In May 2023, Michelle Hillery earned her bachelor of arts degree 100% online in organizational leadership from the University of Missouri-St. Louis (UMSL). She now works for a global bank in the risk department, where she applies the knowledge and fine-tuned leadership skills from her degree every day.
She said she chose the online organizational leadership program because it allowed her to focus on the unique challenges of business. She attended the program while working full time and found that UMSL’s virtual classes gave her the flexibility she needed without sacrificing quality.
“I never felt once that taking an online course was a detriment to my curriculum. It was perfect for me,” Hillery said.
She was able to not only keep her current job but stay involved in the coed sports she loves outside of work.
“It was just more flexible because you don’t have to physically drive to the school. So the online worked for me 100%,” Hillery said.
Her UMSL organizational leadership professors gave her the same quality of attention they offer students in on-campus classes.
“Even though it was online, I felt very supported with UMSL. My professors always gave multiple contact methods so that we could reach them,” said Hillery.
Learning the value of relationships in leadership
Hillery chose to focus her organizational leadership studies on corporate communication. This brought valuable insight into new ways of working with people with diverse backgrounds. She learned to respond more effectively as a leader to different personalities and workplace behaviors.
“Studying communication was so enriching and pertinent. It really matters in business,” said Hillery.
Her UMSL organizational leadership professors emphasized the power of relationship building, a tool she learned to apply in multiple contexts.
“Whether you’re managing one or thousands of people, it’s really worth it to learn relationship-building for management and leadership,” Hillery said.
In addition, Hillery said, connecting to her peers enriched the online learning experience. Working with other students from diverse backgrounds and shared goals added to make learning about communication in organizational leadership even more worthwhile.
“It’s so important to have different perspectives. You can see how different people might attack homework assignments in ways you would never have thought of before. Or you get to hear new ideas about leadership based on people’s different backgrounds and experiences,” said Hillery.
Well-rounded courses to be an effective, organized leader
Hillery said the recent uptick in remote work is beneficial to learn online. It offers better preparation for a future that includes much more remote work.
“It prepares you for possibly working in a fully or partially remote organization. You know what you will have to get done, how you will create an agenda, complete your tasks and work independently because you’ve already done that in school.”
The organizational leadership bachelor’s has a final project that includes a reflection. Students share what they learned about their leadership style and a current event. She said the final helped her think about all the knowledge she accumulated throughout the organizational leadership program.
“I think the reflection piece gave me a lot of insight into where I had been and how I’d progressed. I knew myself when I started, and then I could look at everything I had learned and see how much more well-developed I was … it was a beautiful, large project, and it wasn't intimidating at all. The reflection just sort of tied it all up for me.”
Since she joined the bachelor of arts program as a mid-career student, she said she already knew some of the aspects of the program, but she was able to build skills in other areas.
“The general leadership skills I already knew from experience because I'm in my 40s when I'm taking this. But there was a deepening of my skillset and I became a much more well-rounded leader from studying other content like Greek history and British literature. I also took a hot-topic course on Ukraine. The UMSL organizational leadership program connected business leadership with relationship and personal development. That increases the value.”
She said that regardless of their chosen career path, UMSL’s online students can expect to develop similarly by exploring many areas of leadership, regardless of their specific career path.
“This is a terrific program whether you want to pursue a business career or something else. Learning how to work with people is vital to any career. I would take it if you want to be in business or want to understand people and their motivations. I would highly recommend it. And as I had mentioned, it was very well-rounded … So I think that it's not bogged down in any one area. It's very rich and well-balanced,” Hillery said.
Is a degree in organizational leadership worth it for anyone?
Hillery said an organizational leadership program like UMSL’s has a lot to offer students, whether or not they plan to pursue a career in business. Excellent leadership skills can help you advance in many careers and they have application in nearly every industry. That’s one reason UMSL allows students to select their emphasis area from a host of options, including computing and security, operational excellence, health communication and many more.
UMSL’s organizational leadership bachelor’s program also helps students build the soft skills they need to evolve with their organization and prepare for what’s next. These soft skills can often make the difference between a manager of people and a true leader.
“Managers have designated tasks and manage certain things. They have rules and they follow them. However, leaders need to be as motivating and as charismatic as possible. It’s absolutely essential to understand the differences among people and set up teams in ways that fit their skill sets and personalities. That’s how management transforms into leadership.”
She said UMSL’s leadership classes can help anyone learn how to be engaging and inspiring at work, and how to inspire others to believe in a vision and be successful.
Before applying to UMSL, Hillery said she considered other schools for her undergraduate education but ultimately chose UMSL because of the culture, courses, professors and the chancellor, a leader she admired. She also liked the conversations about UMSL she saw on social media. In the end, the research paid off. The organizational leadership bachelor’s has added flexibility to her leadership skills in ways that enhance all aspects of her career.
“The opportunities for me now are vast and almost endless. I think you could use this degree to go anywhere — retail, banking or any other management area. It’s so applicable.”
Adding value to organizations and lives
Beyond advancing her leadership skills, UMSL’s online organizational leadership program inspired Hillery to continue her education. She plans to pursue doctoral study next.
“I've started a master's program in leadership. The bachelor’s revitalized my love for education and made me want to continue. Now I want to combine work with an academic path.”
Hillery said she valued the care and industry expertise her professors added to her online classes tremendously.
“I think this program does a great job of bringing in expertise from the industry. You get your educational foundation, but it’s built on real-world issues happening right now. You’ve got to have teachers with expertise outside of academics so that the course work is responding to what’s actually happening with current markets.”
In the end, Hillery said her program and her accomplishments inspired so much fresh confidence in herself as a leader that she now wants to pay it forward: After earning a master’s or doctorate, she’d like to teach undergraduate courses as an industry professional — just as her professors taught her.
“I know I've been enriched so much by this program. I would love to pass that on to students. I really have a passion for it. I'm excited talking about it now. I've got a little work to do, but I can see that possibility in my future, for sure.”
About the online organizational leadership program
The University of Missouri-St. Louis’ (UMSL) 100% online organizational leadership bachelor’s program has nine different emphasis areas for you to choose from:
- Computing and information security
- Operational excellence
- Corporate communication
- Social justice
- Criminology and criminal justice
- Health communication
- Executive leadership
- Individualized emphasis
- Community studies
Offered through UMSL’s College of Arts & Sciences in the Department of Sociology. The 120 credit-hour programs offer a valuable sociology-focused background in various areas for you to specialize your skills. With courses focused on leadership in the workplace, you’ll gain skills in management, communication, sociology, writing and more.
Robert Cote, PhD
Assistant Teaching Professor and Program Director, Department of Sociology