Engineering His Own Success: JT Hale’s Pursuit of an MBA Direct at SMU Cox

Image of JT Hale

As part of the inaugural MBA Direct cohort at SMU Cox, JT Hale, Class of 2023, recently completed his first semester of the program. On his journey from Arkansas to Texas he always had an education in business in the back of his mind.

Initially interested in business but wanting to start his career in engineering, JT Hale saw an MBA as an opportunity to bridge the gap between civil engineering’s technical and administrative side. However, like many students in the first cohort, he was looking for highly specific characteristics of an online program that became more and more challenging to find. It had to be prestigious, but he also needed to do it on his terms; specifically a flexibility that allows him to continue at his full-time engineering job, a program that recognizes his experience and high undergrad GPA, a way to cut down on commuting hours, and a lasting connection with his classmates.

He was looking for the right program for the next stage of his career, and when he found the SMU Cox MBA Direct program–it was the perfect fit.

A Familiar Student Path

Like many other students, Hale always thought about pursuing a business degree, but also wanted to secure a foundation in a different field first, which resulted in him choosing engineering. Hale found his way to Frisco, Texas after landing a job at an engineering firm and like many MBA students who pursue alternatives early in his career, he knew a business degree was going to be a key to advancement.

“I will have the knowledge and people skills to cover the business side,” he said in reference to his eventual completion of the program. Those skills move beyond his professional interests into the person he wants to be: he considers himself a lifelong learner and enjoys expanding his general business knowledge.

Prestige and Flexibility were Non-Negotiable

An MBA is a substantial time and financial commitment, and Hale seemed to enter his search with a firm understanding of the education he wanted. The SMU Cox prestige and career opportunities were incredibly important to him.

“I mean, SMU Cox is a well-known program. It’s definitely a top program in the country. And then, while being very prestigious, they had a flexible schedule,” Hale explained.

The convenience of the MBA Direct program was a key decision point for Hale and so many others in his cohort. He applied to other programs, but SMU Cox was his top choice from the beginning due to a remote program’s impact on his commute. The program has set class times and class schedules which provide students the accountability to stay on top of the rigorous MBA curriculum, while providing them the opportunity to build relationships with faculty and students, and the ability to maintain both a full-time job and personal obligations. “Another program was in-person in Fort Worth, and they didn’t offer online [classes]. And I said I’m not going to drive to Fort Worth every night after work. I just can’t make that happen.”

JT Hale isn’t alone. Following the coronavirus pandemic, there has been a collective need for flexible models of learning at work, at school, and at home. However over the past year, the business world—in and beyond Texas—often struggled to bridge the gap between remote work and maintaining a genuine connection with employees.

But as the pandemic began to grip the world, Hale didn’t see that same struggle unfold during his application process—whether he met the admissions team in person or online.

“I felt like by the time I was done with my interview process I knew everybody that oversaw the MBA Direct program.”

“I was really impressed by the close community”

“I looked into probably five or six different universities. And one thing that stood out to me was the community at SMU,” Hale explained.

Networking and community are a cornerstone of the Cox MBA Direct experience. In fact, The Economist ranks #6 business school in the world for networking potential due in large part to the strength of the SMU Cox alumni community.

He sees this within his cohort. “The caliber of people that are in the program is unreal. I mean, just the desire to connect, to work well together, [and] to work hard.”

As for the future, Hale isn’t quite sure yet where he will land, but is passionate about the prospects that are sure to come his way as he continues his education.

“What I want is definitely a crossover between a lot of people, business, and engineering. I enjoy all of it,” he says. “I wanted to start this program to open doors and provide the opportunity to meet people. I don’t know where it will take me, but I’m excited for wherever it goes and the people I’ll meet along the way.”

Beginning his second semester in a diverse cohort with similar levels of interests and business experience, Hale is already well on his way.

Explore new opportunities with the MBA Direct for Early Career Professionals at SMU Cox

At SMU Cox, connection is at the forefront of our MBA programs. Whether it’s connecting ideas and applying them to the real world, forging bonds with your dynamic classmates, or forming professional relationships amongst the SMU Cox network of more than 42,000 devoted alumni –the ties you make here will last a lifetime. Make your first SMU Cox connection by contacting our admissions team to discover how the MBA Direct program can help you accelerate your career goals through the academic rigor and collaborative community of SMU Cox, all while gaining three years of valuable work experience throughout the course of the program.