Anthony Pizza still has dreams about his time at the University of Massachusetts’ Isenberg School of Management. Nightmares, to be exact. “I took a class called Investments with professor Ben Branch,” Pizza, 24, says. “I say nightmares because I had never been tested. My mental knowledge, my emotional knowledge, had never been tested like they were tested in that course — in the best way possible.”
Pizza pulled all-nighters before exams, often spending up to 20 to 25 hours a week on the course. “I still didn’t feel like I knew everything on the test,” he recalls. “And everyone else was in the same boat.” When the semester concluded, Pizza indeed more than survived. He thrived and notched an A. He also learned a valuable lesson. “It was a great lesson for the real-world where you don’t really know what’s going to come at you,” says Pizza, who is now a business development manager at wnDirect, a United Kingdom-based logistics and supply chain company. “But having the experience of being in a situation that requires that much mental and emotional preparation was so helpful. You know, there are times now when I walk into meetings and I still think about sitting down for those tests and just thinking, I’ve got this. I can do it.”
The challenge is typical of Isenberg, which celebrates a culture of grit, says the school’s Dean, Mark Fuller. “We want to challenge students to develop them,” Fuller says. “And to do that, you’ve got to have that personal touch. We stress it with our faculty and stress it with our hiring.”
ENGAGED, ACCESSIBLE FACULTY A STRENGTH OF ISENBERG
According to the school’s Class of 2014 alumni, surveyed by Poets&Quants, the personal touch from the faculty is definitely a strength of the school. Besides likelihood of recommending the school to a close friend, Isenberg’s alum scored the school highest on the faculty’s availability and willingness to meet with and mentor students when school was not in session.
Still, as the flagship land grant university in a state saturated with elite private schools, Isenberg needs more than an engaged faculty to compete for top students. The result has been a renewed and emphasized “cultural vibe,” Fuller explains. “There is a big work ethic. Our students and faculty are not afraid to get their hands dirty on projects,” says Fuller, noting an emphasis on experiential learning. “We’re trying to capture that spirit that comes with a land grant institution where the students haven’t been catered to over their lifetime and then launch that with a high educational experience.”
And the culture seems to be paying off. Despite finishing eight spots behind in-state competitor, Boston University, Isenberg’s alumni rated their experience slightly better than those at Boston University. What’s more, Isenberg finished eight spots ahead of fellow northeastern land grant university, the University of Connecticut, in the overall ranking.
ELITE, PRIVATE SCHOOL EXPERIENCE AT AN AFFORDABLE RATE
For Fuller, the school’s success comes down to providing an educational experience akin to elite private business schools but at a public price-point. “When parents see that we prep their kids for life quite well and combined with our price-point, it becomes a very compelling argument,” Fuller notes. Indeed, for less than $54,000 in total four-year tuition, in-state students can earn the degree on the cheap. In fact, the total cost that is less than $100,000 for Massachusetts residents beats out many Midwestern schools.
That price-point was one of the deciding factors for Rishi Bahl. Also a graduate from the Isenberg class of 2014, Bahl group up in southern Massachusetts and was accepted to in-state private schools, Bentley University and Northeastern University. With scholarships to all schools in hand, Bahl chose the large land-grant university because of its unlikely personal touch. This year, the school enrolled 465 incoming freshmen, bringing the total population to more than 2,400 undergraduate business majors. Some 20% of University of Massachusetts undergrads declare as business majors.
But there is a difference between perceptual population size and literal population size, Fuller points out. “What we’ve tried to do is create the perception that we’re small through the high levels of personal touch,” Fuller says.
Besides the emphasis on faculty availability, Isenberg molds its curriculum based on its natural strengths. One example of this is adding an insurance focus within the finance major. “We’ve tried to look at high demand areas where can provide quality education,” Fuller says. While the school doesn’t have minors, there are concentrations and certificate options. Most recently, the school created a Real Estate Certificate Program and a Concentration in Sustainable Business Practices. Isenberg might also be the highest ranked school where an undergraduate student can earn a certificate in Casino Management. Also, established in 2014, the school now boasts an impressive $10 million entrepreneurship center, dubbed the Berthiaume Center for Entrepreneurship.
