Student transfers classroom lessons to life & work

An article about how Penn State Smeal Executive MBA student, Jo Diaz transfers her EMBA classroom lessons to her life and work.
Portrait of Jo Diaz.
Jo Diaz, a business analyst with more than a decade of experience, details her pursuit of an MBA degree and how she found her perfect fit with the Penn State Smeal College of Business Executive MBA in Philadelphia.

Posted April 2019

Jo Diaz has always believed that the riskiest thing we can do is to challenge the status quo. As a naturally curious person, she recognizes the importance of making her opinion known and not being afraid to be the voice of dissent regardless of the audience. Being a part of the Penn State Smeal College of Business Executive MBA program in Philadelphia is no exception to her philosophy.

As a business analyst with more than a decade of experience, Diaz recognizes the value of making your client’s voice heard, then going above and beyond to exceed their expectations.

Currently, Diaz is employed at Harbor Compliance as an internal management consultant. She engages with cross-functional teams to uncover opportunities for improvement in processes, gaps in product offerings, and solutions to the challenges her company faces as it continues to grow.

The United States is home to 150,000-plus regulatory agencies. Harbor Compliance helps small businesses and nonprofits navigate everything from startup formation and registration to ongoing nationwide compliance.

Prior to this experience, Diaz worked at CNH Industrial for four years after returning to her Pennsylvania roots in Lancaster, splitting her time between the company's three North American headquarters.

After a conversation with a colleague about her career development, Diaz started looking into her options of pursuing an MBA degree. Her goal in pursuing an MBA was to gain a deeper understanding of business segments that she didn't have direct experience in, like supply chain and marketing. Additionally, Diaz felt like she had a lot more potential, but wasn't sure exactly what her next move should be.

“It was important to me that I have the ability to interface with other students and professors in person, so an EMBA program was a natural fit for me,” Diaz said. “I wanted to use the experience, the executive coaching, and the relationships I built through the process to figure out what my next move should be. So far that plan is working!”

A Perfect Fit

Once she visited Smeal, Diaz knew she found the perfect fit for her. Smeal offered all of the qualities she was looking for in an institution: a rigorous course load, a 100-percent face-to face environment, and peers who are diverse both demographically and in their careers. Most importantly, Smeal allowed Diaz to pursue her MBA degree in person while working her full-time job.

“The same instructors at University Park travel to Philadelphia so I know I am getting the full MBA experience and did not have to leave my job to do it,” Diaz said. “When I talked to students, they were very positive when they relayed their experiences. Although they said it was challenging, they said they looked forward to coming to class each weekend and I found it to be true as well.”

After only beginning her second semester, Diaz has already seen the impact Smeal’s Executive MBA has made on her personal life and career. Since the program is highly collaborative, it allows introverted students like herself to adapt comfortably in a supportive environment built on learning and teamwork. Diaz values how students don’t compete with one another, but rather build community.

“We make sure nobody is getting left behind and that we all get there together. That environment has let me become more comfortable in engaging with people at work and in my personal life. The professors are very open, incredibly willing to engage and always offer assistance,” Diaz said.

The Executive Coaching Advantage

Smeal’s Executive MBA also gives students an opportunity to work exclusively with an executive coach, whose role is to help a student achieve his or her goals. With easy accessibility to resources like these, Diaz has already started implementing skills and techniques she has learned and transferred them to the workplace.

“I've used the same coursework in my new role to lead team-building activities that have been really effective in fostering more and better communication, which has helped alleviate some of the tensions that were building up across departments,” Diaz said. “It opened up my mind to styles and nuances that I had not considered before.”

In addition, Diaz learned how to work with teams in multiple geographic locations, and applied the lessons in boundaries to develop trust and communication with her teams even when she wasn't able to physically be in the office with them.

Being an Executive MBA student also made it easier for her to tackle challenges. The biggest challenge she faced in her career was recently changing employers. Diaz found it difficult to end her relationship with her former employer, but she knew in her heart she was not being challenged.

With the help of Smeal, she left her former job on good terms and is now enjoying a role she envisioned herself doing. Diaz used everything she learned from Smeal to overcome this challenge, such as what she learned in the negotiation course to arrange her salary and benefits. This helped put things into perspective and showed her what not to settle for.

“One of the best parts of executive coaching is that it's completely confidential and third-party. That means if I'm having a challenge at work or I'm thinking about a career change, I have a coach who is truly dedicated to what's best for me – not necessarily what's best for a company,” Diaz said. “One of the things I'm working on right now is being authentic across both my personal and professional life.”

Diaz plans to graduate from the Smeal EMBA program in the spring of 2020 and will further her consulting career by taking on more interesting challenges.

“As a former employee of big companies, I always wondered if I would have made the same choice if I were in the CEO’s position,” Diaz said. “Now, I am more certain in myself and more open to considering other people’s viewpoints. I’m excited for growth to expand the vision of a higher level of leadership.”