsburgh’s EMBAH program stands alone in preparing healthcare focused professionals to lead the business of healthcare.”
KATZ EMBA Q&A
Katz’s Executive MBA ranked 18th in Poets&Quants’ 2022 composite EMBA ranking of U.S. programs, up 14 spots from the year before. This week, Poets&Quants For Execs is looking into the program as part of our EMBA Spotlight series. We spoke with Kim Abel, executive director of Executive Degree Programs and Center for Executive Education; and Sara Moeller, Associate Dean for Graduate Programs and Executive Education and a finance professor. Our conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
Let’s start with your 50th anniversary. What kinds of celebrations do you have planned?
Kim Abel: Some of this is still in development, but we are looking to celebrate the 50 years of the Executive MBA Program and its iterations over time – how it has evolved and responded to the needs of industry and the students we serve. We are looking at really celebrating through the decades, the experiences and where the university was at the given time, what was going on in the world, and acknowledging the growth and progression of the program. We are looking to engage as many alumni as we can.
As we start the 50th cohort, we want to engage alumni, incoming students, and, of course, all the faculty that they've had over the years.
What are some of the milestones that you will highlight?
Sara Moeller: I've been at Pitt for about 15 years, so I can't quite go back the full 50. But just in the 15 years I've been here, we essentially have morphed along with higher education and the city of Pittsburgh, which comes from a proud steel tradition that, approximately 50 years ago, basically went overseas. We had to reinvent ourselves.
What you see now in Pittsburgh, of course, is we're heavy into healthcare, robotics, tech and so on. Our program is changing as such. Not only have we changed the type of person that we're serving, but also we've morphed to meet the technology inside of higher education.
We did not go fully remote because we believe in the in-person experience. What we know from our alumni is that's the strongest thing you get from your cohort. We have four cohorts running most months, and we deliberately put them together so they get to know each other. That’s about 80 people, and the 25 or or 30 in your cohort, you get to know really well. So it's really about that cohort. While we look forward and embrace the technology and the change in higher education, we actually also believe in the in-person experience and the power of your network.
Give us a brief overview of the EMBA programs at Katz.
Sara Moeller: Both our Executive MBA and Executive MBA in Healthcare are basically the same in terms of structure, design, etc. The real key is, when we're talking about business in a context such as healthcare, we have a few unique classes. We talk about health economics, we talk about insurance, for example. We add some of that unique knowledge that is within the healthcare space.
Remember, healthcare is not just clinical care. We have a lot of people in life sciences. We have a lot of people in new technology who are bringing on apps or they're building new physical solutions to problems. We have a Life Sciences Institute here in town, so a lot of startup funding comes along with those. I, for instance, am the finance faculty in this class. When I talk about finance, I make sure to contextualize it into life sciences and relevant fields.
We want to make sure that we create value for the organizations that allow their employees to come, so they have something that they want to attack through their practicum projects. Students work on their projects throughout the entire program, and obviously the faculty are there to help.
What is the mission and value proposition of the Katz EMBA?
Sara Moeller: The goal is to be a catalyst to change and to bring evidence -based decision making into practice.
Kim Abel: I think the other thing that we, in our outreach to prospective students, talk about is that they are experts in their own domain. Health care is a great example. Our EMBA students are surgeons, they're family practitioners, they’re insurance leaders. Having the foundational business education – exposure to strategy, leadership, business acumen, finance, accounting, all those things that weren't part of their traditional training – really just augments their experience and allows them to leverage those skills to be more effective, even as a clinician or as an advocate for patients, etc.
It's the same with the Executive MBA Program for other industries. We have architects, we have communication strategists, we have engineers who are coming to the program to gain those important skills that, in the landscape we are managing now, address disruption and change and other industry demands. They become capable of navigating that and leading their industry and organization.
Particularly with all the competition in Pennsylvania and the Northeast, what would you say sets the Katz Executive MBA apart?
Kim Abel: Some of our differentiators are very practical. I am always looking at the trends and comparing programs and benchmarking institutions. What I have seen, especially with executive MBA programs, is the age of experience has decreased. The average age of many of the programs are six to seven years of professional experience.
We target people with 12 or more years of experience, and we've averaged 16 over the last three to five years. I believe that's a differentiator because that experience in the classroom is valuable and meaningful. The wealth of experience and knowledge, and the ability to engage with people who have rich experiences is tremendous.
Sara Moeller: On a related note, we spend a lot of time building a cohort, not admitting individual students. We have a team approach all the way through. An MBA is a team degree. There's a lot of group work, etc. So we're very deliberate in the group of students we let in, not just the individuals.
I'd say the other unique thing really is our leaning into experiential learning. So in that practicum space, we want them to bring us one of their problems. We will bring the finance faculty, accounting faculty, and the supply chain faculty, etc., to help them deliberately think their way through it. We don’t want students to come to class and say, “Oh, that was really cool,” and then never figure out how to apply it in their own space. They're more powerful when they can leave our program and speak to the people they work with.
We don't work in a vacuum. It really is that translational piece that we emphasize, and that experiential learning is a hallmark through all of our graduate education.
