Here and Back: My Duquesne MBA Experience

by Marissa Mitzner MBA’20

I graduated with my bachelor’s degree from Coastal Carolina University (CCU) in May 2008, in the midst of the developing Great Recession. I was fortunate to have a job upon graduation as the first CCU sustainability coordinator. I held this position for two years, and all told spent seven years up to that point in South Carolina. I wanted a change of pace and scenery. I was not sure what I wanted to do next, but I knew that I enjoyed the field of sustainability, so I decided to apply for sustainability-focused graduate programs. This search led me to Duquesne University’s 1-year MBA program focused on sustainability. In 2010, the MBA program had only been around for two years, but I was intrigued by the curriculum, and enjoyed talking to the professors and administrators. I applied with high confidence that I would enter as a newly-minted MBA student in 2011. 

This is the part of the story I didn’t expect. I was rejected. I thought to myself, who else had the kind of sustainability experience that I had from my CCU position? And my business management undergrad was, in my mind, a strong credential as well. The only thing potentially holding me back were my standardized test scores. To address these potentially low scores upfront, I wrote an extra essay as part of my submitted application highlighting my successes thus far and my strong will to succeed. However, none of that mattered. I was crestfallen, but knew this might happen. Not knowing what else to do, I moved to Washington, DC with my best friend to start something new.

I am here to say that I am thankful I was rejected from the Duquesne MBA – Sustainable Business Practices (MBA-SBP) program in 2011. Over the next eight years in DC, I had jobs with increasing opportunities to cultivate my professional skills that helped me crystallize what I wanted from my career. All the while, I knew I still wanted to go back for my graduate degree, but I did not know in what focus. In fact, I crossed an MBA off my list “for good” as I never really liked accounting anyway, and after my rejection from Duquesne, I assumed an MBA was not my path. For years I explored graduate programs in public health, environmental studies, and public policy. However, I remained indecisive, and balancing the increasing responsibilities of my working life with the necessary studying for the GRE was not meshing.

But 2019 turned out to be my paradigm shift. I was successful in my career but not happy. I found myself wanting more but was not sure what it was. To get a better frame of reference I began researching colleagues who had jobs that were important career benchmarks for me, and then began chatting with some of them to learn about their career journey in order to help me determine a path forward for my career. Everyone had different stories and different advice, but a major theme emerged from these conversations. If I wanted to move up, I needed new skills, and I could go about attaining them through three ways: learn on the job, take a certificate course, or get my MBA. As reluctant as I was to go back for my MBA given my previous experiences, I ultimately decided that earning an MBA would give me the financial analysis and strategic thinking tools that I need to advance in my career path. It was this realization that led me back to Duquesne.

However, I was 10 years into my career and both nervous and excited about this prospect. Washington, DC is fortunate to have a plethora of MBA program options. But I wanted the full-time academic immersion experience in sustainability and did not want to spend two or more years earning my degree. Duquesne also offered an opportunity to move to Pittsburgh and try a new, vibrant city. For all of these reasons and more, Duquesne was the perfect opportunity.

Shortly after applying, I was surprised to receive a phone call from the Associate Dean of Graduate Programs for the Business School, Dr. Karen Donovan, congratulating me on my acceptance into the program. I was thrilled, and the timing could not have been more perfect. Not only was I ready for the right graduate school, but I was accepted two days before my biggest career champion, my grandfather, passed away. He was there to consult me while writing my entrance essays eight years prior, and he was able to see me finally accepted.

As a graduate of the 2020 class, I expected to enter back into a roaring economy similar to the one I left last year. However, we are in the midst of another recession as well as significant global risks to the health and wellness of many. But even with an uncertain economy, I am certain that the Duquesne MBA-SBP has enriched my knowledge base, and only further crystallized my ultimate career goals in becoming a thought leader in sustainability and the built environment. 

I want to thank my fellow students, the Duquesne faculty, and particularly my Fellowship advisor Dr. Robert Sroufe, who was one of the professors who impressed me in 2010 when we spoke, and am honored to have now worked with him as part of my MBA experience. 

For anyone contemplating going back to earn your MBA, my advice is this: if you are looking for a university with high-quality education, a focus on sustainability, and with professors who are invested in your success, pick Duquesne University. Additionally, take your time and be deliberate in your choices. Ultimately, your education journey will benefit greatly and you will have a richer and more worthwhile experience.