Randa Zalman started her own small business nearly eight years ago. She is now using her Doctor of Business Administration coursework from Saint Leo University to beef up her successful marketing agency which has a global reach.

The 41-year-old entrepreneur is a native of Hastings, NE but now calls Omaha, NE home. In terms of higher education, she earned a bachelor's in communications studies and advertising from the University of Nebraska at Lincoln and a master's in communications studies from the University of Nebraska at Omaha.

Landing on the Doctor of Business Administration at Saint Leo University

Zalman explains how she initially identified Saint Leo University as a potential school for her doctoral studies.

"A colleague of mine found Saint Leo's Doctor of Business Administration program and sent me the link because she knew I was reviewing doctoral programs," she recalls. "I knew I wanted to specifically pursue a DBA. The fact that this is an online degree program with some flexibility was incredibly appealing."

It was a personal connection she felt with program director Dr. Dale Mancini that ultimately put her over the top.

"One of the big reasons I went with Saint Leo's DBA program is because Dr. Mancini made time for me," she explains. "He followed up on all of my emails in a timely manner, and he actually picked up the phone and talked to me. That one-on-one conversation was exactly what I needed. He asked what my goals were and truly listened to me. I felt like other schools I was interested in were just kind of going through the motions. Talking to him made all the difference. It was very real to me."

She enrolled with Saint Leo and began her coursework in January of 2020.

From Classroom to Online Learning

Both her bachelor's and master's degree programs were taught at physical locations. Despite this transition to online learning for her Doctor of Business Administration, she says it has been a breeze.

"It's been seamless," she says. "I thought I would need in-person guidance and those face-to-face connections. But Saint Leo has incorporated this into the online format. Everything has been very straightforward, from the functionality of the online platform to the expectations of the faculty. I knew going into this that there is more accountability in an online program. Fortunately, the fact that I have control over the flexibility helps me a lot as a working professional."

Some of her DBA classes have weekly Zoom sessions in which the students and faculty can see each other, something she says has been a big help.

"The online learning atmosphere provides a refreshing academic focus with the support and collaboration of other faculty and students in the program."

A Fondness for the Faculty

Zalman speaks highly of every instructor with whom she has taken a course in the Saint Leo doctoral program thus far.

"The instructors are all very passionate about the subjects they bring to the table in their classes," she says.

A class with Dr. Andrew Gold on the history of applied management theory was very memorable.

"I loved how he set up this course," she explains. "For our discussion posts, after reading our module coursework and learning resources, we delivered a summary of key concepts. Then we built upon that information with a landmark and contemporary theory framework. Finally, we tied it all into practical application. It's the practical application that made me want to pursue a DBA."

Overall, she says her instructors are more than just teachers.

"They're both instructors and mentors. I believe they want me to succeed."

A Curriculum of Core Values

According to Zalman, Saint Leo University's core values are all woven into the fabric of the Doctor of Business Administration curriculum as well.

"Saint Leo really does a great job of living out its core values, even in its online degree programs. For me, excellence and integrity are at the forefront. All of our papers are reviewed electronically, which holds us to a higher standard. Respect is another one since in our online discussion posts, we all treat each other with respect in terms of how we interact with each other. We face similar interactions in the real world, so it really makes us more respectful individuals."

Advice for Prospective Doctor of Business Administration Students

For anyone considering the doctoral program, she has a few words of advice.

"Saint Leo University gives you the tools to succeed in a global economy. If you're a lifelong learner or simply want to add value to an organization, this program will stretch what you think your own capabilities are. It will also help you better understand the people and world around you."

Small Business Ownership

Before officially diving into the world of entrepreneurship, Zalman worked in a variety of strategic marketing roles. Since March of 2013, she has operated her own small business called Insurance Marketing Institute.

"We are a marketing agency that handles highly regulated companies mostly in the insurance, finance, and hospital spaces," she explains. "We specialize in digital marketing and social media marketing."

While the marketing agency is based out of the American heartland of Nebraska, it has a global reach.

"We actually have several clients in Sweden and the Caribbean. A country like Sweden has pages and pages of regulations for certain businesses. That's where we can come in to help them market their services and better communicate with their customers."

She explains the nature of the services her firm offers.

"During the COVID-19 pandemic, a lot of our work has transitioned to education. We want to help our clients educate their customers through effective and reliable communication."

Being able to pivot based on evolving factors is critical, she adds.

"We have to be nimble and adjust our services as necessary. Our goal is to be reliable, available, and helpful."

Zalman has been overjoyed by the results of her original creation of a business.

"It is not difficult to start a business. The real challenge is cultivating that business. For me, I've experienced a tremendous sense of joy and accomplishment throughout this whole process. It was always a goal of mine to start a business and earn a doctoral degree. With the business, there is something very satisfying about seeing it all come to fruition. But it's even better seeing a group of individuals learn to work together and be so productive."

On the side, she is also a marketing consultant and works with a wide range of clients from railroad companies to sports organizations to agriculture producers to nonprofits. In addition, she even teaches as an assistant professor of marketing for Bellevue University.

Growth as a Business Owner from Her DBA Studies

She says she has already applied a lot of what she has learned in the program to her own business.

"I want to do things more efficiently and things that will resonate with my employees. Overall, I want to enhance my business, which I'm now more prepared to do thanks to this program."

The doctoral coursework has also changed her outlook.

"It has taught me how to remain competitive and relevant in our global economy," she says. "Overall, I'm becoming a better professional."

When not working and studying in her rare spare time, she loves watching movies, rooting on the Denver Broncos, and reading Agatha Christie books.