Having worked at Wharton for over 25 years, Catherine Molony has seen a lot of changes in the EMBA program, which is now celebrating its 40th anniversary. We asked Cathy, who is the director of the MBA Program for Executives in Philadelphia and director of admissions for the MBA Program for Executives in Philadelphia and San Francisco, to tell us more about these changes as well as her experiences at Wharton.
Q. What are some of the biggest changes you’ve observed in Wharton’s EMBA program in the last 25 years?
It’s gone by in the blink of an eye! One of the big changes is in the admissions realm. When I first started, we’d get as many as 10 sponsored applicants from a single company so I spent a lot of time in a gatekeeper role. It was tough because not everyone who the company identified as a top performer was qualified for our program. In those cases, I had to explain to the corporate contacts (mostly staff in the HR role) why we couldn’t make offers of admissions. Over the years, it has changed so that it’s now up to individual employees to apply and then drive the sponsorship decision up in their organization. The days of companies tapping people on the shoulder and telling them to apply are pretty much over. Individuals are more in charge of their own careers so career services have become an important resource we offer students.
Another big change is globalization. In the earlier days, many students had never worked or travelled abroad. Most of our applicants were born in the U.S. Now, a significant percentage of our students were born out of the U.S. and many students bring a wealth of international life and work experience. As a result, we’ve added more global offerings like the Global Modular Courses, and there is a bigger overall focus on globalization.
That said, we’ve been ahead of the pack with globalization since the beginning. Students have always taken an International Seminar course, which includes an international class trip. The destinations were selected by the students, and one of my first international seminar trips was to China in 1993. That wasn’t an easy country to visit in those days because you had to be sponsored by a corporation and have government approval of your itinerary. But it was important for our students to see China as it began its economic transition. More recently, the class trip has evolved so that second-year students in Philadelphia and San Francisco can pick from four different destinations and courses. Since they travel together, it’s an opportunity to get to know students from both coasts.
Another major change involves technology. It’s more challenging to be an EMBA student now because of technology and the ability to constantly connect with the office. There is tremendous pressure to check in with email and texts. When we began, there of course was no email or texting so it was a very different experience.
Q. What was the launch of Wharton | San Francisco like?
By the time the faculty had approved the plan for Wharton | San Francisco in 2000, we had six months to recruit our first class. We called alumni from both the EMBA and full-time MBA programs who were living in the west to help us, and we worked with Wharton’s Executive Education team to market and advertise. Howie Kaufold (our former deputy vice who is now vice dean of the MBA program) and I flew back and forth a lot to interview applicants, conduct information receptions, and meet corporate contacts. The dot.com boom had just ended and we faced a lot of skepticism, but we ended up enrolling 65 students in that first class and it’s been successful ever since.
Q. What is your role now?
I oversee admissions decisions for both coasts. I also do recruiting events and spend a lot of time doing personal counseling for applicants, which I enjoy very much. I help them put their best foot forward in the application process. I want to make sure that I’m bringing the right people in. It’s like building an orchestra trying to get the right mix of people in each section. There needs to be a diversity of industries and backgrounds so students can learn from each other.
Q. What advice do you give prospective applicants for interviews?
Be authentic and be yourself. Don’t tell us what you think we should hear, but focus on your personal goals and what you want to get out of the program. Tell us about leadership experiences you’ve had and about working with other people because we do a lot of group work here. We want to admit people who like working with others and will enjoy the study group experience.
Q. You are a founding member of the Executive MBA Council and won its highest honor for service to the EMBA industry. Can you tell us about your involvement in this group?
It’s been very rewarding to see this group grow to over 400 schools, including international schools. It’s very helpful to be able to share best practices. Just because you work at a great school doesn’t mean there isn’t more to learn. We just hosted our northeast regional meeting in Philadelphia in March and I will be presenting a session at our annual meeting in Los Angeles in October. At that session, we’ll have a Wharton EMBA alumnus as our guest speaker on the topic of adult learners discovering they have learning difficulties. That alumnus discovered he had a learning difficulty while a student in our EMBA program and we helped him get a diagnosis and help from Penn’s Weingarten Learning Resources Center. He is now passionate about helping other students.
Q. How did you come to work for Wharton’s EMBA program?
I was working in the Wharton MBA Admissions Program Office as an associate director and always had my eye on the EMBA Program for a future role because I really liked and respected the EMBA team. I liked how that team used a holistic approach. The admissions people also ran the program and continued to work with students on a closer level. You could really see the fruits of your labor and how your efforts paid off. When an opening came up for an associate director, I applied and joined the office in 1989. I’ve stayed with the program because of the incredible team and the incredible students.
Q. Can you tell us something about yourself that students might not know?
My husband and I have a house in Avalon, NJ and in the fall I help the Avalon Sea Watch Program count migrating birds.
Also, I’ve been on all but two of the International Seminar trips since I started working here. So far, I’ve been on every continent except Antarctica. One of the most memorable trips was to South Africa right after apartheid ended. It was amazing to see the hope and optimism for the future there. My husband and I also went on a safari, which was a trip of a lifetime!