New face of MBA program already well known to most alumni

February 29, 2016

-- As seen in March 2016 issue of Florida Trend magazine:

Collapsing oil markets, China building beyond capacity, a warm start to winter affecting consumer demand for everything from natural gas to seasonal apparel – these are just a sampling of the real-world issues affecting the global economy and thus your personal pocketbook. At Florida State University’s College of Business, one MBA professor – William Christiansen – is certain to lead his students on a semester-long study of these kind of economic indicators.

“In real time, we’re following what’s happening through an analysis and understanding of the global economy. We focus on the big picture, then we zero in on businesses,” said Christiansen, BB&T Professor of Finance and finance department chairman. “We now have more sophisticated measures of the economy, and the ability to interpret that information.”

FSU MBA alumni said lessons learned in Christiansen’s class continue to serve them well.

“His class helped prepare me for thinking through strategic challenges and gave me an understanding that the correct course of action is usually not 100-percent clear. Many factors need to be considered,” said Salmaan Wahidi, 2006 FSU MBA graduate and director of financial planning and forecasting for CSX, the transportation company based in Jacksonville.

Christiansen’s economic analysis course is a core requirement in FSU’s MBA curriculum. Already invested as a longtime faculty member, Christiansen recently took the reins of the MBA program as its new director. He has big plans for a program that is already gaining ground in a competitive field. In January, FSU climbed nine places to the No. 38 spot among public universities on U.S. News & World Report’s prestigious annual assessment of online MBA programs. FSU’s program rose 18 places among all universities to No. 44.

“We’re moving up. We’re devoting resources, and I think we can move up even more,” Christiansen said. “The recent surge in the rankings reflects our efforts and dedication to the online program.”

FSU’s MBA program is delivered online or on campus, and students may attend part time or full time. The curriculum is bolstered by the college’s rigorous specialty master’s programs, including management information systems (MS-MIS) and risk management and insurance (MS-RMI). Those two programs together secured the No. 4 spot among public and private universities on U.S. News & World Report’s 2016 rankings for non-MBA, online graduate business programs. Last year FSU also launched a new online MBA option: a major in hospitality and tourism management (MBA-HTM).

Christiansen said advisers will continue to work with each MBA student to tailor a program of study to his or her career interests. One size does not fit all, Christiansen said, and this emphasis on individual attention differentiates FSU from larger MBA powerhouses.

“Students know if you care,” he said.

Although Christiansen has taught the same course for more than a decade, its content constantly changes with the turning of the business cycle. Students learn how to mine data and determine the market’s next moves. Almost 10 years ago, his students were examining a newly burst housing bubble, especially in hard-hit Miami, and the collapse of the banking industry. Now the national economy is growing again, but China’s volatile stock market could have far-reaching effects.

“Forever a student who happens to teach, Dr. Christiansen is a constant learner,” said Terin Barbas Cremer, a 2010 JD-MBA and chief human resources officer and associate general counsel at Bankers Financial Corporation in St. Petersburg. His students describe him as passionate about the research process but patient enough to listen to students as they learn to pull the facts together themselves and formulate economic forecasts.

Armed with a Ph.D. in finance and economics from the University of Utah, Christiansen started his career teaching FSU MBAs more than 30 years ago. Since then, he has garnered numerous teaching awards, including the prestigious University Distinguished Teaching Award, a student-generated honor given to one FSU faculty member each year. A popular circuit speaker for alumni and business gatherings and wooed by other universities with generous offers, Christiansen remains loyal to FSU.

“I try to keep the family together,” Christiansen said of the FSU MBA alumni excelling throughout the business world. He keeps in touch, sharing insights on Facebook, meeting up with the FSU faithful as he travels. “It’s a team thing,” he said. “We’ve had some amazing graduates over the years.”

Most of those alumni, such as Efren Blackledge, a 2011 JD-MBA who works in analytics for ISN in Dallas, say lessons learned in Christiansen’s course have resonated with them well past graduation.

“His course helped me understand the scope of interconnectedness in our lives, how events documented in the international news outlets to the everyday choices we make as individuals have implications for the world around us,” Blackledge said. “Dr. Christiansen also makes it clear that the same requisite fairness, character and ethics needed in a strong global economy are essential to our own healthy homes, communities, towns and cities.”

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-- By Melanie Yeager