When Roanoke College announced a year ago that it was pursuing plans for an MBA program, Elizabeth Booth ’23 knew immediately that she was all in.
“I was emailing professors a few weeks before it was even definite that it was happening,” recalled Booth, a Roanoke native who earned her bachelor’s degree in economics this spring. “I knew right away I wanted to do it. It was a good opportunity to get my master’s, which I already wanted, at an institution that I already love.”
The launch of Roanoke’s 4+1 MBA is a major milestone that marks the College’s return to offering a graduate degree program for the first time since the 1920s.
The 4+1 structure is an accelerated track that allows driven Roanoke graduates to complete their bachelor's in four years and their MBA in one additional year rather than the standard two. The program’s inaugural class of 11 students kicked off their studies this month.
The year ahead will be filled with not just classroom work but real-world projects, teambuilding and one-on-one mentorships.
“I’m just so excited for the students,” said Associate Dean Sharon Gibbs, who served on the MBA steering committee and is teaching one of the program’s first courses. “They came into this with a great foundation from Roanoke College. That was part of the 4+1. We knew they had a certain skill level right off the bat. But we’re already starting to see them level up those skills. It’s been impressive.”
The MBA curriculum emphasizes hands-on learning and team dynamics — principles that will serve the students well in their future careers and that build on strengths already at the core of the Roanoke experience.
The class will work in rotating cohorts to tackle in-depth projects as their courses unfold. That will culminate in an intensive capstone project that will be shaped with the help of local business leaders to challenge students to find solutions for a real-world issue.
In addition to that partnership, the campus career center for Purpose, Life And Career Exploration (PLACE) is pairing each student with a business mentor who will work with them over the next year. Networking events and alumni meetups pepper the calendar as well.
Roanoke College ushered in its inaugural MBA class with a welcome dinner on campus earlier this month. In addition to the students (pictured above), the event was attended by faculty, administrators and President Frank Shushok Jr.
That in-person engagement and relationship building is a hallmark of the program’s design, said Betsy Parkins, director of Roanoke College’s Center for Leadership and Entrepreneurial Innovation and an instructor in the program.
That extends to the classroom setting itself, she added. The bonds this class forms during its months of rigorous study will be unlike any other.
“To me, that is one of the most fundamental parts of this program and something I’m really excited about for them,” Parkins said. “The opportunities for sharing ideas and learning from one another. We’re already seeing it with this group. They're bouncing ideas off each other and discussing.
“That sense of community is something they’re already grounded in from their undergraduate here at Roanoke. But this is taking it to a new level professionally. They’ll look back at this and realize how important it was to them. That focus on teamwork is something I’m excited about because I know the benefits that they’ll take away from it.”
The class will cover considerable ground in the curriculum ahead. Courses on deck include finance, leadership, strategic marketing, supply chain management and more. Eleven faculty members, in total, will play a part in the program.
Students cited the challenging work as part of the program’s appeal. The opportunity to continue working with Roanoke’s faculty was another draw. The program’s tuition was also competitive with other MBA programs nationwide, which helped make it a viable opportunity.
The group’s future career goals were diverse: marketing, asset management, sports promotion. But their MBA work will help them hone a versatile skillset with relevance to many fields and roles.
“The business world is only getting more and more competitive,” said Colin Burns ’23, who this past spring earned his bachelor’s degree in business administration with a concentration in finance. “I think having a master’s degree puts you further in the right direction and ahead of the rest of the pack.”
Roanoke’s introduction of an MBA builds on its strong undergraduate programs in business and finance. Business administration is the most popular major on campus, and Roanoke has been named a Great School for Business/Finance Majors by The Princeton Review.
The MBA was launched this year after the plans won accreditation from the Southern Association of Colleges and Schools Commission on Colleges. That approval sets up the school to add additional graduate programs in the future. The College hopes to add as many as seven new in-person, online or hybrid graduate programs in the next five years.