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Charting a New Path

Author: Chad Sanborn | Image: Chad Sanborn

Charting a New Path

Rachel Faircloth’s PMBA Leap into Leadership

Rachel Faircloth, a recent graduate of Iowa State University’s online professional master of business administration (PMBA), is the Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Manager for the university’s Program for Women in Science and Engineering (WiSE). Her story through the PMBA program is woven with job changes, leadership aspirations, online learning adventures, and the unwavering support and camaraderie of those around her.

Faircloth’s quest for a PMBA wasn’t just a climb up the career ladder; it was a strategic leap into leadership. Facing the challenge of a possible career plateau on the horizon, she proactively decided to take the path of a PMBA to broaden her perspective of business.

She was seeking a program that would offer a holistic understanding of business beyond her marketing background. And she found one that did just that: the PMBA from Iowa State’s Debbie and Jerry Ivy College of Business. She was pleasantly surprised that the program also provided her with a network of professionals from diverse backgrounds to further enhance her knowledge of business beyond her own field.

Her advice to others considering the program is this: “Not only will you gain skills that you can take back into your workplace, but you’re also going to be able to network professionally. I learned a lot from other people, not even in my industry, but from the different examples they would bring to the classroom.”

One standout experience for Faircloth was in her ethics class. When she examined corporate values and mission statements while simultaneously taking what she learned from that class, she was able to craft value and mission statements for her new department at Iowa State. The immediate application of coursework to a real-world scenario highlighted the practicality of the PMBA program.

Six-week classes and ever-shifting professional responsibilities provided a challenge, but Faircloth found her stride in the program through strategic planning, leaning on classmates for support, and embracing a disciplined mindset. Her mantra was, “I can do anything for six weeks!” She encouraged students to make use of instructor and teaching assistant support, emphasizing the importance of communication in seeking help.

Her approach to stress management included proactive scheduling and setting aside dedicated time for coursework. She recognized the need for personal time and recommended that others prioritize self-care and maintain a healthy work-life balance. For her, that meant taking Saturdays off entirely as a break from the demands of school and work. She felt that this prioritization of self-care improved her overall learning and productivity throughout the week.

Faircloth maintained motivation in an online learning environment by eliminating distractions during online classes and leveraging opportunities for camaraderie. Even in an online setting, there were opportunities to connect with her cohort through online discussion boards, group projects and meet-ups, turning the virtual experience into a real, vibrant community. Faircloth also credits her success to the continuous support of family, friends, coworkers, classmates, and professors.

Much of her coursework involved teamwork, which promoted the development of essential skills, something she sees as a unique benefit of the PMBA. Faircloth also found great value in a professional development course that included public speaking. As an online course, all of her presentations were delivered via virtual platforms. The skills acquired for public speaking on online platforms proved immediately applicable in her professional role.

She had taken public speaking classes in the past, but those were all in person, so she found that getting feedback on improving her speaking in a virtual space was very helpful. “There are things you don’t even think about when you’re public speaking online, like, ‘Where do I look? How do I look engaged with this person through a screen?’ So that class, in particular, was super interesting, and I could immediately take it back into the workplace because I’m on so many Zoom calls and virtual meetings. And I feel like the way the world’s moving, many more things are going online.”

Faircloth took advantage of the part-time, online PMBA at Iowa State to take her career to the next level. With the achievement of a PMBA, and by setting clear goals for herself, building a strong network, demonstrating initiative and adaptability, embracing challenge and maintaining a healthy work-life balance, she was able to move from a marketing coordinator position to her current one as Communications and Stakeholder Engagement Manager.

Her advice to students considering an online program is “Just do it. Take the leap. You’re going to meet some great people, and the professors are always there to help you.”

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