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Business School Just for Women

MBA program at Simmons College offers training and confidence to female executives

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As women have made progress in the workplace, the Simmons program has adopted new goals. "Back then, we were trying to get women into middle management," Jardim says. "Now we're trying to get women out of middle management and into senior jobs. Middle management is the new ghetto for women."

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The intensive, one-year program at Simmons appeals to many women who are interested in taking a brief sabbatical to jump-start their careers.

"The idea is to get in, get out, and get back to work," student Laurie Durnell says. One-year students endure long days of classes and weekend work sessions to earn the degree in a compressed time period. "You're always sweating and running," says another student, Laureen McVay.

Other women choose to continue working while earning the degree. Part-time student Paula Kelley is a manager for Gillette Company with 15 years of experience. "I had about a $9 million budget that I was handling, but I didn't feel overly confident that I could do what I needed to with it," Ms. Kelley says.

Although Simmons MBA students are all female, they may be the most diverse group of business students anywhere. They range in age from 24 to 55, with an average age of 35, and have an average of 10 years on the job. "We are focusing on women who really want to change where they are going, who want to take control of their careers," Jardim says.

Simmons has always been willing to admit more nontraditional students than other MBA programs do. About 20 percent do not have a bachelor's degree. Work experience, strong references, and a "pattern of growth" are more important at Simmons than undergraduate degrees, the deans say.

"Most MBA schools look at inputs, what the person comes with, the kinds of credentials they have already achieved," Jardim says. "We're looking at outcomes - what can that person go on to do with our degree?"

THE approach to teaching is different at Simmons also. "When we were at Harvard, it was teaching by humiliation," Hennig says.

At Simmons, "you're competing in a positive way because you're trying to develop yourself," Ms. McVay says. "You're not trying to squash the other person."

Marketing Prof. Deborah Marlino taught at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) in Cambridge, Mass., for five years before coming to Simmons four years ago. Although the material she teaches is the same, Dr. Marlino says the Simmons curriculum has a different emphasis. "It has more of a behavioral bent, with heavy emphasis on group work and understanding corporate culture."

The Simmons MBA program has come of age with the women's movement. If women continue to achieve equality with men in the workplace, will there come a time when the Simmons program will no longer be necessary?

"As long as the traditional business schools stay masculine in their orientation, this school will be needed," Jardim responds. "Until there are places where women can walk in absolutely equal and learn what they have a right to learn and know about themselves ... we are not obsolete. We are cutting edge."