Interview with Dr. Brian Cameron of Penn State’s Smeal College of Business

Interview by Tammie Cagle

For many professionals, an MBA is an important step in career planning. Students can find information about MBA tuition, professors, credit hours, and degree options. But prospective students also have questions like:

  • Will an MBA be helpful to me?
  • How do I find the right program?
  • How can I make the most of an MBA experience?

That is why I am interviewing deans and professors at top business schools to offer more insight into top MBA programs.

Penn State – Dr. Brian Cameron

Dr. Brian Cameron, Associate Dean at Penn State's Smeal College of Business

I recently sat down with Dr. Brian Cameron, Associate Dean at Penn State’s Smeal College of Business

Penn State is a public university with 25 different campuses. Its largest campus is located in University Park, Pennsylvania, and has a substantial student population of over 50,000. The Smeal College of Business is among the most prestigious business schools in the country. It offers a variety of undergraduate and graduate programs “focused on delivering extraordinary educational experiences.” Smeal offers advanced business students a one-year MBA and an online MBA program. They also have an exciting hybrid MBA program that is in development.

Let’s hear what Dr. Cameron says about their top MBA programs.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

MBA Stack: What advice would you give prospective students trying to decide on an MBA program?

There are so many different choices and delivery modes today that are very flexible around your schedule. Your only option is not the traditional two-year MBA program or the traditional Executive MBA. There are so many other options, and there are more coming on the scene all the time. Today, there are many different delivery modes and formats for the MBA. I’d do your homework and choose the best format for your needs. One size does not fit all.

MBA Stack: What makes the Smeal College of Business unique?

I think what makes us unique is the size of our portfolio and the options that we can give to students. We have 17 different master’s programs, online and resident, and 16 different graduate certificates. Students can take any of those online graduate certificates as a drill down area, which also gives them the opportunity to share a classroom experience and network with students from other programs. That portfolio allows us to have many different Lego pieces.

So, an increasing trend with our residential master’s students, including our one-year MBA students, is staying for a second year and stacking a second master’s degree. So, in two years, rather than getting a two-year MBA with six credits or nine credits of concentration, they’re staying for two years getting a one-year MBA and getting a second specialty master’s. In the end, they’re coming out with a much more powerful package in two years. Stacking degrees is also increasing in our online master’s programs. 

Tell us your goals, and we’ll help you craft the right combination to get you there. I don’t know too many schools that are able to do that. That’s our big advantage. We offer a lot of different stacking options and ways of tailoring the experience to the needs of the student. I think that’s really the name of the game today: having that type of flexibility to allow the student to craft part of their own learning journey.

MBA Stack: How do your MBA courses help students leverage themselves into business leadership?

I think there are so many different needs today, especially with analytics, artificial intelligence, etc. We have a wide portfolio of courses that not only hit the major business needs but also many different career objectives for students. Not everybody wants to go into supply chain or finance. Maybe they want to go into the music industry. So, we have a lot of choices for people depending on not only where the market demand is but also where they want to go and help them kind of marry the two.

MBA Stack: What are some of the most important attributes of students who are successful in your MBA?

The ultimate question everyone asks is “will I get a good job at the end of the program?” At the end of the day, did our program get them where they wanted to go? If someone doesn’t know if a degree is right for them, we’re probably going to screen them out in the application process. We do video interviews with everyone, and we want to make sure this is a good fit.

So, if somebody says, “I don’t really have any other goals in life, and I’m not sure what I want to do, so grad school seems like a good thing.” They’re not going to get into our programs. The people that we admit are the ones who have a plan for why they want the MBA.

MBA Stack: What do you wish students knew before starting the MBA program?

We see a number of people who just assume that the MBA is a golden ticket. You’ve got to have the right combination of skills, a plan, etc. A degree is not going to get them to where they want to go just because they have those three letters after their name. Salary-wise they likely won’t automatically start too much higher than they would have with just the undergraduate degree, but they are going to have the opportunity to advance much faster. That’s what we have been seeing. 

Students have to understand it’s a progression and an investment. If you look at the lifetime earnings that somebody with a business master’s degree has versus a bachelor’s, it’s a pretty significant difference. This is an investment for the longer term. We’re very clear about that as they come in.

Also, they need to understand all of the other options in the master’s arena today and make sure they select the right one for them, whether it’s the MBA or some other master’s degree. There are so many choices that didn’t exist even five years ago.

MBA Stack: Is there anything else you’d like to say about the MBA program at Penn State?

We’re getting ready to launch a new innovative hybrid version of the MBA. It’s also a cohort-based experience, spread over two years, and it’s all live, remote synchronous, with some limited campus requirements. We’re doing this now with our Executive Doctorate of Business Administration, and it’s really resonating well with the audience. So, we’re going to use the same approach for a version of the MBA.

To Wrap Things Up

Pennsylvania State University World Campus - Smeal College of Business

Dr. Cameron offered us an expansive view of the Penn State MBA programs, and I appreciate the time he took to give us some insight. I want to highlight a few things. 

First, Smeal has rejected the cookie-cutter approach to MBA programs. They go to extensive lengths to ensure that every student is on a tailored path to success.

Second, prospective students must have a clear path before entering the Penn State MBA. You don’t have to map out every inch of your business plan, but are you intentional? Do you know why you want an MBA and what it can do for your future?

Lastly, Penn State is intentional about setting students’ expectations for success, which can tremendously help them on their journey. They understand that an MBA is an investment. Students can stack their experiences, talents, and education to create a unique story for a competitive advantage. In other words, Penn State helps every MBA student build their unique talent stack.