Have you had any curriculum innovations or updates to highlight?
Sara Moeller: We did a redesign of our EMBA programs in 2017, and the EMBA-H was part of that. In the redesign, we went back to all the curriculum. The good and the bad news about academics is the foundational principles don't change very often. Where we have really done this is in the elective space.
For example, one of our adjuncts, Andy Hannah, is a serial entrepreneur, and he leans heavily into data and data visualization in his business analytics course. Because, for instance, we have a group of 22 year olds that can really make a spreadsheet and a regression scheme, but we don't have the 35 to 50 year old that understands how to use that data. It's not about how to run a regression, per se, it's knowing how to use it. There's nothing worse than poorly used data. So what we've done is leaned into that data visualization and analytics, because we need to train the mid level manager and the senior manager how to use data effectively. That's one of our big innovations.
Another thing goes into integrated learning and deliberately trying to draw connections across fields. The science behind it is, if I can know a little bit about five different topics, then I can start to make connections. All of a sudden, the knowledge base that I have grows exponentially. I'm not just an expert in accounting, supply chain or finance. I know a little bit of each, and that's powerful, particularly for that mid-level manager. We're deliberate in designing that skill, and that fits back into your practicum and the experiential learning.
Kim Abel: We have also anchored ourselves in what makes Pittsburgh unique. There's just a grit and a foundation that exists in Pittsburgh. There’s a drive for persistent stability, sustainability, and coupled with an agility that has been cultivated over time, that allows us to respond to what's going on around us.
Our programs are anchored in foundational principles and discipline, and our delivery is agile and responsive to the needs of the students and the challenges that they are facing. That is translated in the curriculum, whether that's the healthcare content, whether it's the Global Experiential piece, whether it's the practicum of solving a problem that gives value to your organization and allows you to be seen as a thought leader within your company.
How much flexibility do the students have in terms of shaping their journey through electives?
Kim Abel: There are anywhere from three to five classes – depending on which cohort you're in, whether it's healthcare or the other – in which the academic directors ask the faculty: What would you like to teach? It is a time to be creative and expressive or to teach a class that you always wanted to design. Then, the students vote as a cohort on what courses they want, and those courses are scheduled for them. If you didn't get the course you wanted, then you can choose from everything that the Katz graduate school offers and pick from that. So we do have students who will participate in the electives, but then we always have a handful of students who will take an HR class, or a programming Python class, etc.
Sara Moeller: I'd also throw it in the practicum is effectively an elective. It's required, but you really design all the way around your project.
What are some of the opportunities and challenges for the Katz EMBA?
Sara Moeller: I think on the opportunity side, it's about smaller and smaller bytes of knowledge around skill building. Now, the question is, how do you manage the cohort, which is such a huge benefit, and the skill building? I think that's a challenge. Is the Executive MBA going to be the most popular degree in graduate business education? No, I think it's going to become skill based, but then how do you do the cohort?
So we're doing these smaller chunks through the Center For Executive Education. You can come join us for about 30 hours, and we're going to give you about 20 hours of basic skills. And then we're going to give you about 10 hours of the cohort. I think it's meeting students where they are and part of that is chunking up the knowledge.
Kim Abel: I think the cohort model is really important, but I also think we're going to look at delivering modes. We believe firmly in the on-site component, but maybe that on site changes location or maybe we look at how we structure that differently to expand that geography. One of the things that's really important, and that we've learned from our students, is the value of interacting with people.
Our program is designed to be cumulative. Every concept you learn should build upon the other. It's also designed to be applicable and translatable. What you learn over his week, hopefully you're applying that on Monday. So given that, how do we leverage and cultivate that in a more meaningful way? How do we measure the impact of that so that we can articulate that as clearly as possible?
Tell us about the global trip the EMBA cohort took in March.
Kim Abel: Our EMBA cohort went to Germany and Prague to study automotive transformation. They looked at electric vehicles, at supply chains, and they went to all these different sites in Germany to do research projects related to an area in that space. So it might be workforce transformation as it relates to driverless vehicles or supply chain as it relates to electric vehicles.
It’s an opportunity, similar to healthcare, to take these business principles and look through a different context to see how it applies and broadens. We engage the students to identify an area of interest, and then we build the trip around that. That begins when they arrive at Katz. We use the cohort to solicit ideas, and then literally plan an experience that meets their needs and interests.
DON’T MISS THESE STORIES IN OUR EMBA SPOTLIGHT SERIES:
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- EMORY GOIZUETA’S PURSUIT OF FLEXIBILITY
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- AT UMN CARLSON, A NEW CURRICULUM & HYBRID OPTION
- HOW CORNELL JOHNSON’S PROGRAM IS UNIQUELY SUITED TO THE MOMENT
- THE BENEFITS OF RUTGERS' ACADEMIC-RUN EMBA POWERHOUSE
- THE TWO-TRACK PROGRAM IN THE HEART OF MUSIC CITY
- AT UGA TERRY, AN EXECUTIVE MBA WITH 18 YEARS AVERAGE WORK EXPERIENCE
- THE COLUMBIA BUSINESS SCHOOL ADVANTAGE
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