CalSouthern’s DBA Program: The Students’ Perspective

Sep 16, 2012 by Tom Dellner

DBA StudentYou've probably heard the Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) described as a well-rounded, practical degree, focused on applying current and emerging business strategies to real-world scenarios.

While we believe that's an accurate, 30,000-foot perspective of the degree, it really just begins to scratch the surface. Why do students choose to pursue the degree? What's the curriculum really like? What about the faculty? What's it like to work on a doctorate online? How can I set myself up for success?

To learn the answers to these and many other questions, we went straight to the source: students currently enrolled in CalSouthern's DBA program. The following DBA candidates—in addition to being exemplary students—comprise a representative cross section of the DBA program's student body:

Michael Morris resides in the greater Los Angeles area and works with the federal government. Jerry Pierce is an entertainment manager for the Walt Disney Company and lives in Davenport, Florida. A senior human resources manager at a Fortune 100 company, Triscia D. calls Northern California home.

Extremely generous with their time, Michael, Jerry and Triscia provided thoughtful, candid answers to all of our questions. We hope you find their commentary helpful as you pursue your educational and career goals.


CalSouthern: What were your motivations for returning to school?

Triscia D.: I love what I do and right now, I couldn't think of doing anything else. But it's very high-paced, and when I near retirement, I may want to shift gears slightly and get into education. However, if corporate America remains my passion as it is now, I might decide to pursue a position as a senior director or vice president. This doctorate will put me in a more competitive position for either route.

Michael Morris: A few years ago, I was doing some part-time teaching at the collegiate level (criminal justice, composition and qualitative methods, among other subjects), which re-connected me to the higher education environment and got me thinking about eventually returning to school to pursue my doctorate. Shortly after that, my schedule opened up a bit and I figured the time was right to get started.


CalSouthern: Did you know much about the DBA when you began to explore your options? As you did your research, what appealed to you about the degree?

Jerry Pierce: I actually knew very little about the DBA and looked at many degree options. I work at Disney and am very fortunate that the company has a wonderful tuition reimbursement program. One of the requirements, though, is that the program needs to be related to your work responsibilities. Part of what I do at Disney is show production and development; we actually develop all of the new shows, parades and other entertainment for our resorts and parks. Ultimately, it requires a variety of business administration skills. I found that CalSouthern's DBA program offers a very well-balanced, high-level business administration education that's practical and a great fit with what I do.

Triscia: I did quite a bit of research and educated myself on the DBA and how it compares to other degrees, particularly the PhD. The DBA, while it does involve some research and theory study, is primarily oriented in real-world business. When I saw CalSouthern's curriculum, it confirmed this. It's all about application to today's business world, and it's well-rounded, too. It's much better suited for me than some of the PhD programs I looked at, which seemed geared strictly toward academia and education.


CalSouthern: Now that you are working through your program and are more intimately familiar with the DBA, in your opinion, what are some of the degree's unique benefits?

Jerry: Other business degrees are just a bit narrower in scope. I am looking to gain a high-level education with a broader perspective of the business world, to sharpen my business acumen and add to my tool kit so that I can potentially advance in any of a number of different directions in my career. That's what I'm getting with the DBA.

Michael: For me, it's all about the program's practicality. Just look at the first-year courses: Financial Statement Analysis, Managerial Economics, Technology Concepts for Managers, etc. These are very practical subjects. And when it comes time to focus on the doctoral project, you can structure yours so that it has relevance and applicability to a business issue of interest to you, which is not only beneficial to your career, but it makes for a more enjoyable research and writing experience, as well.


CalSouthern: Has the coursework been to your satisfaction in terms of its interest, relevance and rigor?

Michael: I've been happy with the courses. They are definitely rigorous; there's no question about that. As with any program at any university, there are some I've liked more than others, but I can't think of one that hasn't been a challenge and provided academic value. Also, I really like that the university went to an eight-week course schedule. It keeps things fresh, and in my opinion, it's the appropriate amount of time to cover the material.

Triscia: Absolutely they have. In my master's program [at another university], I thought some of the courses were drawn out a bit longer than was necessary for the material. I like the pace of CalSouthern's courses: it's accelerated, but not to the point where you feel as though you are rushing through your studies. Also, the incorporation of case studies and journal reviews is spot on; it really helps tie together the concepts and tactics you are studying.

Jerry: For the most part, I've enjoyed the coursework immensely. I did have one, however, that was a trial for me to get through. I just didn't connect with the textbook, and much of the focus seemed to be on the structural and technical aspects of academic writing. I appreciate the fact that this will pay dividends later in the program, but it doesn't change the fact that this course was definitely not a favorite of mine. This has been the only disappointment in the program so far; overall, I've been very pleased.


CalSouthern: What is your favorite class so far?

Jerry: Leadership, Ethics and Corporate Governance was fantastic. A textbook we read, The Imperfect Board Member, by Jim Brown, was just amazing. It was so well-written, more narrative in style than most textbooks, and brilliantly brought the concepts and factual material to life.

Michael: The courses devoted to leadership and leadership theory have been my favorites. It's always been an area of interest; I've always been fascinated by organizational psychology and how people think. Also, I have developed great relationships with a few of my faculty mentors and the courses I take with those professors are very enjoyable.

