Eva Durham has 33 years of experience in the airline industry. She, her husband, and her Basset Hound, Cruiser, have settled down in Peachtree City. Pam Davis is a Vice President at Delta Community Credit Union. Her husband is retired from the military, now working for General Dynamics at Fort McPherson, and her daughter is away at college. T’Leen Campbell is Director of Sales and Marketing for Home Medical. She is married, her son is in the Air Force, and her daughter is a college student. Heather Nemeth is a young, new mother working as the marketing manager for Cooper Wiring, and Ana Morgan, an Accounting Supervisor for TDK Components U.S.A., Inc., is balancing her job while raising her busy high schooler. These women represent a very diverse group, but besides living on the south side of Atlanta, they all have one thing in common. This summer, each one added a Masters of Business Administration degree from Clayton State University to her list of accomplishments.
In October 2007, Georgia’s Board of Regents officially approved the Clayton State School of Business’ proposal to offer an MBA in Fayette County. In January 2008, the cohort began meeting at the Dolce Atlanta-Peachtree City Conference Center, and this July, the first cohort of Fayette-based MBA students completed their MBA studies.
Each cohort has unique demographics; the Fayette class is composed of working executives in their mid to late 30s and 40s who are interested in graduate school to improve their current careers. But there’s one statistic that sets the Clayton MBA program apart from other AACSB accredited schools–62% of students enrolled in the MBA program are women, and 57% of the first graduating Fayette cohort are women. These numbers are impressive when compared to national averages.
For years, business schools across the country have been working to increase the number of women in MBA programs. According to sources such as the Graduate Management Admission Council and the Forte Foundation, a consortium of major corporations and top business schools that advocate for educating and directing women toward leadership roles in business, the average female enrollment at most schools is in the mid 20% to low 30% range. So, what is it about Clayton State University that attracts such a high percentage of women from the Fayette/Peachtree City area to the School of Business?
The women from the first Fayette cohort are a diverse group, so they have a variety of answers to this question, but there is a common theme of convenience and affordability, which contributes to the students’ abilities to balance work and family.
For example, Ana Morgan has worked for more than six years at TDK Components U.S.A., Inc., a manufacturing facility located in Peachtree City since 1986. She is an Accounting Supervisor, handling accounts payables, monthly closings, and financial reporting. She is also a wife and a mother of two daughters, the older a junior in civil engineering at Syracuse University, and the younger a high school freshman. According to Morgan, “I wanted to pursue my MBA to improve myself and to gain more experience in my chosen field. But to be financially responsible and prepared to balance my family and the demanding work load that an MBA requires, I needed a program that offered a convenient location and reasonable cost.”
Clayton State’s School of Business designed the MBA for working professionals who take 20 months to complete a rigorous curriculum offered in a lock-step, cohort format. A faculty with a blend of academic and real-world experience teaches 11 courses, 10 of which meet every other Saturday. The students also complete a five-day seminar focused on communication and leadership skills. Classes are Web-enhanced so that the students’ total visits to the classroom approximate 45 days over the 20-month period. Moreover, Dr. Jacob M. Chacko, Dean of the School of Business, says, “It’s a great value for the money. Any comparable part-time working professional MBA in our marketplace is at least double the cost of what we are charging.” Thirdly, Clayton State created a significant niche in the MBA marketplace by being the only Georgia program to emphasize supply chain management, a critical area in today’s competitive global environment.
CSU’s supply chain emphasis was a good fit for Eva Durham, who moved to Atlanta nine years ago as Vice President of Inflight Operations for Atlantic Southeast Airlines, where she was responsible for recruiting, training, and managing operations and labor relations of 1,000 employees. Finding balance for her busy life was essential when selecting a graduate program. “I was worried that I would not be able to get out of the office to attend evening classes, and I was concerned about the long drive after a long day at work and hours in school,” says Durham. “When I saw the ad for CSU, with classes in Peachtree City and a Saturday format, I knew I was destined to be in this program.”
Nevertheless, the course work at Clayton State’s School of Business is demanding, so when home, work, and school collided, the graduates looked to their support groups. According to Morgan, “My family always comes first, right after God. Having a very supportive family makes the balancing act so much easier. The people at TDK are also very supportive. With my profession and the type of work that I do as an Accounting Supervisor, there were times when it was hard, especially when it was time to close the books on a monthly basis. However, the people I work with were very flexible with my schedule. The management gave me the freedom to be flexible with my studies as long as the job got done.”
In addition to her family and colleagues, Durham, who lives in Peachtree City, also has the perspective of living in a unique community, “where I know all 42 of my neighbors.” She was able to turn to these friends when times got tough. “At gatherings, we often discussed the semester topics,” says Durham. “I often called upon my neighbors to give me more insight into their business as we digested studies in areas I was not familiar with.”
