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Oklahoma State University

The power of professional development

Monday, October 14, 2019

MBA students enjoy the Professional Development class taught by Dr. Ajay Sukhdial, shown in the front row, fifth from left.

Every Friday, Master of Business Administration students take their seats in the basement of the Business Building on Oklahoma State University’s Stillwater campus to hear from a speaker who is hand-picked by Dr. Ajay Sukhdial, to speak about soft skills in the workplace.

Sukhdial (Ph.D., University of Oregon) is Associate Professor of Marketing in the Spears School of Business at Oklahoma State University. His research interests include the role of values and emotions in consumer behavior. His research has been published in the Journal of Advertising, Journal of Advertising Research, Journal of Public Policy and Marketing, Marketing Letters, and Sports Marketing Quarterly among other journals and conference proceedings. He teaches consumer behavior, international marketing strategy and professional development.

Professional Development is a required class for all graduate students in Spears Business, which teaches students necessary skills that will benefit the success of their professional lives.

It wasn’t until Sukhdial took over the class in 2014, that the curriculum being taught began to leave a lasting impact on his students.

This class structure is very different from an ordinary graduate school lecture. Students are required to dress in business casual attire and show up eager to learn. No tests or in-class assignments are required.

“I’ve been teaching the Professional Development class for a good five to six years,” Sukhdial said. “I can see the impact the class is having on these students. When these students graduate they come back one to two years later, and they tell me how much learning those soft skills mattered.”

Each semester, about six diverse speakers are brought in from all areas of business. From young professionals who are just starting out and more seasoned, established professionals to technical and non-technical speakers, are curated by Sukhdial to present each semester.

Sukhdial has brought in many high-profile clients, ranging from one of Facebook’s chief engineers to the Indian ambassador. Sukhdial only asks they speak on one topic – soft skills.

Hiring managers are looking for applicants who are good communicators, enjoying working together as a team and are critical thinkers. The Professional Development class teaches these soft skills that will be the differentiator when students are trying to lock down a job.

“I really believe in professional development,” Sukhdial said. “I think that the big learning gap between what both executives and surveys show year after year are the importance of soft skills in the workplace. Everyone always focuses on teaching the hard skills, nobody ever focused on the soft skills, and I believe that is really important because of everything I had seen and experienced.” 

Sukhdial said students are less eager to learn and be fully present with a speaker if they are going to be tested about the information learned. That is why he structured the course differently.

“It has been one of the most fulfilling classes I’ve ever taught at OSU,” Sukhdial said. “The students have been wonderful. They are very humble and willing to learn.”

For more information about Professional Development, students can visit the Watson Graduate School of Management page.

MEDIA CONTACT: Terry Tush | Director, Marketing and Communications | 405-744-2703 |

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