Triscia: My favorite so far has been Organizational Development and Design. It's where my passion lies and it's closely tied to my career.


CalSouthern: What has your experience been like with the DBA program's faculty and staff?

Triscia: I've found the faculty to be accessible, very knowledgeable and professional. What's been beneficial for me is that, as an adult learner who's been in the business world for a long time, it's nice to have educators that are living in that world, as well, and not speaking solely from a textbook/classroom perspective. I'm interested in the practical application to real scenarios and it's nice to have mentors that are coming at the material from this angle.

Jerry: I had an interesting experience with my faculty mentor in my Technology Concepts for Managers course. At the same time I was taking the class, I was in the process of buying a home and the process had become a giant headache. I was watching a cable news show and, coincidentally, I saw my professor being interviewed as an expert on residential real estate. I reached out to her with some questions and tapped into her real estate expertise. She was very generous with her time and knowledge, and I was able to get to know her on a different level. I really appreciated and enjoyed that interaction.

Michael: I can remember one time that I wasn't able to reach a professor in a timely manner. It turned out to be a technical glitch. Other than that, everyone—faculty and staff—has been responsive and helpful. The dean of the School of Business had even been available to me.


CalSouthern: We've discussed how the DBA is a well-rounded program. However, it culminates with a doctoral project which will allow you to develop a great deal of expertise on a very specific business topic. Have you given any thought to your doctoral project topic?

Michael: I've chosen to study the relationship between first-level, second-level, and third-level managers and job satisfaction within a large organization. There have been many studies on employee satisfaction, but we know much less about managers, specifically, and how happy they are with their work.

Triscia: Working for a large organization that has encountered this scenario on a fairly regular basis, I will probably focus on human resource issues arising in mergers and acquisitions.

Jerry: I am looking at exploring how the certain organizations' traditions and heritage informs their business practices and decision-making models, as well as how it can shape the companies' future. Some of America's most iconic companies—my company, Disney, for one; Coca-Cola for another—greatly value tradition and it infuses much of what they do and, importantly, do not do, on a day-to-day basis.


CalSouthern: How has the reality of online higher education compared to any preconceived notions you might have had—or heard—about online learning?

Jerry: Many people assume that it's an easy path to a degree. It's anything but. It's a lot of late nights or early mornings—or both. I think people focus on the flexibility that online education offers: you don't have to travel to a classroom and you can work on your own schedule. But being flexible and being easy are two different things. Going to school online requires a great deal of discipline and self-motivation.

Michael: I had no preconceived notions. This was an entirely new arena for me. It took a couple of weeks, but I quickly got used to online learning and developed a workable routine and effective study strategies. I've now been in a traditional college environment, an accelerated program and an online university. For me, each method was appropriate for the degree I was pursuing at the time. If I had to go to a classroom two or three times a week, I never would have taken on my doctorate. Eventually, you get to the point where you don't need professors to spoon-feed you the material via a lecture. You can learn it through your reading, formulate and defend your opinions, and utilize the professor to help you apply the concepts to real-world scenarios, to provide feedback, and to answer questions you might have about certain concepts.

Triscia: I'm aware that some people might think that an online degree doesn't hold as much weight as one from a well-known traditional school. All I can do is speak from my experience of what my online education has done for me and where it has put me in my career—it's done nothing but help me.


CalSouthern: Do you have any advice for new or prospective students about how to succeed in an online DBA program?

Michael: I recommend trying to work a couple assignments ahead, if at all possible. That way, if unexpected events or distractions arise at home or work, you're unlikely to fall behind. And if nothing comes up, you'll have additional time to devote to the more involved projects that might come toward the end of a course.

Jerry: At this level, I assume most people know how to do study effectively. But I do advise prospective students to be realistic and have the self awareness to determine if and when they can fit an online doctoral program into their lives. If you can do it, by all means go for it. If not, be proud of yourself for prioritizing your life properly and understanding that now isn't the right time to take on the additional workload and responsibility.

Triscia: You need to be organized and also realize that, even with organization, there are likely going to be times that you fall off that schedule. Set boundaries—and clearly communicate them—with family, friends and co-workers, letting them know when your study time is scheduled. Certain work can be done as time permits, but other work requires that you have a block of quiet time and it's critical that you set that aside.


CalSouthern: Would you recommend CalSouthern's DBA program?

Michael: Definitely. The online platform is great. If I had to drive to and sit in a class once or twice a week, I would never have been able to do this. The cost is very reasonable, significantly less than many comparable programs I was looking at, which was a big deal for me. Everyone's been great. Of course, after all the work, I'd be lying if I said I wasn't looking forward to being finished, but it's been a great program. I've loved it.

Triscia: I would. I haven't yet specifically recommended the DBA program to anyone because I haven't been approached by someone interested in an advanced business degree. However, I have recommend CalSouthern to several people interested in other programs.

Jerry: Absolutely. CalSouthern had a great staff to support you, tuition is very reasonable, the flexibility is conducive to a working individual (even with the crazy hours I have) and the mentors provide a great learning experience.

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