CoBA Ph.D. Program to Graduate Record Number

May 9, 2014

By Daniel Perez / UTEP News Service

 grew up in Italy expecting to follow in his   fam Fernanda Wagstaff, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing and management and director of the doctoral program in international business, left, is proud of the program’s high standards. She is walking with Giacomo Laffranchini, one of 11 graduates who will earn a Ph.D. in international business during Spring Commencement May 17 in the Sun Bowl Stadium. Photo by J.R. Hernandez / UTEP News Service

Giacomo Laffranchini grew up in Italy expecting to follow in his family’s medical footsteps until he realized he preferred practical applications of business management. After his decision to pursue a career in academia, he looked for the best fit with his international background.

Enter The University of Texas at El Paso and its nationally recognized doctoral program in international business.

Laffranchini listened to peers and professors and did his own legwork before deciding to attend UTEP. He factored in the community’s culture and cost of living, but the keys were the dynamic, committed faculty, their research portfolios and the college’s visible efforts to expand and enhance the program.

He will be among the 11 doctoral candidates to walk the stage during the University’s Spring Commencement at 7 p.m. Saturday, May 17, in Sun Bowl Stadium. In total, there will be 23 doctoral graduates in international business during the 2013-14 academic year – the most in the program’s 10-year history. Before this year’s cohort, the program had graduated 17 candidates since 2008.

“UTEP exceeded my expectations,” Laffranchini said a few days after a successful dissertation defense. He pointed to the opportunities to present research findings at conferences and to publish in academic journals as reasons he made the right choice. “It justified all the sacrifices,” he said.

This summer he will move to Southern California with Sihyun Kim, his bride of 10 weeks. She also will earn her doctorate in international business this spring from UTEP. Both were hired as assistant professors of management at the University of La Verne.

“I came here for a Ph.D. and I’m leaving with a Ph.D. and a wife,” Laffranchini said.

His success is typical of the program’s graduates, said Fernanda Wagstaff, Ph.D., associate professor of marketing and management and director of the doctoral program in international business since September 2010.

The program was recognized in 2013 as one of the nation’s best at increasing academic opportunities and achievement for Latino students by Excelencia in Education, a national initiative that identifies evidence-based programs that improve Latino college success. It’s one of about 25 programs accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business.

Wagstaff credits the program’s success to the quality of the students and the diligence of the business faculty members who recruit the students, mentor them and help them prepare their dissertations in accounting, finance, information systems, management and marketing.

“The active participation of the faculty makes a huge difference in the outcome,” Wagstaff said. “You see it in the graduates whose work is presented at conferences and published in peer-reviewed journals, and how they collaborate with their colleagues at UTEP and other universities.”

The program has received as many as 80 applications annually and the interest is attributed to positive word-of-mouth shared by students and graduates at conferences and at institutions of higher education where they are placed. While most applicants come from the Paso del Norte region, cohorts include students from Burma, China, Italy, Oman, Russia, South Korea and Turkey.

The number of candidates accepted into the program varies based on factors including quality of the applicants and the availability of faculty. For example, only 25 students have been accepted in the past three years, including fall 2014.

“Our program has high standards,” Wagstaff said. “Imagine the number of lives that are touched by our graduates. They leave us with a set of unique skills that are very valuable in the market because not many people in the United States or around the world have them. They must use their quantitative, communication and analytical skills to develop the same skills in their own students, do research in their respective areas, and communicate that research to the academic community.”

The University fought hard to establish the program by making it unique among programs offered in The University of Texas System, said Robert Nachtmann, D.B.A., dean of the College of Business Administration. He said faculty and administrators have retooled the program’s mission to broaden its appeal and to make its graduates more marketable.

“The program’s success is a signal to the future of the irrevocable path to increase the University’s national position as a provider of doctoral graduates to the rest of the world,” Nachtmann said. “It’s part of the Tier One (national research university) recognition process that proves that we produce people who produce research.”

Today, the program boasts almost 50 students and about 40 graduates, the majority of whom are finding success in academia around the country and world.

Among the program’s staunchest supporters is George O. White III, Ph.D., assistant professor of management and international business at Old Dominion University in Virginia. White was the first graduate of UTEP’s international business doctoral program in 2008. He said he chose UTEP because of its dynamic environment and enthusiastic faculty. He called it a good fit that allowed him to learn and grow as a student and a person. He called his UTEP training “top-notch” and lauded his professors for promoting research projects with strong international dimensions.

“I learned what was necessary to be a good scholar and to contribute to academia,” he said.

The selection process for the 2015 cohort will begin in August.

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