CONNECTIONS WITH ALUMNI RATED LOWER COMPARED TO OTHER ALUMNI CATEGORIES
While Isenberg definitely has a lot going for it, the class of 2014 alumni indicated the school could do a better job at connecting alumni with students — something Fuller says they could be doing better. “I’ll be frank with you, that was probably right,” Fuller says when told the alumni rated the school lowest on the prompt that read, “how would you judge the business program’s alumni network and connections that can help you throughout your career” out of 11 other prompts. However, Fuller says, the school has recently implemented a “two-level plan,” focusing on first improving career placements, and second, improving the engagement. Currently, Fuller says, the school runs about 20 events a year, many of which take place in New York and Boston, but a few stretching across coasts to California, where Isenberg has a small but growing alumni base. For the past two years, no other companies have scooped up more Isenberg graduates than Ernst & Young and Pricewaterhouse Coopers.
For Bahl, one of the most important aspects of his time at the University of Massachusetts was being in the larger public university. “The value of the large university is important,” he says. “As much as I loved the business school, what made the experience better for me was having the support of the university. You meet people and experience things that were outside of your scope. And that’s where the value was for me.”
As for advice, Bahl says to look beyond what is typical to look at coming out of high school.
“Think about the internships you can get,” Bahl says. “It’s hard to see around the bend in high school, but look at what’s available outside of the school. Also, look at the alumni network and who has been coming out of the schools.”
Pizza says to be sure to visit the school.
“What I would say to a junior or senior in high school is go visit the campus,” he says. “Go visit the people and the professors. Do your research on not only the esteemed professors that we have that are teaching, but also the people. That’s the career counselors, all of the student counselors, I can’t overstate enough how great everyone was to me.”
For a top-notch east coast business education at a very reasonable cost, the Isenberg School of Management at the University of Massachusetts should be at the top of a high school student’s list.
WHAT ISENBERG ALUMNI SAY
“I was in a course called TOOLS, which is an experiential learning senior thesis class. We were given real clients (Boston Scientific) with a real problem to solve for some of their marketing needs. In a group of 3, we were responsible to compile an in-depth marketing plan to help address the clients problem. It was rigorous and tiring that resulted in a 300 page report, client calls and final presentation. This class built my account management skills of being able to work with clients to understand how to find their problems and effectively solve them. I consider this class the reason I have taken Advertising’s normal 4 year career path and was able to climb in as little as 2.5 years.” – Class of 2014 alum
“I joined the Investment club, eventually becoming President, and I joined my school’s student run endowment fund. I got direct buy-side equity research experience, the ability to analyze companies from an investment perspective, a strong valuation framework, and an ability to reinforce my accounting knowledge learned in class.” – Class of 2014 alum
“Senior capstone thesis: I completed a capstone thesis during my entire senior year to meet a joint requirement of the business school and the honors school. I chose to conduct research on a 2012 Massachusetts law governing corporate charters, which allowed companies to form as “benefit corporations” in order to pursue a social/environmental “public benefit” in addition to shareholder profit. I partnered with a business lawyer who taught my environmental law course at the business school. Thesis included researching the text of the law and applicable case law, legal opinions, and scholarly research. Thesis also included identifying and interviewing real CEOs/presidents/leaders from Massachusetts benefit corporations, and then incorporating their ~1 year of experience under the new corporate charter within my paper. Thesis included hosting a speaker panel for the business school, the larger university, and the surrounding “Five College” region which featured several of these CEOs and prominent leaders in the sustainable business field. Culmination of work took the form of a published honors thesis and participation in the local NARBLA (North Atlantic Regional Business Law Association) conference. Simulations: I took part in two simulations during my time at the business school, one of which tasked students with working together in a small team to run a multinational business, and the other which asked students to come up with an idea for a small business which could be created within the business school. Projects: Most classes involved some project work.” – Class of 2014 alum
Where the Class of 2016 went to work:
Ernst & Young: 39
Liberty Mutual: 20
State Street: 20
Grant Thornton: 12