Feb 01

Though one might not find fairy godmothers waving their magic wand while singing, “bibbity bobbity boo,” there is a magic of education that can only be found within the walls of a bricks and mortar classroom. In a post-covid world, virtual classrooms and remote work have become the new normal. But students of Professor Laura B. Cardinal’s Strategic Innovation Certificate (SIC) in the Darla Moore School of Business (DMSB) at the University of South Carolina (USC) say this program demonstrates just how magical face-to-face learning is. And some are ready to travel the distance because they believe the benefits of in-person learning far outweigh the convenience of an online education.

One of these “super commuters,” Christopher Creger, said the decision to participate in the SIC program was driven—pun intended—by more than just the desire to acquire knowledge. The New Yorker stumbled upon the program and was immediately drawn to the testimonials of former students who emphasized the transformative experience facilitated by Professor Cardinal who makes the magic happen among the students. According to Creger, it’s not just what is taught in the classroom, but how it is taught. The unique relationships fostered between students, the one-to-one connectivity, and the fully-immersive experiences make the program worth the commute.

“The academic learning is top-notch, but the practical skills and their direct application to the workplace is what sets this program apart for me,” explains Creger. “I found that the psychological insights and strategies for effective communication taught by Prof. C were invaluable, especially for students like me who are already balancing work while earning this education.”

Creger, who returns to South Carolina frequently for personal enjoyment says back in New York, he was able to immediately return to work and apply the skills learned in class to his job, which made the investment of time and effort even more worthwhile.

“I am now able to successfully strategize and communicate with people at different levels, from different backgrounds, and of all different ages in a way that I wasn’t able to do before this program.”

The certificate program is a part of the SC Innovates® SmartState® Center at the Moore School. It is comprised of both diverse and accomplished students, consisting of STEM Ph.D. candidates, Professional MBA (PMBA) students, advanced PMBA students, full-time MBA candidates, and even students who are pursuing their Masters. Another student willing to invest time in traveling in order to fulfill the program requirements was Anja Zgodic, Ph.D., who commuted from Winston-Salem, N.C. to attend.

“For me, I saw an extremely high value proposition with this certificate that was worth investing in the commute,” says Zgodic. “The higher-level understanding of technology innovation and management strategizing was exactly what I was looking to develop in my skills, and also what I wanted to take away from my educational experience. It was truly enriching to gain perspectives of others in the class who were in different fields and who had different experiences that challenged my thought process in ways I did not expect.”

Creger also emphasized the significance of building relationships with fellow students. Beyond the confines of a virtual environment, both Creger and Zgodic said it is engagement like grabbing coffee with fellow classmates and sitting down to lunch with your cohort that are the interpersonal connections fostered through face-to-face interactions, resulting in a more holistic educational experience.

“While online classes offer flexibility, they often lack the personal touch and camaraderie that comes from shared experiences in a physical classroom setting,” adds Creger. “The way in which Prof. C leads us in these discussion-based classes allows us to appreciate each other’s perspectives.”

Zgodic adds another enriching aspect of the program is the strategic approach to problem-solving.

“This program is the bridge of the world I am currently in to the world that I will be in five years from now. I am able to be a better scientist because I am able to see beyond where things go once they leave my hands. I am now skilled at thinking prospectively about the world of science and how we are shaping lives in what we do.”

Looking ahead, Professor Cardinal hopes to continue to expand the reach of the SIC program to attract more students from outside Columbia, S.C. as well as the Carolinas, by sharing stories like Creger’s and Zgodic’s.

“There is no doubt that the demands of being a ‘road warrior’ are not for the faint of heart,” admits Cardinal. “But with the correct mindset, education can be seamlessly integrated into one’s professional and personal life. Priority slices shift over time, but the pie remains the same. The trick is to find the harmony in fulfillment of what you set your mind to and what you hope to gain from the investment of the experience. And—maybe—even catch a little bit of the magic along the way!”

Cardinal encourages those looking for a professional upgrade (but not a full MBA or already have an MBA) and those currently enrolled in graduate programs in the DMSB or STEM doctoral programs at USC to earmark the SIC program. The program accepts students for fall or spring semesters. Learn more about enrolling in the Strategic Innovation Certificate and take your career “to infinity and beyond.”