Meet a few of the lifelong learners who comprise the inaugural cohort of Penn State Smeal’s new doctorate in business administration.

When the Penn State Smeal College of Business formally announced plans to add a new executive doctorate in business administration to its burgeoning portfolio of lifelong learning options, many asked a simple question: How many executives will have the time for such an undertaking?

As it turns out, a lot. After that official announcement, inquiries poured in about the DBA, a flexible doctorate program designed for senior-level executives around the globe.

The degree is targeted at working leaders who want the knowledge to translate research into business practice, to teach business at the collegiate level, or leverage the credibility of a doctorate degree to progress within the leadership ranks of a corporation, the military, or a nonprofit organization.

“This new program significantly bolsters our promise to develop lifelong partnerships by inspiring learning at all career stages,” says Charles H. Whiteman, John and Karen Arnold Dean of Penn State Smeal. “We believe the flexibility and rigor will appeal to senior-level leaders who are motivated to enhance their knowledge and advance their careers.” 

Smeal Magazine spoke with four members of the inaugural cohort of the Smeal DBA prior to the start of the fall semester. While the conversations reveal a variety of motivations for embarking on this academic journey, one common thread emerges: a thirst for knowledge and a desire to continue their lifelong learning. Excerpts from the conversations, which were edited for length and clarity, follow. 


CEO of Crenshaw Associates, a New York- based firm that specializes in career and leadership development, primarily for Fortune 500 companies

Your career trajectory:

I started my career in brand management at Procter and Gamble. From there, I held a number of marketing-oriented roles, including leading marketing for a women’s wear retailer. And I also served as president of a direct-response advertising agency. While I was in that role, my father passed away, and I stepped in to run our 100-year-old family lumber business. While there, a former boss asked me to do due diligence on a company he was thinking of acquiring called Crenshaw Associates. Once I started to learn about Crenshaw, as much as I loved our company, I realized this was the perfect marriage for me to combine my passion for talent, people, and leverage all of my business experiences.

The meaning of lifelong learning:

I am always interested in new things. That includes best practices of what’s happening in industry and business and understanding what thought leaders are talking about, how they’re putting ideas into practice. So, for me, lifelong learning is really an opportunity to be on the forefront of best practices.

Barb Bridendoph

Barb Bridendolph, Mercersburg, Pennsylvania

Why the DBA:

If the DBA had been an option 10 years ago, I would have done it then, especially because it’s an executive platform built for people who have full-time commitments. I’m just delighted that there is a way for executives to continue their education. I don’t consider myself to be a good candidate for retirement; I consider myself to be a good candidate for lifelong impact. I hope to continue working well into the future.

Why Smeal:

My husband, Ken, has been totally supportive and encouraged me to apply — especially since it’s Penn State. I am proudly in my 28th year of service to the University. I have served on numerous boards inside Smeal and at the University level. I have mentored students, am the alumni advisor for Women in Business. Counting my husband and three children, we are five for five Penn State graduates. Where else would I go?!

What you hope to achieve from the experience:

A sense of community, camaraderie, and insights that I simply wouldn’t have on my own.

What’s next:

I lead a team of very highly credentialed subject matter experts, Ph.D.s, coaches, and advisors who are at the top of our industry. I want to be at the top of my game as well, implementing emerging best practices so I can help them be most effective. The DBA will help in that regard.


President and Chief Operating Officer of Wolfgang Confectioners, a confectionery co-manufacturer located in York, Pennsylvania

Your career trajectory:

I started my career in corporate marketing for a $1.5 billion paper company and then transitioned into operations. I wanted to see how strategy and vision played out through operations and meeting the customers’ expected experiences. Eventually, I became the chief operating officer of a local printing and communication firm where I was the liaison with Wolfgang, the company I now lead. After a brief stint as president and CEO of a property management business, I joined Wolfgang on the ground floor and eventually transitioned to my current role as president and COO in early 2016.

The meaning of lifelong learning:

It has evolved quite dramatically over time. For me, and I have this written on the whiteboard in my office, it’s “Be more curious than certain.” Being curious leads to learning. Asking questions leads to learning. Being open-minded leads to learning. I’m trying to be a lifelong learner to understand who I am individually and why I do the things I do so that I can lead my teams better. You have to challenge yourself at every step in business. You have to constantly be out in front learning new things and then teaching those things to your team. The second we get comfortable, we’re in trouble.

Sam MIller

Sam Miller, York, Pennsylvania

“Be more curious  than certain.”

Why the DBA:

I had been looking for a DBA program for maybe a decade. I was seeking a learning opportunity that combined research with the practical aspects of leading a business.

Why Smeal:

I’ve always known that Penn State Smeal is one of the best business schools in the country. I attended small private schools as an undergraduate and MBA student, so I never thought that I would have the opportunity to attend a prestigious business school like Penn State Smeal. But timing is everything, and when I learned that Smeal was introducing a DBA, I inquired immediately. The timing is good for me, it’s good for the business, and it’s a good opportunity to partner with Penn State.

