Thomas Seidl, a data science manager for Red Bull Soccer in Munich, set a goal to get an MBA from a top American university to future-proof his career in sports analytics. Trouble was, he wanted to stay in Germany with his wife and two young children.
“I wanted to see whether there was an option to do an MBA in the United States at a world class university from home basically,” said Seidl, who holds a PhD in computer science in sports. “I was curious about whether I could get into a top-ranked program. I just wanted to give it my best shot.”
Seidl didn’t have any luck finding an online program in the U.S. that met his requirements. But then, while researching the Berkeley Haas Evening & Weekend Program, he discovered the new Flex MBA option, which lets students take courses remotely with the option to come to campus for electives. It sounded perfect, so Seidl applied and was accepted, joining 68 other students last year in the inaugural Flex cohort, who hail from the U.S., Canada, Egypt, Japan, the Netherlands, Singapore, and the United Arab Emirates.
The Flex cohort, launched last year, does things a bit differently. While the evening and weekend MBA cohorts meet in person during scheduled blocks of time throughout their programs—on either evenings or weekends—Flex students take their core courses remotely, with an option to come to campus for electives. For parents, caregivers, and professionals who move or travel often for their careers or for fun, Flex provides what they say they need most: schedule flexibility.
“The Flex program allowed me to stay in Los Angeles and stay very close to my family while also getting an MBA,” said Kevin Haroldo Ramirez, who was a philosophy and legal studies major as a UC Berkeley undergraduate. As a senior consultant at Edgility Consulting, Ramirez said he wanted an MBA to sharpen his business skills as his career progresses in the nonprofit sector.
“It worked out perfectly”
Like Ramirez, about 74% of the Flex class is from outside of the Bay Area, joining from nine California counties and 17 U.S. states. Seven students are living abroad, and many have relocated during the program, says Leah Rozeboom, director of Flex Experience.
Some students living in different time zones, like Seidl, log on in the middle of the night twice a week to take classes. “When class is over at 3 a.m., you start to think about the content and you try to get back to sleep,” he said. “But then your brain just starts to get into all of these ideas about ‘how can I apply this stuff in sports?’ Sometimes it’s difficult, but I think that’s a good sign that I am engaged.”
Kinshuk Verma, a product manager for Electric Hydrogen, who lives in San Jose, Ca., applied to Flex because of her heavy travel schedule. “At my previous job, I was traveling more than 50% of the time, and I knew that the weekend or weekday schedule was not going to work for me,” she said “Once I got into the Flex program, I had a baby, and it worked out perfectly.”
With an equally hectic life, Molly (Hill) Bjorkman, a mom of two who juggles work as a manager for an arts nonprofit and helps run Napa-based GRO wines with her husband, Lars Bjorkman, said she never considered commuting to do an MBA.
For Bjorkman, easing back into school during the first semester was difficult but fulfilling. “The core classes are challenging,” she said. “I am an all As” type so I have to be a little forgiving of myself and the first semester was, ‘how do I do school again? There’s so much that was new and there is still not enough time.” Last semester, Bjorkman, mom to an 11-year-old and 13-year-old, rose at 5 a.m. at her Calistoga, Ca., home to do an hour of asynchronous course work before heading to her local office. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4-6 p.m. she joined live classes.
Bjorkman said she was impressed by the camaraderie among the many mothers in Flex. Her study group includes moms Erin Mitsuyoshi, who lives in Hawaii, and Sophie Christian, who lives in Portland, Oregon.
Christian, a college piano professor, said the group’s connection on Slack and at in-person weekend have helped make bonds stronger.
Christian said the pandemic and its many restrictions led her to pursue a new career path for herself that she believes will lead to a bigger impact. “I wanted something more flexible in business so I’m exploring,” she said. “I still run my teaching business but I am letting go of that part of my life. I jumped at the chance when Berkeley offered this program.”
Last April, the Flex cohort convened in Berkeley for an in-person weekend. Students participated in Leadership Communications course sessions on compelling storytelling and finding your authentic leadership style, completed one-on-one coaching sessions, and enjoyed small group dinners with Haas faculty and coffee with students in the evening MBA cohort.
Maria Carkovic, who taught their Macroeconomics class, surprised the cohort in person during lunch at Chou Hall, where they met her for the first time. “It was a wonderful surprise,” said Carkovic, who was chosen by the evening MBA class for the 2023 Cheit Award for teaching excellence. “I think that they were very aware that it was special to be together, so they were interacting to the max and connections were being formed. Life gets very complicated at the age that they go to grad school in business and the Flex program works to their advantage.”
Strong bonds have formed within the group, encouraged in part by cohort representative Lisa Dalgliesh, who is described by many classmates as a connector.
During Flex orientation kickoff, she said she was pleased to meet three other students from Texas sitting at her table. The group now meets for occasional dinners in Texas. Last August, while traveling for work to Washington, D.C., she had dinner and drinks with four classmates, and she hosted classmates when they traveled to Austin for work.
Dalgliesh, who lives in Austin and works as a people strategy and integration leader for Deloitte, said she chose Flex, in part, to stay put in her native Texas and not uproot her life. “I thought there would be a social trade off when you go to a program like this, but that’s not been the case,” she said.“Quite the opposite..It’s fun to visit people in their hubs.”
Flex is “the future of academia,” she added. “This is an equitable approach to ensuring that people from all walks of life and at all different stages of life have an opportunity to tap into an education from a top tier institution from anywhere.” she said.
“This is an equitable approach to ensuring that people from all walks of life and at all different stages of life have an opportunity to tap into an education from a top-tier institution from anywhere.” – Lisa Dalgliesh, EWMBA 25
Class from anywhere
The pandemic, though isolating for many students, proved that both remote work and remote teaching are possible, even preferable for some, which is one reason why Flex applications are rising.
“We don’t take a one-size-fits all approach to our part-time programs for working professionals,” said Jamie Breen, assistant dean of Berkeley Haas MBA programs. “Flex is an inclusive, future-forward program that works for an increasing number of students who want to earn a world-class degree that fits with their schedules and lives.”
Cairo serves as a perfect base for Scott Diddams to travel all over Europe. “I’ve attended (Haas) MBA lectures from Paris, Athens, London, and Cairo,” said Diddams, a product manager at Microsoft, who logs into class from different time zones. “I feel like I’ve been able to keep up and perform just as well as if I were in person. If anything, as an introvert, it makes it even easier for me to pay attention when I’m in my own space and not worrying about the classroom.”
“I’ve attended (Haas) MBA lectures from Paris, Athens, London, and Cairo,” – Scott Diddams, a product manager at Microsoft.
After coming to campus in April, Diddams, a former paratrooper in the 82nd Airborne Division of the U.S. Army, stopped in Seattle to work at Microsoft headquarters before flying home. In a meeting with a senior engineer, Diddams said he tested some concepts he’d learned in his marketing class.
The manager gave him excellent feedback, he said. “Having that impact at work is something that I don’t think I would’ve been able to do a year ago before taking these courses,” he said. “I certainly felt much more confident.”
Macroeconomics was a favorite course, he said. “Attending that class from Egypt, which is undergoing a kind of financial inflation crisis, and being able to see that while learning about it,” he said, “that’s the perfect way to learn something.”
Like Diddams, Dalgliesh, who holds an undergraduate degree in psychology and a master’s degree in human dimensions of organizations from the University of Texas, Austin, said she believes her MBA will take her to the next step professionally.
“It was important for me to learn more about the business world so I can have a seat at the table,” she said.