by Kelly Zaky, Graduate Student, University at Buffalo
One of the great things about the University at Buffalo (UB) is how well it accepts and supports the diverse passions of its students, often encouraging innovation resulting from multiple perspectives. Undergraduate students are encouraged to take “pathways” (a series of courses that look at similar topics within different disciplines) to have a more well-rounded experience and knowledge, and this same idea transfers into the varieties of graduate degrees. The University currently offers many interdisciplinary, dual, and collaborative degrees that combine undergraduate, masters’, and doctoral programs. The School of Social Work offers these joint degrees: BA/MSW, MSW/MBA, MSW/MPH, MSW/JD, and MSW/PhD.
To approach the countless challenges that society faces today, we need to be more progressive and innovative in our problem-solving and tackle challenges from various standpoints to find new solutions. The world often seems to progress faster than society can find answers!
The program that I am currently in at UB, the dual Master of Social Work/Master of Business Administration (MSW/ MBA) program, offers students both classroom and practical field experience in the business and social work fields. I have a very “social service” focused background, having earned a B.A. in Psychology and then spending two years working with nonprofits. I found I had a true passion for and wish to pursue a career in the nonprofit sector. I thought that the next step would be to pursue a graduate degree in nonprofit management, including business courses.
On the UB School of Social Work website and found the dual MSW/MBA program that met my desire to focus on social issues combined with business acumen. The more I read about the dual degree program, the more confident I felt that this was the next step toward my future. The MSW/MBA offered me the best of both worlds: the chance to become educated on the business aspects that are needed in a successful nonprofit, as well as the chance to dig deeper into social work and human service to better equip myself to help those I longed to serve in my career.
Now, at the beginning of Spring 2020, I have just completed my first semester: the first year is fully MBA, the second fully MSW, and the third a mix of both. I cannot yet speak to the social work side of things, but I can speak to what I see as the heart of UB’s MBA program, which I feel exemplifies interdisciplinary innovation that is at the center of these dual degrees. As is common among accredited MBA programs, the UB program separates each cohort into teams of five or six individuals, often of different educational, cultural, and experiential backgrounds. For example, my team consists of a civil engineer/MBA student, a finance major who graduated last May, a business undergrad who graduated May 2018, a third business undergrad who came back after one year of post-graduation work experience, an international student who has many degrees and years of work experience in India, and myself. As a team, we work together for the entire first year of our MBA, collaborating on group projects, sitting together during many classes, and having meetings on most days of the week.
In our Organizational Behavior class during the first semester, we had an in-class activity that was aimed at showcasing the problem of “group waste” that occurs with groupthink in teams. In the exercise (a wilderness survival scenario), we were stranded after a plane crash with ten items that we salvaged from the wreckage. We had to rank these items from most to least important; first we ranked them as individuals, then as a team. The best rankings, determined by a Marine, were then provided. All of my team had better scores on our own than together, meaning our “group waste” was high. We then verbalized what we all felt, which was that our team struggled to work together cohesively. The six of us were about as different as we could be and approached problems in completely different ways, and did not always understand where each other was coming from. In order to be a productive team, we had to start really digging into who we were as a group, building rapport and finding ways to be effective together.
What began the semester as one of my biggest thorns (lack of group rapport) became one of my biggest strengths. My team, though they sometimes tried my last nerve, was also a constant source of my laughter, and of the increased confidence and learning I experienced throughout the semester. We started off slow, but as we got to know one another and build relationships, both as a team and individually, we began to work cohesively. It has only been one semester and I have already been stretched beyond my narrow limits of understanding. Where I was often challenged by my impatience, I was also challenged to see new, alternative ways to look at situations from perspectives that I had not considered before.
For me, this is the most exciting part of my dual degree. I can not only to fully invest myself into both the business and social work halves of my degree, but also to find ways to meld the two ways of thinking into one. The program will allow me to acquire the skills I will need to be able to be an innovative, social change-maker, learning better ways to navigate and utilize interdisciplinary teams who are tasked with problem-solving complex social problems. It will result in a more complete skill set than what I would have with simply one of these degrees.
Kelly Zaky is in her first year of the joint MSW/MBA program at the University at Buffalo. She is from Buffalo, NY, and graduated in 2017 with a B.A. in Psychology from Niagara University. She then pursued a year of volunteering with a nonprofit based in Phoenix, Arizona, and learned she had a passion for the issue of transitional housing. Kelly returned to Buffalo and worked at the Newman Center at UB for one year, before making the tough decision to leave to pursue this full-time, three-year degree.