Dr. Colin Dodds

Saint Mary’s EMBA Program

By Renée Hartleib | spring 2017

In the late 1980s, Linda Moxsom-Skinner had three small children and a full-time job. She hadn’t had a chance to finish high school or complete an undergraduate degree, but had landed a good position in the Advancement department of Dalhousie University. She knew that in order to grow her career she would need to further her education. 

Enter the brand new Saint Mary’s Executive MBA program. Year one was 1990. “It was a group of 25 and we got very close quickly,” she says. “It was a great group of people.” This very first graduating class of 1992 was lucky to have a lot of input into the program organization. In fact, they were responsible for suggesting that an international trade mission be added to the curriculum; something that continues to this day.

These two years changed Moxsom-Skinner’s life, moving her into a Director of Advancement position at Wilfrid Laurier University immediately after graduation. When she returned to Nova Scotia a few years later, she entered the world of politics. “The EMBA program allowed me to secure positions that were out of reach before,” she says. “I was able to be present at the government table and use the skills I’d learned at Saint Mary’s to effect change.”

Moxsom-Skinner, who is now the Director of Advancement at the Atlantic School of Theology, was especially impressed with the calibre of the faculty. “There were some stellar professors and we really worked together as a team. We felt they were there for us and we could talk to them in a real way about the issues we were facing in our workplaces.”

One of her favourite professors was Dr. Colin Dodds, who would go on to become President of Saint Mary’s. At the time, Dodds was the Dean of the Faculty of Commerce from 1987-1991 (now the Sobey School of Business). It was his idea to create an Executive MBA program. “I’m a big believer in lifelong education and in the importance of continuing to update your skills and receive further accreditation.” 

Dodds felt there was a need for accessible education for those who were already working full-time in rewarding careers, but wanted to upgrade their skills, in order to widen their awareness of the business world. “The program attracts a unique group of leaders with management backgrounds and real world experience. People travel from all over the region to attend.” 

Partly, he says, it’s the uniqueness of the program that draws people in. It takes place over two years, every other weekend, at the World Trade and Convention Centre. Students have breakfast together Friday morning and then dive right into the work. “You learn as much from the diversity of the group as you do from the professors,” says Dodds, who still teaches in the program. 

Dr. Wendy Carroll is another graduate from the 1990s, who has ended up back where her graduate studies began. In 2014, she was hired by Saint Mary’s to serve as Academic Director for the Sobey EMBA program and has played a key role in its redesign.

Carroll is proud of the recent changes to the EMBA program, which include course delivery in four distinct modules. “The modules are designed to create foundation knowledge that continues to build as the student progresses.” From managing people and organizational decision-making, to strategic choices in a global context, the program is then punctuated by a major research project and the International Trade Mission at the end of the two years. 

EMBA students travel to different countries every year, including South Africa, Antigua, Chile, China, Poland, and this year—Vietnam. While there, they represent a Nova Scotian company and hit the ground running, negotiating and brokering deals. “The trade mission challenges students to overcome language and cultural barriers in order to help an Atlantic Canadian business develop relationships in an international emerging market,” says Carroll. “It’s a hands-on learning experience that broadens a student’s experience and their sense of connection.”

It was this broadening of experience and education that Sara Napier was looking for when she entered the EMBA program in 2009. “I had completed an undergrad in public relations right out of high school and I loved it, but as I worked in the field, I began to realize that my mind and my interests were broader than my qualifications.” In a nutshell, she wanted to grow into a leadership position and help to create positive organizational change.

Her EMBA studies helped her do just that. “The program quickly set my mind on fire and grew my confidence,” she says. “Through this intense phase of growth and learning, I began to see a path forward that involved me becoming a professional with broader credentials and a broader brand or identity.”

Right after graduation, Napier was moved into a Vice President role with her employer—the IWK Foundation—and was able to apply her education in strategic planning and higher level decision-making. In 2015, she accepted the position of the President and CEO of United Way Halifax, and is making the kind of impact within her community that she’s always dreamed of.

Napier is still in touch with many of the other students in her cohort. “We were from very different backgrounds, but we learned so much from each other. There’s a kind of camaraderie that happens when you have this kind of intense experience together.” 

In fact, the EMBA alumni network is often touted as the solution to today’s business problems. “For those who choose to stay connected, it’s a large and influential network,” says Dr. Carroll, who adds that alumni are always invited to contribute in any way they would like, and to participate in ongoing events, such as the Speaker’s Series. 

“Our EMBA program is continually growing in relevance and stature.” Carroll cites the fact that the Saint Mary’s program is now ranked the #5 EMBA program in Canada. “Over the last 25 years, more than 600 people have graduated, and they are making an incredible impact in all corners of the world.”

EMBA alumni, please be in touch with details of your life and career since graduation at Kellyl.smith@smu.ca

Campus Notes: “I give because I believe in Saint Mary’s University.”

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