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Inaugural Class of the Muma College of Business Doctor of Business Administration Program Getting Ready to Graduate

By Keith Morelli

graduate gown

TAMPA (August 22, 2017) -- The inaugural cohort of the Muma College of Business's Doctor of Business Administration was fitted last week for commencement gowns. The doctoral candidates who graduate in December, see the degree not only as a significant accomplishment, but as an achievement that enriches each of their lives in different ways.

The 22 candidates – all accomplished business professionals – are busy now scheduling their dissertation defenses. They are eager to use the research they have created and learned to improve their own business and corporate bottom lines. Some will return to academia and teach a graduate class or two here and there and others are eyeing full time university faculty positions.

Among the inaugural cohort members is Rebecca Smith, president and founder of A.D. Morgan, a construction and general contracting firm with offices in Tampa, Bradenton, Ocala and Sebring. Smitten with an entrepreneurial spirit, she recently started a software company.

"This always was on my bucket list, to continue my education," said Smith, who successfully defended her dissertation, "Facilities Management: The Challenge of Deferred Maintenance," this past weekend. "I always was trying to get back, but couldn't because of my business."

When she saw that this program, which began in 2015, offered a curriculum that largely involved weekend face-to-face classes to accommodate working professionals, she jumped at the opportunity. And, she said, it has exceeded her expectations.

"I learned a lot about business at the program and refined what I already knew," she said. She not only got an education on research from faculty, but from others in the cohort as well, all veteran business leaders in their respective professions.

Her business acumen went from vertical to horizontal, she said, by finding out how other executives in other lines of work deal with issues similar to ones she has to work out.

"This has very much changed my life," she said. "This is a new fuel source that will drive me for the next 100 years."

Fellow DBA student Troy Montgomery wants to continue his day job, consulting at Humana, and maybe test a new career as an educator. He's already signed up to teach two graduate classes next year, he said. An organization and process-improvement specialist who has a background in engineering, Montgomery said his classmates have been "very supportive."

"I couldn't have gotten through this dissertation," he said, "without help from the cohort." Last week, he successfully defended his dissertation, "An Examination of Innovation Idea Selection Factors in Large Organizations."

Timothy Novak, director of the School of Graduate Studies at the Bradenton campus of the Lake Erie College of Osteopathic Medicine, said the program was a perfect fit for him at this point in his life.

"This all aligns with my professional goals," he said. "It was challenging and it pushed me to the limit. It was the best experience of my life."

Though their graduation is in December and their coursework is over, they likely will keep in touch for years to come. They have grown close, helping each other learn and do research. Last week, they gathered in the dean's boardroom to be fitted for their regalia. The green and gold robe, drab-hued hood and dark tam hung from a manikin, as each member of the cohort walked by, admiring the attire, contemplating the significance it symbolizes in their lives.

A financial planner for three decades, Bob Tiller enrolled in the DBA program because he wanted to give back, to do some good.

"In the fourth quarter of your career, you want to impart some wisdom," he said, "and you are taken more seriously if you add a 'doctor' credential to your name."

The course also honed his research skills and put him in touch with some remarkable people.

"The cohort is an amazing collection of fantastic minds from different industries coming together," he said. "This has been one of the most unique experiences of my life. I'm sorry it has come to a close."

Matt Mullarkey, program director of the Muma College of Business DBA, said two key aspects account for the success of the program.

"All of this research is inspired by practice and creates practitioner-led research with impact on real businesses," he said, "and the DBA graduates will be a bridge between the business community and research and curriculum at the Muma College of Business for years to come.

"They build a virtuous circle of research, course content, contributions and student success," he said, "that is unparalleled in business schools without an executive doctorate."

T. Grandon Gill, who serves as its academic director, said USF's DBA program has some features that other, more established DBAs do not. For example, built into the tuition are the costs of at least three academic conferences as well as various research expenses.

"All of this has worked better than we expected," Gill said. "Of course in the beginning, a lot of this design was experimental. Now, other programs are looking to possibly incorporate some of our ideas."

Over the next decade, the program could count more than 200 DBA alumni in the Tampa Bay area, forming a strong and ever growing network of business leaders, academicians and corporate executives.

"They will network and interact and help the college," Gill said. They also will help the program recruit students, bringing more and more qualified candidates into the program.

"There's no falling off in the demand," he said, and the caliber of students enrolling is top tier. They all are executives and professionals who place a high value on research. Some are high-ranking military officers serving at MacDill Air Force Base. As they rotate in and out, there is a continual supply of new DBA candidates, he said.

Others are very successful entrepreneurs, he said. Some are millionaires many times over.

"Why would a multi-millionaire participate in this program?" Gill asked. "It's not for the money. A lot do it for the personal development, some want to be qualified to teach at the graduate level, to share their knowledge with students.

"Others want to be part of an extraordinary network."

It is on the strength of this class – these 22 seasoned C-suite professionals – that the young program has achieved international acclaim. Over the second weekend in September, the Executive Doctor of Business Administration Council, an organization that supports DBA programs around the world, will visit USF where, this year, it has chosen to hold its annual international conference.

That's no small thing, Gill said. As many as 250 program directors, faculty, alumni and students will converge on USF, with nearly 50 people expected to present papers, giving the local program exposure on the international stage.

"And," Gill said, "this is even before we have graduated our first cohort."