As Director of Sales and Marketing for Home Medical, a company that specializes in providing home health medical equipment, T’Leen Campbell holds the number two position in the firm, reporting directly to the President. When work and classes became overwhelming, Campbell called her daughter, Courtney, a psychology major at Valdosta State University. “We commiserated and motivated each other,” says Campbell.
But the tough times were worth it, as the women were able to apply their graduate work to their jobs before matriculation. T’Leen Campbell says, “I’m more focused at my job because of the things I’ve learned in class. I’ve also taken some things we’ve worked on back to the workplace, and it has impacted my entire office.” For example, during class, Campbell watched a DVD based on Dr. Spencer Johnson’s best-selling book Who Moved My Cheese, a business fable that describes change in one’s work or life, and four typical reactions to that change. She borrowed the DVD, called a staff meeting, and watched the film as a group. Then she led an interactive session about the philosophies in the book. “Because of that experience, we restructured positions at my firm,” says Campbell. “We were able to get people to think outside of the box and look at the big picture, not just their own little worlds. Our firm is 20 years old. I went back to school just for the knowledge; I wanted to catch up with what was fresh in today’s business market. This experience has been so valuable to the firm and me.”
Heather Nemeth is the marketing manager for Cooper Wiring. She manages projects, but has no direct reports. Her degree is a step toward upper management, where she hopes to put to use some of the human resource techniques she picked up in school. “I see so much potential in people,” says Nemeth. “The School has even inspired me to one day pursue a Ph.D. in human resources; who knows, maybe one day I’ll even teach.”
Meanwhile, Nemeth is using ideas from class to put her leadership skills to work. “I was taking a class called “Leading Change.” The topic was ‘using creativity in the workplace,’” says Nemeth. “We were assigned to bring in a bucket full of children’s toys that we used in class to help us brainstorm a new logo or brand name for our business. As a result of that assignment, I helped create Priority One at Cooper Wiring, a reward program for elite customers when they reach target sales goals. You absolutely put to work the concepts and techniques from the classroom.”
For Pam Davis, VP of Real Estate Services at Delta Community Credit Union, the communication and presentation skills she learned during the program have made a big difference in her workplace. “I’m far more comfortable speaking in groups than in the past,” says Davis. “In every class, you are doing some kind of presentation. After our communication class, I even think about how I write e-mails. These skills are just priceless.” But in the long run, her degree has fundamentally changed the way she goes about her job. Davis says, “In the past, because I’ve been doing what I do for so long, I’ve been tied to the operations, which I know from start to finish. I’m now able to step back and see the big picture. I’m not just focused on getting the loans closed; I’m making decisions that are more in line with the company’s strategic mission and vision. I’m much more strategically aware than I have been in the past.”
Post graduation, the women are celebrating their accomplishments. T’Leen Campbell wants to rekindle old friendships. “I plan to get together with girlfriends I haven’t seen in the last 20 months. Between work and school, there’s just not enough girlfriend time,” says Campbell. Eva Durham celebrated by participating in the Atlanta Aquarium dive program, where you dive in the main aquarium tank with the whale sharks. “It was incredible!” says Durham. This fall, Heather Nemeth is going to the Midwest to visit family and friends, Ana Morgan visited her grandmother in California, and Pam Davis went to Rome, Italy with her 21-year-old daughter, Katelyn. Katelyn graduates in May 2010 from the University of Alabama with a major in psychology and minors in criminal justice and human development. “She’ll be applying to graduate school in the fall,” says Davis. “I plan to have some good advice ready for her!”
In the end, the rewards are worth it. For Durham, “The CSU experience has been terrific. I’ve loved the learning. As an adult, it is fun to take the academic teachings and immediately apply them to the business setting. I got my undergraduate degree late in life, so I knew the sacrifices with family and friends that it would take to see this through. I just took it one semester at a time.” And for Morgan, “My advice for women considering an MBA is to go for it. It will be a tough road to go down, but it is a road that is worth taking. Don’t let anyone tell you differently.”
Clayton State’s School of Business continues to expand its MBA program. The Board of Regents of the University System of Georgia recently approved Clayton State’s proposal to establish a new MBA cohort at the Rockdale Career Academy in Conyers, GA. Meanwhile, the School plans to start a new cohort every 6 to 12 months at the Dolce Atlanta-Peachtree City Conference Center in Fayette County. For more information about CSU’s MBA program, contact Dr. Michael Tidwell, Assistant Dean –External Relations, at Michaeltidwell@clayton.edu or call 678-466- 4546.