Now that Air Force veteran Alex Schotanus has his oil and gas industry career off the ground, he plans to continue soaring high for years to come. That's one reason Schotanus enrolled in the Baylor online Master of Business Administration program.
"When I entered corporate America and got a feel for how the environment is compared to the Air Force, I realized there is good value from an MBA, strictly from a perspective of setting yourself apart," he said. "Similar to when I was in the Air Force, I work with a lot of very talented, very smart people. It's very competitive. So, being able to find a differentiating factor is important."
Once Schotanus completes the MBA program, he will have two graduate degrees. After earning a Bachelor of Business Administration from LeTourneau University in Longview, Texas, he earned a Master of Arts in Christian Ministry - Leadership from Liberty University. Schotanus is an economist planner for ConocoPhillips in Houston, where he has worked since 2013.
"One of my friends, Michelle Anderson, got her MBA from Baylor and spoke highly of the program," he said. "On top of that, two of my degrees are from Christian schools. It wasn't hard for me to continue that trend with Baylor also being a solid Christian school."
Another motivating factor for Schotanus to return to school was the money he had left over for tuition via the GI Bill after earning his first master's degree.
"I thought I might as well put that to use," he said. "A lot of folks would love to go to school for even an associate degree but can't afford to. Here, I have an opportunity to go to school for another master's degree, so I decided to take advantage of it."
Schotanus was born in Africa, where his grandparents were missionaries. His dad, Dave, who is nearing his 30th year in the oil and gas industry, was also working overseas at the time.
"He had to rotate for a couple of weeks at a time to Syria," Schotanus said. "So instead of being alone, my mom decided to go be with her parents in Africa. We moved around."
No kidding. Schotanus has lived in Oman, the United States (Dallas) and The Netherlands, where he spent a dozen years and graduated from high school.
"My dad works for Shell, and The Netherlands was his home base," he said. "It was only supposed to be a two-year assignment, but it turned into a 13-year assignment. My dad is Dutch. I left for college a year before my parents came back to Texas. After college, I joined the military and lived in North Dakota for about three years."
Schotanus opted to follow in his father's industry footsteps, but he wanted to continue growing his business acumen with a master's degree.
"When I joined the military, continuing education and focusing on leadership was a big emphasis," he said. "They push you pretty hard to get at least some level of education out of your time in the military. I had just earned a business degree, so my logic was that my next degree needed to be something different.
"After my undergrad, I re-dedicated my life to Christ. My commitment was, 'Okay, if I'm going to go back to school, my master's degree is going to be something dedicated to the Lord.' That's how I ended up with a seminary degree in Christian Ministry with a Leadership emphasis, which was something very relatable to the military and where I wanted to go."
The flexibility of the online format is important for Schotanus -- especially considering he and his wife, Cassie, are expecting their first child, Judah, any day now. While Judah will be their first baby on this earth, they have two waiting for them in heaven.
"There's a lot of life going on," he said. "Doing the MBA online fits my schedule the best. I'm very busy as it is. Plenty of other folks in the program are in a similar boat. The online format gives you the flexibility to work on an assignment whenever you have time. That's what I have thoroughly enjoyed and really needed within this environment."
Having a support system also helped Schotanus go through his second master's degree program in the last six years. He is the first person in his immediate family to earn a graduate degree.
"My wife has been incredible throughout the whole process," Schotanus said. "An online degree program takes up a lot of time. She has to be okay with me being out of commission and doing what I need to do. My friends and family are supportive and excited. I'm sure they'll be very excited early next year once this is done and I may be done with school for good."
Although the online MBA involves a lot of hard work, Schotanus knows a Baylor master's degree will carry a lot of weight in the energy industry.
"One thing I learned at ConocoPhillips is that the industry values MBAs, but only if they are from reputable schools," he said. "I wanted to get my degree from a place that people would recognize has a solid MBA. I started looking around, and Baylor came to the forefront."
In fact, Schotanus sees his industry colleagues showing an increased desire to earn an MBA.
"I've seen a lot of folks beyond the finance world I live in, especially a lot of our engineers, going back and getting an MBA because of the business aspect," he said. "A lot of them are very technically savvy.
"They know a lot about the oil and gas technicalities, but translating that to a business decision is not always easy to do. Especially in senior management, that's what they're looking for -- the combination of technical skills and business management skills."
Learn Today, Use Tomorrow
With three courses remaining in the program for Schotanus, the online MBA curriculum consistently remains applicable to his career.
"A lot of what you learn in the MBA program is finance-related, accounting-related or economics-related," he said. "Right now, I'm running economics for several projects, so it has direct impact on what I do on a day-to-day basis."
On more than one occasion, Schotanus put that new-found knowledge into action much quicker than expected.
"It's interesting and sometimes even creepy when something I am reading about and we're discussing in class comes up that same week at work, whether it's from a finance or economics perspective, or from a leadership perspective -- especially when you look at personnel behavior," he said. "To see it happen in the real world is really fascinating."
More importantly, the online MBA program is laying a solid leadership foundation for Schotanus.
"Most of the courses have a direct impact on what I do on a day-to-day basis, especially when you're looking at moving up the chain and into leadership positions and taking leadership classes within the MBA," he said. "I'm in an ethics class right now. I would have never thought about the topics that we discuss in there had it not been for a class like this."
That especially rings true in the global environment of the oil and gas industry.
"We have people from all over the world who come here to Houston to work at these companies," he said. "You see the different perspectives, world views, cultures and leadership styles. Leadership is very different in the Western cultures than leadership styles in the Eastern cultures."
His favorite courses, to date, are MIS 5450: Managing Information Technology in the Business Enterprise, taught by Dr. Timothy Kayworth, and ECO 5415: Economics for Managers, taught by Dr. Steven Green.
"More than anything, the business enterprise course was very eye-opening because I don't have exposure to that industry or that side of the business," Schotanus said. "To be able to get that experience through a classroom setting was very critical. It broadened my horizons.
"You start hearing these terms in class like 'the internet of things,' 'big data' or 'cloud computing,' and, sure enough, we're talking about that here at our company, shifting to a cloud base for some of our software and applications. It was very applicable and very interesting because I had never seen it."
The economics course offered insight into the big-picture impacts of macroeconomics and microeconomics.
"One of the topics that stuck out to me was how companies go about this vast array of pricing strategies they can apply in order to maximize value and revenues by having the same product or a similar product appeal to a couple of different audiences," he said. "It was very interesting to look at the different strategies you can apply."
Blue Skies Ahead
With graduation day right around the corner, Schotanus is excited to add an MBA to his title and even more knowledge to his civilian career.
"I like to learn and continue challenging myself in different ways," he said. "From a competitive standpoint, it's adding value to a skill set. When you think about adding skills to your toolkit that you otherwise might not already have, the MBA is very valuable."
Since Schotanus will soon become a father, he is happy that the flexibility of the online MBA program will allow him to spend time with his family during his final courses.
"Some of my buddies go to an in-person executive MBA program here in Houston, but they have to give up a Friday and a Saturday back-to-back to knock out their classes," he said. "Then, you have no time to spend with your family or other activities that life should include. The online program gives you a lot of flexibility that I prefer."
Once Schotanus knew there would be enough time to balance school, work and his home life, he knew his decision to earn an MBA was squared away.
"Don't be intimidated by the workload," he said. "It's good, quality information that is very relatable to your everyday business. Whether that's the case right now, or five years down the road, at some point the information that you're learning is going to have an impact on your career."
Learn more about the Baylor online MBA program.
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