What you hope to achieve from the experience:

I want to be able to learn from others. I love the idea of a cohort. I hope to ask questions that elicit thoughts from various perspectives. And, I hope I can contribute insights from my entrepreneurial, ground-level experience with a small family-owned business that evolved into a much larger, more profitable business.

What’s next:

I’ve always had an interest in teaching in higher education. Down the road, in the fourth quarter of my life, I would love to get back in the classroom and share some of these things I’ve learned along the way.

Castleigh Johnson

Natashia Coleman, Baltimore, Maryland


Product manager for the U.S. Army

Your career trajectory:

I started in the Army in 1998 as a private working as a supply clerk and eventual signal officer on the receiving end of network and communications capability. Fast forward 25 years and I’m an Army acquisition product manager modernizing and delivering key communications, autonomous sensors and information technologies to the warfighter.

The meaning of lifelong learning:

I believe the Army is a lifelong learning organization. I am in a constant state of learning through the required professional military education towards career progression. That has been something that has been ingrained in me since I was a 19-year-old young adult joining the military.


“…I am confident that this cohort will bring forth a diverse way of thinking and volumes of experience that will enrich each of us.”

Why the DBA?

Over the years I’ve gained a high appreciation for the behind-the-scenes effort of the people who enable the positive behaviors, climate, and readiness of an organization. After achieving my undergraduate degree in accounting, the plan was to pursue an MBA. Key job assignments in the military took me down a different path to still achieving a level of business acumen to be successful as a leader in the acquisition career field. As I look at my “second” curve of what’s next for me at the midlife point, the next obvious lifelong learning move for me is a DBA. I have a desire and passion to pour into the next generation of business leaders and I believe the DBA provides the vehicle to give back through the service of teaching and educating, sharing my lessons learned through experience and application.

Why Smeal?

Credibility, No. 1. Secondly, I liked the structure of the program and the 10+ concentrations the program offers. That was a huge plus for me, being able to shape my learning to my particular research interest. Other programs that I researched on my journey to select the right school did not offer such specificity. The credibility of the institution and the array of options to pursue a unique concentration is why I chose Smeal.

What do you hope to gather from and contribute to your cohort?

Trusting the University’s selection process, I am confident that this cohort will bring forth a diverse way of thinking and volumes of experience that will enrich each of us. I’m looking forward to learning and understanding the problem sets in other sectors of public and private organizations, comparing and contrasting them against my own experiences. I’m hoping to bring my education, training and work experiences afforded me through the Army to enhance our discussions and application.

What’s next for you?

After three years of this DBA journey, it certainly puts me at a career transition point. I’m hoping this DBA will prepare me to embark on a journey of executive leadership and collegiate teaching. I do have a passion to start a podcast circling a vast array of topics that connect reality and empathy in the workplace.


Chief procurement officer for the City of Portland, Oregon

Your career trajectory:

I’ve had three stanzas in my career. My first stanza was as a technical support engineer in the medical device industry. My second stanza, post MBA, was tech and defense contracting, where I enjoyed roles in supply chain, diversity, and also some business development. That was my first immersion in leadership. I joined a leadership development program in 2012. Since then, I’ve been on a steady trajectory, increasing my leadership responsibilities, and increasing my breadth of responsibilities. I now manage a team of about 60 people who handle the acquisition and sourcing of $6.8B in materials and services for the City of Portland.

The meaning of lifelong learning:

It’s really about investing in self-improvement and developing oneself. I think if you’re committed to lifelong learning, you’re also committed to excellence. Once I stepped onto a Penn State campus back in 2010, I knew that Penn State was going to be my partner in my lifelong learning journey. I’ve seen the journey; I’ve seen how lifelong learning has influenced my evolution.


Biko Taylor

Biko Taylor, Portland, Oregon

“Once I stepped onto a Penn State campus back in 2010, I knew that Penn State was going to be my partner in my lifelong learning journey.”

Why the DBA:

My brand is leadership and I know the DBA will add to that brand. In 2017, I transitioned from the private sector to the public/nonprofit world. During that time, I’ve been immersed in the economic empowerment of women and people of color. I really want to pursue research around reducing wealth gaps, using public funding and using contracts to help disadvantaged communities build wealth and create a healthier middle class or for all Americans. I think the DBA’s renowned management faculty will expose me to research methods that will help me achieve those goals.

Why Smeal:

I looked at the faculty first and was immediately drawn to Dr. Jeanette Miller. To have a faculty leader with a DBA gave me the confidence that the design of Smeal’s DBA was aligned with my best interests and would provide me with a lifelong pipeline for knowledge and learning.

What you hope to contribute to the experience:

As a young male minority leader who has led in the public and private sectors, I think my leadership journey offers a unique perspective.

What’s next for you:

I want to get into a position where I can engage with young people and help shape their approach to leadership, and I think that might be in higher education. I also want to shape public policy. I want to use research to provide practical solutions, specifically with legislation that can change the world.