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BA 517 helps MOL students become stronger communicators, more influential leaders

December 18, 2017

When Michael Kaloz accepted a job in ExxonMobil’s controller office, he was confident that he either possessed the financial knowledge he needed or would learn it soon. But that was just one aspect of the job. 

Kaloz, who is enrolled in the Penn State Smeal College of Business Master of Professional Studies in Management and Organizational Leadership (MOL) Program, knew he would also need to communicate that financial data to executives and peers. 

That’s where BA 517: Communication Skills for Leaders, a yearlong communications course that MOL and first-year MBA students take, will help immensely. 

“Our latest assignment was a group project on a big financial presentation,” said Kaloz, who earned a bachelor’s degree in energy business and finance from Penn State. “For me, that was perfect, right up my alley. They taught us a specific structure that helped us clearly disseminate the information. And you do it in a way that gives you the confidence to command the room.” 

BA 517 is designed to grow students’ communication skills through a systematic, incremental, and collaborative approach. The systematic approach refers to dissecting the art and science of what constitutes effective leadership communication.

“We are fully aware that good communication is in large part art; however, there are fundamental pillars that transcend all great leaders and how they communicate,” said Andy Gustafson, clinical associate professor of leadership communication. “Once these principles are brought to light, understood, and practiced — the journey to becoming a stronger communicator and an influential leader begins.” 

The assignment Kaloz referenced is a collaboration between Gustafson, Nancy Mahon, clinical associate professor of business communication who also teaches BA 517, and Lou Gattis, clinical professor of finance and the faculty director of Smeal’s MBA and EMBA programs. 

During the third seven-week module, students in the course will undertake an integrated assignment with Vilmos Misangyi, professor of strategic management, BNY Mellon Fellow, and chair of the Department of Management and Organization. 

Both of the integrated assignments are part of the systematic approach Gustafson and Mahon use to build skills and confidence in students. 

“We focus on different assignments that grow in point value, length of message, as well as complexity of business case. The first graded assignment is an individual assignment that is only two minutes in length. The assignment we just completed is a team-based speech that is highly interactive and will last about 35 minutes,” Gustafson said. 

“The complexity of the business cases that the students will create and deliver only grows incrementally more challenging as we join arms in integrated assignments.”

Those communications skills are a crucial part of the MOL Program for students, most of whom come from technical backgrounds in STEM majors. 

Jordan Zezza, who majored in neuroscience and minored in chemistry at Susquehanna University, epitomizes the typical MOL student experience. He initially thought he would pursue a Ph.D. and a research position after graduating with his neuroscience degree. When his interest in research waned, Smeal’s new MOL Program was a perfect replacement. 

“My hope was to go into a consulting role, blending those analytical skills I attained from doing research in neuroscience with the ability to communicate complex ideas with executives, co-workers, or clients,” Zezza said. 

“I couldn’t really ask for more of a better way to develop my communication skills effectively. The faculty share success stories of former students succeeding at companies and directly thanking that course.”

About the Smeal MOL Program
The Master of Professional Studies in Management and Organizational Leadership (MOL) is an accelerated master’s program designed for recently graduated baccalaureate students from technically oriented, non-business disciplines. Smeal MOL Ambassadors are available to connect with prospective students to answer questions, offer advice and guidance, and provide insights from the perspective of a current student. Online applications are now being accepted. Feb. 1 is the next application deadline and final deadline for international applicants.

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