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Stetson University Center at Celebration was buzzing with excitement last night, Aug. 10, as a diverse group of 14 women and 11 men from nine corporations gathered for the first time as Stetson University Executive MBA Cohort 9.

The Cohort 9 orientation dinner was an opportunity for the students to meet each other, members of the staff and a few alumni. The new students left with a little bit of inspiration, as well. Here are a few select pieces:

1. This program will be tough, but you will make it through. “Look to your right and look to your left,” said Dr. Stuart Michelson, dean of the Stetson School of Business and director of the Stetson University Executive MBA program, as he told students an anecdote from his school days. “That’s what my professor told my class as we were beginning our doctorate program. ‘Half of the faces you’re seeing won’t make it through this program,’ he told us. But I challenge you to look to your right and look to your left,” continued Michelson. “I expect that we’ll see everyone in this room tonight still together 19 months from now as Executive MBAs. You will get through this, and you’ll do it together.”

Cohort 9 assembled for the first time as a group at orientation, Aug. 10.

2. Help us help you. “We want you to succeed, and we want you to have everything you need,” said Wendy Lowe, coordinator for the Executive MBA program. “Help us help you. Tell me or Dr. Michelson if you want or need something,” Lowe continued. “We’ll do the best we can to accommodate you.”

3. Change your perspective. “What a journey you’re going to be on,” said Dr. Richard Pernell, a director at Embry Riddle Aeronautical University and a Management and Leadership instructor for the Executive MBA program. “You’re going to change so much over these 19 months. It’s going to be super.” Pernell held up a photo of a lighthouse and asked what direction the light was shining. No one could tell. “From your perspective, you don’t know what direction you’re looking,” said Pernell. “So, change your perspective.” Once he moved the photo closer to the students, they could see that the title of the photo was Evening Light, so it was obvious that the direction was north. “You just had to change what you were looking at to get the whole picture. These are the types of things we’ll discuss in class, which begins Friday: leadership and management (which are not the same thing), and critical thinking.” Pernell ended with a question for the students to ponder that they’ll pick up discussion on tomorrow: If a turtle loses its shell, is it naked or homeless?

4. This is your program; shape it. Michelson and Lowe started preparing the students for their international trip, scheduled for June 15-24, 2012. “You get to help select the destination,” Lowe said, and Michelson asked for a quick vote by the students on where they’d like to go. Among the top spots were Brazil, Chile, Shanghai and Morocco.

5. You are more capable than you think. Denise Edelmaier, an executive in Cohort 8, told the new students that time management and prioritization are extremely important, and sometimes your three “buckets” (personal life, work and school) require a demanding juggling act. But, she said, “You are way more capable than you think you are. You can do this. I realized I had a lot more strength than I knew before I started this program.”

6. Use technology to your advantage. Shariq Khan, a classmate of Edelmaier’s, said it’s best to relax and enjoy the program. The best way to do this, he proposed, was to organize yourself and manage your time. “Use technology to your advantage,” said Khan. “Use Blackboard and Skype for meetings. Manage your schedule online. Make sure you make time for all the parts of your life.”

7. Pay attention to those who matter. Walter Kurlin, a graduate of Cohort 7, said to be sure to pay attention to the needs of your significant others and spouses. “They’ll be one of the most important parts of your program,” said Kurlin. “You’ll need their support.” Cohort 8 student Khan agreed, adding that students should be sure to not neglect their families during this rigorous program. “If Mama ain’t happy, nobody’s happy,” Khan said, joking about the stress of keeping everyone in his home comfortable while also maintaining his duties at work and in school.

8. Focus on the concepts, not the grades. Whereas you may have focused on getting good grades in undergraduate studies, spend time now on learning the context, said Tyler Reed, a graduate of Cohort 4. “I would have done better in the beginning of my program if I had worried less about getting a good numerical grade and more about understanding the meaning and application of what I was learning,” she said. “I did figure it out, though, and then the program was much more fulfilling.”

9. Enjoy the routine. “You’ll find yourself planning your life in two-week increments,” said Craig Feldman, a graduate of Cohort 5. “It’s like a video game, with each weekend being a new adventure and progressing through stages to reach a new level, earning knowledge and gaining success along the way.”  Feldman also echoed Dr. Pernell’s sentiments about change: “The experiences you’ll share with your cohort are life-altering, and you’ll come back from the international trip a different person with a more global view and with more business confidence.”

In less than 24 hours, members of Cohort 9 will begin their journey. As they build their network, strengthen their leadership skills and increase their career versatility, these students will change their perspective on business, life and their day-to-day work. And one year from now, some of them likely will be giving pointers to the incoming Cohort 10.

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