Student Profile: A Week in the Life of an Engineer, Husband, Father, and Online MBA Student

A student profile describing a week in the life of Aaron Spak, a Penn State Smeal Online MBA student.
Spak Studies on Floor
For Penn State Online MBA student Aaron Spak, studying is sometimes a group activity, done on the living room floor with his children.

Ever since Aaron Spak entered the workforce, after earning bachelor’s and master’s degrees in mechanical engineering, he intended to add an MBA to his resume. But the timing and format of the MBA experience had to be right.

Spak started his career at Northrop Grumman and then transitioned to a start-up in State College that was acquired twice, the second time by Sikorsky Aircraft. He finally took a position at Penn State’s Applied Research Laboratory (ARL) in 2016. 

During those organizational changes, he underwent professional transitions as well — from design engineering to systems engineering to project management and finally engineering management with Sikorsky. 

“I ended up leading our site here in State College and having a group of 25 engineers across multiple locations,” he said. “I thought (the MBA) would lend credibility to my management activities outside of engineering. And, building on my past experience, it will allow me to more easily manage larger and more complex organizations, especially those who develop or incorporate disruptive technologies.” 

After joining ARL, Spak decided that it was time to pursue his MBA. He needed an option that was able to accommodate both his growing professional and family responsibilities. Spak and his wife have three children, who are home schooled.

Aaron Spak holding papers.
Pursuing an Online MBA includes many curricular similarities to traditional classroom environments. That can include the preference of printing out reading assignments.

The Penn State Online MBA Program presented the ideal delivery format.

“The faculty are engaged and responsive and the online learning experience has been very effective. I had never taken online classes before so that part was all new,” Spak said.

What follows is snapshot of a week in Spak’s life. He is finishing the second of seven semesters of courses to complete his degree:

It’s just me, my thoughts, and my dog. A cold blast of air greets me as I step outside at 6 a.m. for our morning walk. This is my time to plan the day and week ahead. We just submitted assignments Sunday afternoon, but there’s no time to rest. 

At 9 a.m. my phone alerts me that a synchronous session for MBADM814 has been rescheduled to avoid a conflict with one previously planned for MBADM811. I update my calendar. Then I notice a few texts from my team in MBADM811 about meeting Tuesday night to review a paper. 

At 5:30 p.m. I sit down to dinner with my family. No matter what, we try to eat together.

With the kids in bed at 9 p.m., I can review the reading assignments for all of our classes. My laptop is open so I can post some thoughts to the discussion board as I work through them.

Noon means lunch at work, but it also means logging into Canvas so I can start the accounting homework.

Aaron Spak studying.
In the Spak house, sometimes studying is a group effort. While dad, Aaron, completes a reading assignment, two of his daughters quietly study nearby.

The kids are getting ready for bed at 8 p.m. and I say goodnight before starting up the webconference tools. We have a team meeting to review our paper. We have all provided input and need to decide how to integrate it all. We finish in an hour, which means I have time to wrap up the accounting homework for the week and start studying for the exam that is due on Sunday night.

It’s noon and it’s lunch at my desk again while I wrap up the accounting lesson.

At 7 p.m. I was going to squeeze in some studying before bedtime, but the kids decided to have a movie night. Sounds good to me. We make popcorn and fire up the Blu-ray player. I’ve learned to be flexible, and to remember who is most important. 

At 2 p.m. Canvas alerts me about our grades for the last MBADM814 presentation. Positive feedback! I appreciate the comments from the instructor; she always provides good recommendations.

It’s 8 p.m. and I just said goodnight to the kids so I could log on to a synchronous session for MBADM810 for a discussion on team performance. These are always interesting. It’s worth the effort to participate, even though they are always available later as a recording.

A day off, from studying at least. But, at 5:30 p.m. we’re headed out of town for the weekend to visit my in-laws. The kids are excited to see their grandparents and we start the drive right after I get home from work.

At 7 a.m. it’s just me, my coffee and my laptop. I can study while the rest of the family sleeps. That accounting exam is due Sunday night, but I like to get them done early so I can have Sunday afternoons free.

I review my notes and the lessons for an hour and then lock the door to take the exam. It’s time-limited, which is nice. The kids will be up soon and will be making breakfast with their grandparents.

After the kids go to bed I can do most of my work. This night I finish reading assignments and add my comments to the discussion boards for all classes. That paper for MBADM811 is also due tomorrow, so I make my final edits to the group paper before wrapping up.

At 11:30 a.m. we have a quick tag-up to finalize our paper. My teammate agrees to do the final formatting and submission. Thank you! After a half-hour discussion, I have the rest of the day to myself.

“The Online MBA program is demanding, but the content is engaging and rewarding,” Spak said. “Most importantly, you can integrate course concepts into your work and life from Day 1. Jump in with both feet and this program will help you be more effective and productive in whatever you want your career to be.”

Posted April 2018