UD program inspires Incyte employees
to seek graduate degrees in their spare time

Incyte employees who recently finished their PocketMBA course pose on the steps of the company's Wilmington headquarters
Incyte employees from the latest PocketMBA class join for a group photo after their “graduation.” About 75 Incyte workers in three cohorts have taken advantage of the program, and another two totaling about 50 employees are scheduled to start the PocketMBA this fall. (Photo by Evan Krape)


Sometimes, just a taste of a good thing is enough. At other times, a taste only makes you hungry for more.

Just ask Dilan Paranagama, a data scientist for the cutting-edge pharmaceutical firm Incyte. When he signed up for the University of Delaware’s “PocketMBA” course last year, he figured it would be a quick way to build new business skills and boost his prospects at work.

What he didn’t expect to find was the inspiration — and the opportunity — to reach even higher and further. And he’s not the only one.

Paranagama and two colleagues from Wilmington-based Incyte’s recent PocketMBA class were so energized by the experience that they signed up to tackle full master of business administration degrees at UD, giving them a chance to dive into online graduate studies while still working their full-time jobs.

“It’s scary and exciting at the same time, for sure,” said the new Blue Hen, who, with coworkers Ariadna Amador and Rebecca Klausman, is now working his way through the highly ranked online MBA program offered by UD’s Alfred Lerner College of Business and Economics.

“I actually said to myself, ‘This is the most I’m willing to do,’ but then I got hooked,” Klausman said of the nine-month PocketMBA course, which was developed in partnership with Lerner College, and is part of the Customized Learning program within UD’s Division of Professional and Continuing Studies (UD PCS).

Three Incyte professionals pose by large picture windows overlooking Wilmington
UD’s MBA programs proved to be the perfect professional fit for three Incyte employees, (from left) Ariadna Amador, Dilan Paranagama and Rebecca Klausman. (Photo by Evan Krape)

Their decision to pursue a full MBA was helped by the online program’s convenience — both Amador and Klausman work out of New York City — but all three said they were also inspired by the PocketMBA’s engaging, uncompromising, expert-led content. Attending one remote class a week, the students were taught techniques for tackling real-world business challenges, and were given a crash course on all the major topics that typically take years to cover in a traditional MBA.

Even as a “downsized” course, the PocketMBA holds solid potential for enhancing their career prospects, the students agreed. It certainly opened their eyes to what they could become and what they could achieve.

“That’s true in my case,” Paranagama said. “I have a good background in science and mathematics but very little in business. It’s a whole different thing. Hopefully, completing the online MBA will be just what I need.”

UD’s online MBA is ranked in the top 10% of accredited online MBA programs in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report. The PocketMBA is designed to suit companies seeking to foster success among current managers and also jump-start the advancement of aspiring leaders. Once they’ve completed the course, students get a “digital badge” they can post on their resumes and LinkedIn pages, but just being chosen for the course is a sign that the company sees their potential.

“I always wanted to do an MBA, but I couldn’t imagine doing it without having any background,” Paranagama said. “The PocketMBA gave me an idea of what it’s going to look like. Before that, I would have had no idea what I was signing up for.’’

UD was able to give the three students elective credit for their PocketMBA completion and waive the graduate application fee to encourage them to join the full MBA program.

Designed to be fully customizable to each company’s professional development needs, UD’s PocketMBA has now been utilized by two of the state’s major employers — Incyte and ChristianaCare. Incyte has had about 75 employees in three cohorts take advantage of the program, and another two cohorts totaling about 50 employees are scheduled to start the PocketMBA this fall.

“The business acumen, knowledge and sense of accomplishment expressed by Incyte participants was remarkable,” said Laura Valadakis, manager of UD’s Customized Learning Solutions. “The PocketMBA truly exposed them to real-world problems and solutions that are directly applicable to their leadership journey. You could see the confidence on both a professional and personal level.”

The Incyte employees who participated received 42 learning hours, covering 11 classic business school topics, taught by many of the same UD professors as the full MBA. Employers decide which workers to enroll in the program, and competition for a seat can be keen.

Incyte workers high-five one another after "graduation."
PocketMBA graduates celebrate completion of the nine-month course with high fives and applause at Incyte’s Wilmington headquarters. (Photo by Evan Krape)

“The professors from UD bring top-rated research, practical strategies and enthusiasm for teaching to each module,” said Monica Browne, program coordinator of UD Customized Learning. She saw similar high standards in the Incyte students. “It is truly an honor to work with the aspiring leaders at Incyte as they progress through the program. Their high motivation and professionalism are evident as they eagerly learn business concepts.”

That sentiment is shared at Incyte.

“It is a pleasure to partner with the University of Delaware on the PocketMBA program and provide our employees with a powerful way to learn and grow their business and leadership skills,” said Incyte’s Director of Employee Development Danette Conley. “This year was another great opportunity for our employees to connect and grow together. We look forward to doing it again.”

The employees agreed, praising the program as an ideal way to cross departmental boundaries and create connections with colleagues outside their usual circles.

“Face-to-face interaction was a big thing,” Paranagama said. “The other people in my group, I would have never gotten a chance to interact with them if it weren’t for this program.”

After completing the PocketMBA course mostly remotely, Incyte workers from as far away as New York and California recently gathered at the company’s Wilmington headquarters for the presentation of their capstone group project, a case study on bringing a new drug to market that was evaluated by a panel of experts from UD and Incyte.

As intended, it was a challenge that took some participants into starkly unfamiliar territory, from number-laden financial analysis to strategies for outmaneuvering business rivals. With nine months of training in their pocket, students were able to navigate the acronym-laden complexities of business spreadsheets, adapting and learning as they worked through the problem as a team.

“With this case study, we put you through a difficult situation and pushed you to the limit,” the students were told by Qingjiu Tao, an assistant professor at the Lerner College who directs the PocketMBA program. “And for some of you, it may have been the first time doing financial analysis, which is great. That’s the intended purpose, which is to push you to learn and to face something new. And I think from the presentations we’ve heard throughout today, you’ve accomplished that.”

New experiences and fresh knowledge were plentiful, students said. “It was definitely more intense than I expected,” making it a helpful prelude to her full MBA, Klausman said.

“I didn’t realize how much it was going to emulate a full MBA,” added Klausman, a dermatology therapeutic specialist with Incyte “Now, after doing some of the regular MBA classes, I found that it’s so similar to what we’ve been doing in the PocketMBA.”

For more information on UD’s PocketMBA Customized Learning program, visit pcs.udel.edu/customized. More information on UD’s Online MBA program is available at udel.edu/academics/online/programs/mba-masters-business-administration.