Continued growth of the professional graduate portfolio makes it easier to go into business with Smeal.

By Andy Smith

“Standing still is the fastest way of moving backward in a rapidly changing world.”

It sounds like a quote from a hot-shot tech executive, but it’s actually from legendary actress Lauren Bacall, who rose to fame in the 1940s and continued to reinvent herself throughout her career. What Bacall understood decades ago is just as true today: treading water in today’s hyperpaced world can quickly take you down the path to irrelevance.

It’s an axiom the Penn State Smeal College of Business has taken to heart.

In just the past year — and during a worldwide public health crisis — Smeal forged ahead with creating new graduate degrees, expanding its portfolio of certificates, and building ever greater flexibility into all of its programs in response to market demand.

It’s a far cry from a decade ago, when the college only had five program offerings at the professional graduate education level. Since then, the options available to students have exploded.

“We knew that as we were building out our portfolio for the various types of students we serve, we would need to have multiple paths of enrollment to support many concentrations for them,” says Charles Whiteman, dean of Penn State Smeal. “Today, we offer a robust, integrated, and stackable collection of resident master’s programs, online master’s programs, and online graduate certificates.”

Smeal’s newest program is an online-only master’s degree in taxation that can help tax professionals gain the expert knowledge they need to advise corporate and individual clients on their tax obligations. Launched in early 2021, the program consists of two credentials: a 30-credit master’s degree with courses that explore the foundations of taxation and tax structures in public and private entities, and a ninecredit graduate certificate that can serve as a springboard to the master’s degree.

Penn State business students appreciate Smeal’s rapid and decisive moves toward increased flexibility and choice.

Amanda Cancel

One of those students is Amanda Cancel, who earned an undergraduate advertising degree from Penn State in 2020. Realizing she needed to be more conversant in manipulating and understanding data, Cancel stayed on another year and stacked a master’s degree in business analytics and a certificate in marketing analytics at Smeal.

“There is obviously a creative component to advertising, but in today’s world you can’t decide on an ad or campaign until you know what’s going on with the numbers,” says the Teaneck, NJ, native. “There is so much data out there, and it’s hard to know what it means or if it’s important to a particular business story. The Smeal programs opened my eyes to what data can do and how businesses can use it.”

Amanda Cancel
Grace Brown Photography

The extra year at Smeal paid off for Cancel. In June, she accepted a job as an insights associate for a market research firm in Boston — “doing exactly what I went to school for,” she says proudly.

Nancy Chauvin, MD

Nancy Chauvin, MD
Robert J. Polett

The desire to expand her knowledge base also drove Nancy Chauvin, MD, to seek out additional education at Smeal. A pediatric radiologist at Penn State Health, Chauvin spent years taking science courses in preparation for a career in medicine.

“I was intimidated by the MBA program at first because I have no business background whatsoever, and the vocabulary of the business world is vastly different than medicine,” she says. “But I’m done with my second semester, and I love it.”

Chauvin was attracted to Smeal’s Online MBA program because it fit into her busy personal and professional schedule.

“When I was looking into MBA programs, a lot of them were just getting online, but Smeal has had an established online program for years,” she says. “I have friends in other programs that are still trying to work out the kinks. At Smeal, there are no kinks.”

According to Chauvin, an MBA will give her options if she decides to take her career in another direction.

“I’m not the type of person who can be in the same job for 40 years and then retire,” she says. “Eventually, I’d like to move into hospital administration or departmental leadership. I want to be ready if something pops up that interests me. Having an MBA will make me a more effective leader.”

Kate Ward-Speakes

Kate Ward-Speakes is another student familiar with career pivots. After working as an elementary school teacher following college, she explored medical school but ultimately found herself pulled into the business world.

“I began working for The Princeton Review, but ended up in retail management, eventually running my own Target store and later overseeing $1 billion in annual sales for Walmart,” says Ward-Speakes, who lives in Minnesota. “I had no business degree and no business background, but I quickly rose through the ranks and was able to teach myself quite a lot.”

Kate Ward-Speakes
Josh Kohanek Photography

But as fast and as far as she advanced, she would often detect a “moment of pause or skepticism” when employers saw no business degree on her resume.

“I decided to invest in me, so I took a year-long ‘sabbatical’ and pursued a master’s degree in Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship at Smeal,” she says. “It was time for me to add some formal business training to what I had been figuring out on my own. I also wanted to take on a more strategic role in my career, and this was the way to do it.”

Ward-Speakes raves about her Smeal experience, commenting that “it was an intense 15 months of looking at all of the pieces and parts that I had put together on my own over the years.”

“I learned so much about business and change leadership, and structures, approaches and ideas about how to effectively change and lead organizations,” she says. “It tied together so many loose ends for me and answered questions I hadn’t thought to ask along the way.”

Ward-Speakes graduated in August 2021 and today is sifting through job offers ranging from Fortune 50 companies to smaller retailers.

Lifelong Learning

In 2020-21, Smeal provided programs, support, and resources for every career stage and life circumstance — even during a global public health crisis.