We had the pleasure of interviewing alum, Tom Hennessy, M.P.S. ’19, about his experience with UMBC’s Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership graduate program. He explained candidly how the program has helped him develop professionally and bring real-life benefits to his current position.

What made you choose Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership as a field of study?

I was looking for a program that would allow me to grow personally and professionally. The content in this program gives individuals tools that they can apply daily, not only professionally, but also in their everyday life with friends, family, etc.

Why did you choose UMBC?

There were a number of reasons why I chose UMBC:

  • It’s reputation as an Honors University
  • Cost – The price of the program was reasonable compared to other similar master programs at different institutions
  • Proximity to my home and work
  • Gib Mason – Gib is an inspiring leader who has a wealth of knowledge and experience

What was your catalyst or tipping point for applying to the program?

I had taken graduate-level classes over twenty years ago at another well recognized University in the Baltimore area. I had dropped out because the content was not stimulating. I also felt that I wasn’t growing personally or professionally from the experience. That being said, I was a little apprehensive about making the commitment to the EIL program at UMBC.

After I attended the graduate school open house and had a conversation with the program director, Gib Mason, I became convinced that this was something I would regret if I did not pursue it. The innovative approach UMBC was taking with this program intrigued me. It brought together real-life professional and personal experiences into a classroom learning environment.

What were your expectations from the program?

To grow personally and professionally from the courses I would take.

What were your fellow classmates like?

The group was very diverse and an excellent cross-section of individuals one would meet in everyday life. We had individuals who were full-time students. We had individuals who attended part-time and worked full-time in diverse industries. We also had some international students who provided an interesting perspective by bringing different cultural experiences into our learning.

Was there a spirit of collaboration that formed?

Absolutely! The classes encouraged collaboration with how they were taught. The class instruction encouraged collaborative group experiential learning, which is the way most businesses operate today.

Were many of the students working professionals?

Yes, in fact, many of us held full-time jobs and took classes in the evenings.

How did your fellow students encourage you?

They were very supportive of each other’s efforts whether it was a presentation in front of the class or a contribution to a group project. As we progressed through the program, we got to know each other better. I could see how the quality of our collaborative work was improving. We became better in identifying each other’s strengths and weaknesses and we built on those strengths to improve the quality of our assignments. This is exactly how effective teams operate in today’s business world.

How did faculty members encourage you?

The faculty were well-seasoned in business. They would always structure the work to be life-like to how a business operates. This gave us a perspective of what we might encounter in a professional setting. They also pushed us to go outside our comfort level so we could learn, grow, and innovate.

Can you share your experience with a favorite course? What did you find most engaging and helpful to your development?

I really enjoyed the Capstone II class because it allowed me to take a real-life business opportunity and work through it, taking it from a concept to an operational initiative at my employment.

How has studying Entrepreneurship, Innovation, and Leadership changed or enlightened your perspective on business?

I wasn’t sure about the entrepreneurial aspect of the course because I always viewed entrepreneurs as individuals trying to take an idea they have to market. What I learned through this program is that I have many, if not most, of the characteristics of an entrepreneur. I work within a large organization and many entrepreneurs exist within every organization and play a critical role in driving change and innovation. We do this by championing different ideas to help the organization evolve and grow.

What advice would you give to someone going to college and working full time?

Be very on top of how you manage your time. In the evenings and weekends when you are not in a class, do schoolwork. Don’t let the work build up or take shortcuts in the effort you put forth because you didn’t manage your time well enough. Recognize that it’s likely others are impacted by this decision you made to go to graduate school. This is a big adjustment not only for you but also for your loved ones. Appreciate their commitment to helping you navigate through school and work and not being available as you might have been before you started graduate school.

Did you have any ah-ha moments yet?

I had a number of them in this program. In our design thinking class, we were able in a short period of time to give a local business a significant amount of feedback on how to better engage with their employees so as to improve the employee experience. The process of going through that experience, interviewing the employees and interacting as a group with the leadership within the business was an ah-ha moment for sure.

What was your biggest fear in starting a master’s program and how has that changed now that you’ve graduated?

I had a couple of fears. Would I have the stamina at fifty years old to work a very demanding executive job during the day and then go to class in the evening? The days were long but I never felt tired in class. As soon as I got to class, I developed a second wind and was able to focus intently on what was being discussed because I could relate the learning to my everyday work.

The second biggest fear I had was that the classroom experience would be so different for me because I had been out of school for twenty plus years. I feared I wouldn’t be able to relate to the students or they to me because of the age difference. Immediately, I saw that not to be the case. We were all in it for the same reasons and that was to learn and grow as individuals. So age was just a number and my extensive work experience was well appreciated by the younger students in the program.

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