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Busy food and wine professionals who’ve wanted to work on their master’s degree but haven’t had the time now have more flexible options for hitting the books.

Two new master’s degree programs are launching this year — one at The Culinary Institute of America in Napa and the other at Sonoma State University. Both programs are carried out primarily online.

Class is in session starting Nov. 3 for SSU’s new Hybrid Executive MBA in Wine Business program, which takes its cues from its popular Executive MBA in Wine Business, integrating its existing 14 courses into five sessions conducted both online as well as in-person, according to John Stayton, executive director, graduate and executive programs, School of Business and Economics at Sonoma State University.

“The hybrid program is geared toward executives, senior managers and owners of wine businesses,” Stayton said.

Qualified applicants must have eight or more years of professional experience. A few students who have between five and eight years of experience also will be accepted if they are progressing rapidly in their careers and can contribute to group learning. Those students are required to take the GMAT exam.

The program mixes project- and case-based online learning over the course of 16 months. Studies are broken down into five 3-month sessions with distinct focuses: Foundations; Wine Value-Chain Strategies; International Brand Management; Growth Strategies; and Capstone, which comprises the final projects, presentations and graduation. Four of the 3-month sessions also include leadership studies — two take place at SSU’s recently opened Wine Spectator Learning Center, as well as a 10-day trip in France and another in Australia.

The program begins in an innovative fashion: on sailboats in San Diego.

The school contracts six boats, each stationed with one faculty member and four students, along with an expert skipper who is skilled at teaching and facilitating, Stayton said.

The point, he said, is for students to learn about teamwork and leadership in a high-pressure environment, and come away knowing how to chart and implement a course of action and how to lead a team.

“Very few students have any sailing experience at the start,” Stayton said, adding that by the end, they can sail on their own and even do synchronized sailing.

“It’s intensive, exhilarating and quite transformational for the students,” Stayton said. “All of our executive MBA programs do this. It’s been so successful that we wanted to make sure our hybrid program does this as well.”

Another aspect of the hybrid program is to ensure it is diverse in multiple ways, including but not limited to, age, gender, culture, religion, personality and industry knowledge.

“That’s where they’ll get the most learning,” he said, including how to communicate well “with people who are different from you.”

The two international aspects of the program, in France and Australia, are each 10-days long—from Friday to the following Sunday night — and had to be carefully planned.

“We had to schedule this around harvests in two hemispheres,” said Stayton. “We wanted to do that so people in production could also participate.”

Courses are taught by professionals who have deep experience both in the wine industry and teaching graduate education, he said. The first class is expected to have 20 students; applications are being accepted through September. The total cost for the program is $64,500, Stayton said, adding that the school is able to offer some scholarships and interested people should inquire.

On the food side, the Culinary Institute of America last month launched its online Master of Professional Studies in Food Business, consisting of five semesters blended with three short residencies, to be held at CIA at Copia in Napa, and CIA in Hyde Park, New York, said Cathy Jorin, director of CIA’s food business school. The program kicked off in Napa, where the inaugural class of 22 students had their orientation and formed teams.

The two-year CIA master’s degree includes 27 online credits in subjects that include introduction to food systems, leadership, business fundamentals, marketing, real estate and law. The 2018 program is underway, with the next session starting in fall 2019. Tuition and fees for the first program totaled approximately $41,000, Jorin said.

“The CIA has been wanting to offer a master’s degree for working professionals for a long time,” Jorin said, adding it was a two-year journey to bring the program to fruition.

Many of the students are CIA graduates who have been working in various aspects of the food industry, including restaurants, food-service companies such as Aramark, as well as sommeliers.

One of those graduates is James Orr, an executive chef at Wegmans Food Markets in Richmond, Virginia, where he oversees 125 employees in a store that employs a total of 450 people. Wegmans is a privately held supermarket chain, with headquarters in Rochester, New York.

“I was just at a point in my career where I was looking for another challenge to keep my skill set sharp,” Orr said. “I had been looking at various MBA programs, but as I’d look through the coursework, it seemed geared more toward the business community and world of finance. I didn’t know if it would have enough pieces to transfer to what my day-to-day work looks like. When I saw the email from the CIA alumni, I jumped on it within 10 minutes.”

“It’s a very practical degree,” Jorin said. “And because it’s a Master of Professional Studies, we are able to have faculty that are experts with advanced degrees in their field but aren’t necessarily (credentialed teachers).”

Last month at the Napa orientation, the students not only met each other, but also the faculty they’ll be working with online, along with an array of food professionals in Sonoma County, Jorin said.

Kathleen Weber, owner of Della Fattoria Bakery and Café in Petaluma, was one of the presenters for the incoming class.

“They asked smart questions and were a very interesting group,” Weber said. “I think being exposed to professionals entrenched in the business and being able to ask questions freely, to learn from their experience is really valuable. I would have loved to have the opportunity when I was starting out.”

Staff Writer Cheryl Sarfaty covers tourism, hospitality, health care and education. Reach her at cheryl.sarfaty@busjrnl.com or 707-521-4259.