Adam Goldman had no idea what a Doctor of Business Administration was when he began researching different academic programs in early 2019. After spending most of his career in human resources, he was interested in pivoting into consulting and teaching and ultimately stumbled upon the DBA program at the University of Missouri–St. Louis.
“Human resources people generally have a poor reputation when it comes to making data-driven decisions or being good at analyzing things,” he said. “I started researching it and found DBAs were a thing that existed and then found that there’s different levels of accreditation that programs have. UMSL being an AACSB-accredited program narrowed the pool and put them in a pretty small group of programs. I considered UMSL and a couple other universities and ultimately selected UMSL based on the accreditation but also the faculty and the staff here.”
Goldman, who graduated in May of this year, flew in from Dallas last week to meet with the 13 members of the program’s newest cohort during a welcome dinner and orientation. The three-year, cohort-based program, which started in 2017, is Missouri’s first and only AACSB-accredited DBA program offering research concentrations in all areas of business administration. It’s also a member of the Executive DBA Council, an international organization of executive-format doctoral degrees, of which Ekin Pellegrini, the founding director of UMSL’s DBA program, was recently tapped to serve as president.
UMSL’s DBA program offers a flexible format with two weekend trips to campus per semester for face-to-face interactions with faculty and fellow students. Over its first few years, it’s welcomed students from across the country, including Alaska, Arkansas, California, Montana and Tennessee.
Mark Franz, who worked at Anheuser-Busch for 22 years before joining a trade association and also earned a master’s in information management from Washington University in St. Louis, said he looked at many DBA programs before ultimately selecting UMSL. He was drawn to the program for its AACSB accreditation as well as its focus on certain subject fields such as information systems, which aligned well with his background.
Ananda Jayaraman, who has worked in a variety of roles in the IT industry over the past 15-plus years, was starting to feel stagnant in her current position as a project manager. As an emerging empty-nester, she also had some extra time on her hands. After sharing her situation with some good friends who are members of UMSL’s 2024 DBA cohort, she felt the program could give her a leg up in the field, particularly when it comes to leadership.
“They talked about this program, which intrigued me, so now I’m here,” she said. “My personal roadmap for my career growth in the next five years is being a C-level executive, so that’s what I hope to do after finishing this in three years. I’m most excited about the networking and going back to school. It’s been 21 years for me, so it’s been a long time, and academics was not the same.”
Jeffrey Promnitz, the CEO of Zeffert & Associates Inc., is also returning to school after many years as a member of the newest DBA cohort. Promnitz, who teaches as an adjunct faculty member in UMSL’s Department of Marketing and Entrepreneurship, said his colleagues in the College of Business Administration inspired him to pull the trigger on enrolling in the DBA program.
“Doing the meet and greets before and the orientation here, it’s totally invigorating,” he said. “The staff and the faculty really make you feel welcome and energized, and I think that those are really big things that motivate people. You don’t feel like a stranger. For me, it’s about enrichment and knowing that I can take what I’d like to think I’m already good at to an even higher level. In business, we always talk about how are you doing compared to the goal? How are you doing compared to the last time you did it? And the most important one to me is, how are you doing compared to what you’re capable of doing? And that’s the one that I’ve really honed in on here: I know I’m kicking ass at these two but I still know I could do more. That hunger, that thirst – that’s what gets me excited about it.”
Francesca Ferrari, the administrative director of the DBA program, said many students often come to campus for the first time feeling a bit overwhelmed. The orientation is designed to inspire and encourage them.
“For the orientation, we give our students all the tools that they need in order to be successful and we have a group of alumni that welcome the students to give them encouragement,” she said. “Generally speaking, students are kind of like, ‘Oh my goodness, what am I getting into?’ And then we have the alumni who can say, ‘Yep, it’s doable. We’re the product. We survived.’ In addition to staff and faculty, DBA students have alums happy to jump in and support them. This is a doctoral program; you need a village to get it done.”
On Friday, the new DBA cohort heard from Goldman, as well as DBA alums Scott Morris and Honey Zimmerman.
Morris, who was recently named the director of UMSL’s newly established Entrepreneurship and Innovation Center, retired from corporate life in January 2022 and embarked on a DBA in order to launch a second career as a college professor. He looked at many different DBA programs and ultimately chose UMSL’s after having a frank conversation about the demands of the program with his wife and Pellegrini, whom he had learned lives in their neighborhood.
“As I got more exposure to the faculty, prior to joining the cohort, I just felt the sense of community and that was something I really wanted to be part of,” he said. “What drew me in was that sense of community, the fact that they’re so approachable, and the fact that I wasn’t going to be an outlier at the age of 50. And then as I got into the program, I just absolutely fell in love with the place. Everybody’s so loyal and so dedicated. It’s just absolutely a community. They just pour into the students like they pour into everything else that they do. I just fell in love with the whole UMSL environment. I went to the Kelley School of Business at Indiana University for my MBA, and I would stack the postgraduate programs here up with the best of the best programs in the country. It was just fantastic.”
Zimmerman, an assistant professor of supply chain management at Western Illinois University, graduated in 2021 as part of the second cohort to go through the program. As a mom of four young kids with a full-time job, she felt the DBA program was more realistic for her than a PhD program and appreciated its focus on practitioner-focused research as opposed to theoretical research. Zimmerman also enjoyed the networking afforded by the program and continues to stay in touch with faculty, including her dissertation chair, and get together in-person with members of her cohort.
“Besides the degree itself, a lot of it is just the lasting relationships that you build,” she said. “I graduated two years ago, but I still talk to my classmates. The other big thing is that the program is AACSB-accredited. I teach supply chain at an AACSB school, so I wanted to make sure that I had resources. Even though I didn’t take lots of supply chain courses, I knew there was supply chain faculty here that I could use as a resource if I needed to. Before I decided, I came down and met all the faculty, and they just were down to earth and easy to talk to, and I knew it was a good fit.”