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EMBA Program Provides Management Skills to DOD Personnel, and Beyond

Article By: MC3 Michael Ehrlich

Over the past several years, the Naval Postgraduate School’s Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) program has become a popular curriculum for Navy and Department of Defense commands seeking to provide advanced education for mid-management personnel, especially DOD civilians, looking to advance their skills in the unique realm of defense management.

A cohort of five students from NASA’s Johnson Space Center gather for a group photo in the tower of Herrmann Hall while on campus for their graduation ceremony early this year. While NPS’ popular Executive Master of Business Administration program is designed for DON and DOD personnel, cohorts of students for other federal agencies have taken advantage of program capacity to obtain the defense-focused management degree. 

The challenges of managing business within the government are not solely the domain of the DOD, however, and other organizations like the Federal Bureau of Investigation, and more recently, NASA’s Johnson Space Center (JSC), have sent cohorts of students through NPS’ unique EMBA program. And according to faculty on campus, the added student diversity has brought some added benefits into the classroom.

“The NASA cohort was special not only because they were very bright, but also because they brought a different public-sector perspective to the material,” said Dr. Kenneth Doerr, an Associate Professor for the Graduate School of Business and Public Policy (GSBPP). “Having the NASA students allowed our class to compare and contrast ways of dealing with capacity management, inventory management, and customer service between very different organizations, both under the U.S Federal Government umbrella.”

All EMBA student cohorts complete a capstone project, and Dr. Ken Euske, Professor in GSBPP, advised the NASA students on theirs, which utilized inventory and cost-benefit models to determine the number of ProEngineering licenses, a scientific software program, NASA would soon need to renew.

Through this capstone, it was determined that the number could be reduced from 120 to 95, saving approximately $150,000, which is greater than the cost of the entire NASA cohort’s EMBA education. There are several other software packages this model can apply to, which is anticipated to save NASA significant resources in the future.

“NPS and GSBPP are unique in two ways,” explains Dr. Bill Gates, Dean of GSBPP. “First, we exclusively focus on federal government management. All of our students are employed by federal agencies, primarily U.S. and international defense sector, but also a small number of civilians from other federal agencies like NASA and the FBI. Second, as a school of business and public policy, GSBPP’s degrees prepare federal sector managers with the best practices from both the public and private sectors. Reflecting this, GSBPP has accreditation from both the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business and the Network of Schools of Public Policy, Affairs, and Administration.”

Jose Garcia, deputy director of procurement at NASA described the EMBA program as a “practical and theoretical application of business processes and techniques. The budget is getting tighter and being able to optimize our funding helps us to maximize mission productivity.”

Joe Williams, special assistant in the Mission Operations Directorate continued, “The public administration and public policy classes we received in this program gave us a lot of the framework for explaining the why’s behind the work that we do on a daily basis. That particular dimension of the EMBA program was one aspect we found extremely valuable.”

The EMBA program at NPS, in its focus on national defense, bridges the gap between business management and government policy. Lara Kearney, deputy manager of the Orion Crew and Service Module Office, said, “I think a lot of this program is about teaching students how to manage a government run agency. In our local area, we could get an MBA from several schools, but this is a very unique opportunity, and directly applicable to what we do at NASA since it focuses on operating within the constraints of a government-run institution.”

The NASA cohort, like all students in the EMBA program, completed their studies through distance learning. With the commitment of one day a week, for two years spanning 17 classes, the graduation ceremony can be the first time many of the class members see each other since a week of orientation at the program’s beginning.

George Gafka, chief safety officer for the International Space Station Program said, “Not only did the professors have experience teaching in a distance-learning format and drawing people in with open discussion, the students really responded to the environment [too]. Instead of just sitting in the shadows and not connecting with students in the other physical locations, it really felt like a single group of students going through the program together.  It was much more connected than I initially expected.”

“The NPS EMBA program has changed the way I look at problem solving,” added Brad Niese from the Office of Procurement at NASA. “Working in an agency that spends more than 80 percent of its budget through procurement, the valuable lessons learned through this program have enabled me to approach problem solving in a more strategic and influential manner, which can directly benefit our ability to advance NASA’s missions.”

Posted June 6, 2014

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