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Published on August 11th, 2014 | by Alex Conover

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Inaugural DBA cohort paving the way

It’s not often that a student is able to be part of a new and innovative program. So for Terry Danielson, studying with the very first group to pursue the Doctorate of Business Administration (DBA) through Saint Mary’s University of Minnesota was a welcomed adventure.

“As a new program and a new cohort, we’re defining what the path is,” Danielson said. “There aren’t a lot of these programs offered in this area. There’s a unique factor to this program that I think over time will be really special.”

Danielson is part of a tight-knit group of students who are pioneering the Saint Mary’s DBA program. Unique in its structure, Danielson remarked that aspiring DBA students should be ready for an accelerated schedule that is designed to appeal to working adults.

“In other environments, you’re going to class per semester,” Danielson said. “There is time between assignments. In this program, they’re eight weeks with assignments each week. It’s adjusted to be more intense with a lot more information in a shorter period of time. You cover a lot of bases and a lot of information. There’s a requirement for the DBA that you have to set aside time for condensed learning.”

Students are kept busy, to say the least. Danielson commutes from Shakopee each week after completing his work day at Seagate Technology, a data storage company best known for its hard drive products.

While the scheduling can challenge him at times, Danielson benefits from the program’s structure of spending just one night a week on campus. He and his classmates have to be as productive as possible, as each of them is also a full-time employee with their company or responsible for helping a non-profit corporation.

The breadth of knowledge from his classmates is something that supplements Danielson’s learning. As the group of nine progresses, they share unique professional and life experiences with each other that helps the cohort expand their depth of knowledge.

“The cohort now is an experience in itself,” Danielson said. “You become a set of classmates that is together one night a week. That is a very unique part of this program. We’ve become good friends and we’re watching each other grow at a different level.”

Danielson’s plan is to become an instructor after he graduates. His DBA colleagues have different goals, ranging from corporate development to non-profit leadership. Their experiences and dreams all come together to form a very diverse, cohesive group.

“When you ask why people got into this, I think it could be that they wanted a doctoral degree and they wanted to teach at a higher level, or maybe they wanted to participate more fully in their corporation,” Danielson said. “We’ve a really unique group. Some are from corporate banking, some are from human resources, non-profit, we have a couple teachers in the room, and with that comes these structured class discussions coming from a group with a broad range of experiences. That’s a genuinely unique part at Saint Mary’s that you just don’t see elsewhere.”

Program Director Rick Callaway, Ph.D., noted that the DBA is aimed at three major groups. Some people want to teach at the university level and need a doctorate to be eligible for tenure; this is also a great way to change careers. Another section of DBA applicants are consultants who want to differentiate themselves by having a doctorate. Many consultants have MBAs, so having a doctorate can help one stand out. Senior managers are also often attracted to the DBA program to apply research skills to their corporate jobs.

“The knowledge and skills gained by engagement in a DBA program are often directly transferable to student’s current job, as well as opening new doors of research and career growth,” added Matt Nowakowski D’10, dean of Saint Mary’s Graduate School of Business and Technology. “The program is also designed to develop research practitioners in the disciplines of business who may teach, conduct research or continue to grow in their private careers.”

Danielson and his classmates have a decision to make. In order to finish classwork next fall, they must decide on either management strategy or finance and economics as areas of concentration. Upon completion of their coursework and comprehensive examinations, the students will write their dissertations in one of the two speciality areas.

“We have a choice on which specialization we prefer,” Danielson said. “From speaking to the group I’m hearing more commitment to the management strategy side, but we’ve a few bankers in the room who might go with the econ and finance side. Then we’ll split into even smaller classes.”

The inaugural cohort will continue to pave the way for future DBA classes. And for Danielson and his peers, their terminal degrees are in sight.

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