One year. Real fast.

Author: Ed Cohen

One year. Real fast.

Jeff O’Connor, (ND/MBA '10) had been working in commercial banking for about six years after earning his undergraduate degree from the University of Georgia, most recently for SunTrust Bank in Atlanta. It was just long enough to realize that he had some “professional shortcomings” to work on – knowledge and skills that would be vital to advancing his career and expanding his opportunities.

“I thought about getting an MBA for probably two to three years before finally committing,” says O’Connor. “Supervisors I'd worked with in the past were very supportive of the decision, and told me that an MBA could really make a difference down the road.”

The one-year Notre Dame MBA program fit the bill of what he was looking for: The program is intended for students who already have earned an undergraduate degree in business (or have the prerequisite courses), and who aren’t looking to make a drastic change in career. With its intense May-to-May format, the program allows students to return to the workforce quickly.

During the 10-week summer semester, students attend intensive sessions in the core disciplines explored during the first year of the two-year program. The material covered during the summer classes is tailored for the accelerated nature of the program. The class size is relatively small at 65 students, with candidates being 27 years old on average and having worked for about five years.

After the summer session, students join the second year of the two-year program.

O’Connor by self-profession was not particularly an Irish fan, but the ethics-based curriculum appealed to him. "I wanted to find an environment that fostered my belief that business can be a force for positive change in society,” he says. “Several of the programs I visited mentioned their ‘new emphasis on ethics.’ There wasn't anything new about ethics at Notre Dame; it has been part of the curriculum since the days of (our founder) Father Sorin.”

In spring 2009, he and his new wife of six months, Ellen, packed up and headed north.

“Orientation was a bit intimidating, but I think we all knew what we signed up for,” says O’Connor, who now is vice president and client advisor in Private Wealth Management for SunTrust Bank, Savannah. “I think each of my classmates walked in to the first day of class with equal parts fear and excitement, too excited to take it all in and simultaneously too focused to let anything slip by. You learn to adjust the pace, and learn to function without sleep. The program does a great job balancing the coursework in the summer, and the professors really do a great job of mixing up the pace.”

The pace is intense, agrees 2012 ND/MBA graduate Kathryn Pelletier, but manageable. She finds time to be active in clubs and service organizations – which she considered important to her MBA experience – serving as chief operations officer of the MBA Association, participating in both International Immersions Programs (China and South America), joining the Marketing and Women MBA clubs. She also was part of a first-place case competition team and is organizing the Notre Dame MBA Diversity Conference.

And even though she was spending the warm summer days inside a classroom, she found a perhaps an unexpected perk of the program: It provided a great bonding opportunity.

“I became very close with my classmates as we were in all of the same courses,” says Pelletier, who recently accepted a marketing position with Eli Lilly in the pharmaceutical company’s two-year leadership development program. “Everyone brings such different and interesting experiences and insights into the classroom.”

Mark Pienkos ND/MBA (‘07), a senior vice president of GE Capital’s Corporate Retail Finance in Chicago, points to another benefit of the fast-paced schedule: “Juggling. You’re making choices all the time about what to devote your attention to. I learned some very good skills in prioritization that are helpful to me in my career today.”

Pienkos also came to campus with the intention of having a full Notre Dame experience. He kept his hand in an entrepreneurial venture he had been working on prior to deciding to get his MBA. He also made a point out of participating in extracurricular activities – signing up to play “Tiger Brown” in “The Three Penny Opera” at the DeBartolo Performing Arts Center and singing in the choir at the Basilica of the Sacred Heart, where he met his future wife, Tiara.

As busy as he was, Pienkos says one thought helped him maintain balance throughout the year. “One element that was always with me was that I was at Notre Dame. I wasn’t here to fail. I was here to succeed, and others were here to help me. Whatever was happening, I was going to get through. And I did.”