Cheering, learning and connecting

UND fan pursues online MBA, fosters University student connections with John Deere Electronic Solutions

Chris Dougherty

Chris Dougherty got his undergraduate engineering degree at the South Dakota School of Mines. But come the end of the year, he’ll officially be a part of the UND family, as he graduates with his MBA from the College of Business and Public Administration (CoBPA) – achieved completely online. Image courtesy of Chris Dougherty.

When people first walk by Chris Dougherty’s desk at John Deere Electronic Solutions (JDES) in Fargo, they’re inclined to think he’s a UND alum.

There’s Kelly green everywhere – he doesn’t hide his team enthusiasm well.

“I just grew up being a fan of UND football and hockey,” the Watford City, N.D. native said. “Growing up in North Dakota, I have a lot friends and co-workers who graduated from UND. Everyone assumes I graduated there, because I always have something UND on or something on my car.”

Dougherty got his undergraduate engineering degree at the South Dakota School of Mines. But come the end of the year, he’ll officially be a part of the UND family, as he graduates with his MBA from the College of Business and Public Administration (CoBPA) – achieved completely online.

“It will be nice to be considered an alumnus,” he said.

As a JDES Program Manager, Dougherty helps customers get the products they need at the time they need them and works to help add value to their end-products.  After some discussions with management, he knew he had to take the next step in his education to reach that next step in his career.

“I’ve always had an interest in general business, and going to an engineering school, there were limited business classes that we could take,” he said. “Having an MBA is going to be what differentiates me from other internal candidates.”

Best for distance                                                                                    

Many things made UND stand out as Dougherty’s online MBA of choice. Quality, he said, was the number one draw.

“It’s one of the best business schools in the region. It seems like every semester, UND is landing on some list,” he said, and he’s not wrong. UND was just ranked by U.S. News & World Report as one of the nation’s Top 25 Most Innovative Schools, and the CoBPA’s undergraduate program was the only ranked business program in the state for 2018.

The report also found UND’s online MBA to be the 29th best in the country.

Michelle Garske, CoBPA’s director of graduate programs and accreditation, says the program’s synchronous factor – in which distance students actually attend a weekly class through a video link – makes it stand out.

“A vast majority of our competitors are asynchronous,” she said. “Students like to be able to network and have that feeling of connectedness to the program and their peers, and I think that’s why our distance program has grown so much.”

“It really feels like I’m in class,” Dougherty explained. “I can participate and get the same teaching that all of the in-class students get. The technology side has really made the learning a lot easier than what I was prepared for.”

With a demanding full-time job and a wife and three kids at home, Dougherty appreciates the flexibility and time savings he gets with the synchronous classroom option.

“When I get home from work, I hang out with the family and we have supper. I don’t have to drive to campus and find a spot, sit through class, and then drive back,” he said. “It also helps that most classes have a break right around the time that my kids are going to bed, so I’m able to take a break and go tuck them in.”

UND President Mark Kennedy (center) recently toured the JDES headquarters in Fargo, which employs 800 people, as a special guest of Chris Dougherty (left). There Kennedy and company officials talked about ways to promote JDES internship opportunities to UND students. Image courtesy of Chris Dougherty.

UND President Mark Kennedy (center) recently toured the Fargo-based JDES headquarters, which employs about 800 people. The President was a special guest of Chris Dougherty (left). Kennedy and company officials talked about ways to promote JDES internship opportunities to UND students. Image courtesy of Chris Dougherty.

UND/JDES links

Experiential learning was tied into in Dougherty’s online Business & Government class, which incorporates a trip with classmates to Washington, D.C. Dougherty made a connection with a familiar face in the capital city during an alumni gathering hosted by the UND Alumni Association.

“UND President Mark Kennedy happened to be out there at the same time, and he attended the social,” he said. “We talked about where I worked and what I did, and he had an interest with growing a relationship there. JDES employs around 800 people, so he had an interest in forming a relationship with a bigger employer that employs business majors, engineers and, really, every degree.”

The two coordinated a visit to JDES in Fargo, where the President toured the facility and discussed shared goals in research and workforce development.

“We explained our cutting-edge technology, and a lot of those discussions were similar to what’s happening at UND in terms of the UAS side of things. With machinery, and especially agriculture machinery, it’s really moved toward a lot of autonomous activity,” Dougherty said.

The conversation evolved to finding ways for UND to market JDES’s internships more visibly to its students. “We have some fantastic engineering internship opportunities that help students get their foot in the door for a full-time job,” he said. “We also have accounting and other business major internships, so we talked about how we get people knowing about those opportunities.

“It turned out to be a really great visit,” Dougherty said.

As he continues to build a career foundation with strong UND support, Dougherty knows his family is also behind him.

“My wife had a joke when I was looking at distance learning options,” he said. “When I found UND, she said, ‘You know you have to go. For how many UND things we have in our house, and all the apparel we have, someone has to get a degree from there.’”