Student Profile: Matt Pietras, Carey School of Business and Krieger School of Arts and Sciences
Matt Pietras always was interested in science and medicine but couldn’t see himself in a laboratory or as a physician.
His mom is a nurse. As a child, Pietras often visited his mother at work, and spent a summer volunteering at a nursing home near their Scranton, Pa., home. Seeing his mother’s emotional reaction when patients died was enough to seal his decision to steer clear of the medical profession.
“It was eye opening to me,” Pietras said of volunteering in the nursing home. “I said, ‘I don’t think I could do this.”
His brother is a chemist. Pietras never felt passionate about laboratory science.
Nearly three decades later, Pietras, 36, has completed the education he needs to mix that intrinsic interest in science and medicine with the reality that he doesn’t want to be a doctor or to spend time in a lab: a joint master’s degree from Johns Hopkins University in business and biotechnology. He graduated in May with a master’s in business administration from the Carey School of Business and a master’s in science in biotechnology from the Krieger School of Arts and Sciences. Pietras completed the majority of his coursework at the Montgomery County Campus.
Pietras said he grew up in a working-class family that valued education. After high school, rather than go directly to college, Pietras helped a family friend start an insurance agency. At age 21, he started attending the Pennsylvania State University, focusing on accounting and international business.
Though he was the age of a senior, he was a freshman.
“I realized I was behind,” Pietras said. “My peers were already in the profession.”
After graduation, Pietras moved to Charlotte, N.C. and was an auditor for KPMG. The travel and grueling hours wore him out.
When a friend recruited him to Wachovia, Pietras jumped at the opportunity.
But as much as he enjoyed and succeeded at his work, he couldn’t shake that nagging interest in science and medicine. Yet, “I couldn’t see myself in a laboratory with beakers and test tubes,” Pietras said. “And I know I’m not a bedside doctor.”
He couldn’t handle the thought of patients dying or knowing he wouldn’t be able to help everyone.
He slowly came to realize that with the right education, he could work on the business side of science. So while working at Wachovia, he took science classes at several Charlotte-area universities to help fill in gaps in his education.
As the banking crisis gripped the nation in 2008, Pietras said he saw Wachovia falter and assumed his job would be eliminated. Wells Fargo was taking over, and he wasn’t convinced his role would survive the merger.
Time for a career change, he thought.
Living in North Carolina with his wife and two children, Pietras looked at programs offered by Duke University, the University of North Carolina and Wake Forest University.
And Johns Hopkins.
A move to Maryland?
He met with Lynn Johnson Langer, director of enterprise and regulatory science programs for JHU’s Center for Biotechnology Education. She told him about the MS Biotechnology/MBA program and how it would round him out scientifically. Working on an MBA with courses that emphasized the biotechnology industry gave him a chance to expand his business knowledge.
“It was the perfect match for me,” Pietras said.
He was accepted to the joint degree program, and was pleasantly stunned when Wachovia told him he could keep his job and work from his new home in Maryland.
He started the master’s program in 2010, balancing marriage, a full-time job and two young children. His second child was born during Pietras’ second semester.
The entrepreneurial side of science fascinates him, so he is working to support the efforts of local entrepreneurs. He is supporting two early-stage start-up businesses, one a liver cancer diagnostic company, and the second, a health and wellness initiative.
He also continues working for Wells Fargo, the former Wachovia, as an accounting manager and also enjoys applying his education to healthcare-related entrepreneurial ventures in his free time.
Pietras offers this advice to people considering a career change:
“Make sure you have the support of your home life,” Pietras said, adding that his wife has been instrumental in making the juggling act work. “Then just be curious and explore. Start slowly and be methodical.”