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U-Idaho grad attributes business turnaround to insights of EMBA education

By Donna Emert,  first published in North Idaho Business Journal

COEUR D’ALENE, IdahoBefore investing, effective business people weigh all the variables that impact potential profits. That holds true when the investment is in education.

Aaron Dollahite Aaron Dollahite, practice manager for Willamette Dental Group in Coeur d'Alene, earned his Executive MBA from University of Idaho in May while working full time and raising his practice's statistics to all-time levels.
Photo courtesy of Jerome A. Pollos/Coeur d'Alene Press

Aaron Dollahite, who earned an executive MBA in May at the University of Idaho Coeur d’Alene, said he enrolled in the professional program because it met solid, no-nonsense criteria.

“I chose the program for its price and convenience. It’s right here in Coeur d’Alene. And classes meet three full days each month, versus every-other week,” said Dollahite, a Coeur d’Alene resident and busy practice manager for Willamette Dental Group, with offices locally and in Pullman, Wash.

“Plus, I did not have to take the GMAT, an MBA entrance exam. The University considered my work experience and undergraduate grades. That alone saved me serious time and money.”

While taking EMBA coursework and working full time, Dollahite increased company profits six fold, improved patient satisfaction scores by ten percent, and raised employee satisfaction to the highest level in the region, which encompasses eastern Washington and all of Idaho.

Dollahite attributes that success to applying what he learned, as he learned it.

“When you’re in class, you are challenged to think how to apply what you are learning to your work—taking your education a step above just theories,” he said. “You are given projects and assignments that you can tailor to your individual business needs or aspirations. This is something I greatly valued in the program.”

“When I was facing a challenge at work, I could take what I was learning in class and use my assignments to address it, from employee management, to financial management, to innovation.  There were countless times when I would get great insights from the professors and my class members that I could use immediately to help turn things around in my new office. I directly attribute all the change I have been able to effectuate at work to the things I was learning every month in class.”

The University of Idaho EMBA offers a challenging integrated curriculum designed to promote students’ understanding of best business practices, decision making, and critical thinking, to name a few of its components. Students do their reading and research outside of the classroom.

“Balancing work, home, church responsibilities and school was not an easy task,” Dollahite said. “However, it has been possible. That’s why I like the setup so much: You are in class three full days, then you have the rest of the month to balance everything with school work.”

Before entering the program, Dollahite was a little apprehensive about what the professors would be like. “I have been so impressed by the caliber and quality of the professors,” said Dollahite. “I would have never guessed that the college would have sent such accomplished, tenured professors to Coeur d'Alene.”

College of Business and Economics faculty who make the trek north to teach at U-Idaho Coeur d’Alene include Mario Reyes, dean of the college and professor of finance. Reyes’ expertise includes emerging stock markets, econometric analysis of the behavior of asset prices, asset valuation and investment management, and integrated business curriculum and finance pedagogy; and John Lawrence, professor of business, with expertise in quality management, business/environmental sustainability, and case research methods.

The College of Law shares law professor Maureen Laflin, a certified professional mediator and director of her college’s Clinical Programs and law professor Patrick Costello, who supervises several law clinics, co-supervises the Mediation Clinic and teaches Trial Advocacy. Laflin and Costello help EMBA students build negotiation and mediation skills.

Business professor Ray Dacey brings his expertise in decision theory and game theory ot the program, providing the conceptual foundation for the negotiation and conflict management taught by Laflin and Costello. In addition, philosophy professor Douglas Lind provides insights and instruction in ethical decision-making.

An unexpected perk of the program was the opportunity to network with, and learn from, other working professionals in his cohort said Dollahite. The cohort is a group of students who take the coursework together throughout the two-year program.

The EMBA set-up drives home the old adage that business success is all about relationships.

“My cohort members are phenomenal,” said Dollahite. “I had no idea how much value would come from those relationships and learning from each other in class. We help each other, support and encourage each other. Those are relationships that will continue throughout our lives.”

While there are challenges inherent in simultaneously going to school and working in your profession, the return on investment is both immediate and lasting, he said.

“I’ve already been able to apply so much of my education to what I am doing at work,” said Dollahite. “I do feel that it was a very good investment. I feel that my MBA will pay dividends over time much greater than the cost of tuition and time invested. I feel that having my MBA will build my career and improve my career prospects and earning potential, which will pay for the degree ten times over.”