Starting in January, Cleveland residents will have two different opportunities to earn master’s degrees in business administration from a public university without having to drive all the way to downtown Chattanooga for classes.
Michael Owens, the assistant dean of the College of Business at the University of Tennessee at Chattanooga, spoke to members of the Bradley Sunrise Rotary Club Thursday to outline how the university was trying to create more opportunities for adults who want to advance in the field of business.
He described the university as being a growing one that has seen a lot of changes over the past six years he has been in his current job.
Owens said, unlike when he was a student years ago, there are now close to 12,000 students and a “vibrant” campus with more students living in dormitories.
On top of that, he said the university has seen a variety of personnel changes, which has led to more new ideas being considered.
“We’ve seen a lot of changes,” Owens said.
One such change is the idea of bolstering the university’s MBA program to prepare more students to advance in their business careers.
He said he once worked as a certified public accountant and noticed new college graduates not quite being prepared to work in business and accounting jobs.
While he said many students knew basic business skills, many still needed to learn more practical skills so they could start a job right off the bat.
“They need more than that,” Owens said. “They need the soft skills to be productive for you immediately.”
He mentioned that to a university employee, which ultimately led him to teaching undergraduate accounting classes, he said.
Now, as the assistant dean of his college, he and his colleagues have been focusing on graduate students.
Graduate students are different from undergraduate ones in that they are more dedicated to their work, he said.
“In grad school, they’re all eager,” Owens said. “They want the information.”
What the university had to consider, however, was how to offer more students more opportunities to work toward graduate degrees in business.
When Volkswagen was planning to build its car manufacturing plant in Chattanooga, Owens said the state of Tennessee offered an extension to hold classes from state universities on the property to help train the company’s employees.
Starting in the fall semester of 2012, the Volkswagen Academy on the plant’s property became a place where anyone — not just company employees — could go to take master’s level business classes from UTC professors.
Located off Interstate 75 Exit 9, he said the Volkswagen Academy offers a closer option for MBA students from Cleveland and surrounding towns than having to drive to downtown Chattanooga.
He said the program has so far attracted employees from various companies like the Tennessee Valley Authority and Unum in addition to some from Volkswagen. The program will have its first graduates in May of next year.
The university is also set to launch its first online MBA program in January, negating any location-related concerns because students would be taking all their classes online.
Owens said UTC would be the first University of Tennessee campus in the state to offer a business master’s degree program online.
In addition to the programs at Chattanooga’s Volkswagen plant and online, Owens said UTC is working to offer more study abroad opportunities by partnering with universities near other countries’ Volkswagen facilities so students from both universities can earn dual degrees and learn how business works in another country.
Currently, a student from UTC may study in Puebla, Mexico, where another Volkswagen plant is located. That student earns a degree from UTC and a degree from a university there. Likewise, a Mexican student can earn a degree from the university and UTC at the same time. Though the program is in its beginning stages, Owens said a couple of students from each country have already enrolled.
Owens said the university was also looking into partnering with a university near Volkswagen’s corporate headquarters in Wolfsburg, Germany, to further strengthen the connection between professionals in Germany and Southeast Tennessee.
“It’s really all to be more accessible,” he said.
Also at the Bradley Sunrise Club meeting, members made plans for upcoming service project events with the local chapters of Keep America Beautiful and Habitat for Humanity. The club is also gearing up for a membership drive taking place during the month of October.