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A major anniversary for the MBA (Financial Services)

Posted by Miriam Breslow on January 6, 2017 in News

Twenty years ago, a faculty member in the Rowe School of Business and an executive from the Institute of Canadian Bankers got together to discuss the idea of an MBA program for mid-career professionals in the banking industry. After some discussions and an invitation to the Bank of Montreal to be part of the new venture, the idea materialized into Dalhousie’s MBA (Financial Services). Launched by the Rowe School—then the School of Business Administration—the MBA (FS) is celebrating its major birthday milestone in 2016.

Dr. Martine Durier-Copp (pictured below, left) is the director of the Centre for Advanced Management Education, which was created in the early 2000s to house the MBA (FS) and other distance programs. She wasn’t there at the beginning of the MBA (FS), but at a recent 20th anniversary celebration, she heard a “dramatic rendition” of the program’s early days from its two founders, Rosaire Couturier and Dr. Ray Klapstein. Also present at the celebration, she says, was at least one representative of every year of the program, and many more alumni.

Anniversary celebrations took place in Halifax and in Toronto, where, in addition to marking the 20th, the group fêted one of the longest-serving members of the program. Michelle Hunter (pictured, right) joined the program’s staff in 1999, just three years after its launch. “She’s been associate director of CFAME as long as I’ve been here and was acting director for a year or two before I came on,” explains Durier-Copp. In 2002, Hunter was recognized with the Rosemary Gill Award for service to students. Durier-Copp isn’t surprised. “She’s provided direct service to our students over the years, and she’s always shown compassion and care for them.”

Hunter advises and helps students as they enter the program and work toward their degrees. “That means helping with everything, including difficult conversations about managing work, home and studies,” says Durier-Copp. While she mentions Hunter’s relationships with the students, Hunter comments that what struck her from the beginning are the students’ relationships with each other. “One of the things I’ve found interesting as the years have passed is the connection between the people,” says Hunter. In the early years of the program, she points out, a lot of the students knew each other through the Institute of Canadian Bankers before they started the program. “When it came time to graduate, it was a huge deal,” she recalls. “Everyone showed up. Our first graduation had 68. Only one person didn’t come, and that was because he couldn’t get into the country.”

Hunter says that graduations aren’t as well attended today, but the connections between students are still strong. “We’ve had a few marriages in the program,” she says, recalling one couple who had triplets before they completed their degrees. “So she took a year off for maternity leave, and he came to Halifax for his final course. And then the next year she did her course, and he stayed home with the kids.”

Student friendships and networking remain notable aspects of the MBA (FS), but much has changed since the early days of the program. Structurally, it went from being tied to the Institute of Canadian Bankers to being a self-standing MBA, explains Durier-Copp. “So people don’t need to come in through those streams to do their MBA anymore,” she says. “They can do all 14 courses with us.” Over the years, the program has benefitted from new partnerships with the Financial Planning Standards Council, LOMA, Certified Employee Benefit Specialists, Canadian Securities Institute, International Foundation of Employee Benefit Plans and Advocis. “The curriculum has become more state-of-the-art, with more specialized courses,” says Durier-Copp.

One of the biggest changes, say Hunter and Durier-Copp, is technology. “It was different back then,” says Hunter, “because although it was distance-based, we didn’t have a platform to work with, so we did a lot over phone and email.” She recalls hand-delivering marked assignments to banks around the city, which then sent them to their students through inter-branch mail.

“The technology has gone from a distance education model where packages of materials were sent to students, with sort of limited online interaction, to one that is extremely interactive and dynamic,” says Durier-Copp. “Also, we are asserting ourselves as a research centre for e-learning.” Hunter explains that even though students are at a distance, CFAME strives to make them feel that they are present at a university, even before they arrive for the intensives at the end of each program. “The intensives bring everything together for them,” says Hunter. “They solidify their learning and the networks they’re beginning to build.”

The technology has improved, and the program has grown—it now has about 200 students and 1,000 alumni—but Hunter’s favourite part of the MBA (FS) is the same now as it was then. “It’s the students,” she says. “They’re dedicated, they’re committed, and they’re passionate about the learning.” These students, she notes, take on many challenges in the programs, all while dealing with their careers. “It’s a flexible program, but life happens while they’re learning,” says Hunter. “Assisting them through those difficult times, it’s a bit of a reward to know you’re helping them. And I think all the team at CFAME would echo that.”