Student Focused: The Butler MBA Experience of David Watkins

By Cindy Dashnaw

You might think David Watkins had too many roadblocks to get an MBA.

He wasn’t sure what he wanted to do. He’d earned an undergraduate degree in International Affairs and Political Science, and was working for a nonprofit affiliated with Butler University. He traveled often with his job, and he was planning to get married in the next couple of years.

“Honestly, I wanted to get an MBA because that’s what was most available to me. I’d noticed in my job that MBA competencies would be helpful. And I was looking at grad programs at Butler because of the convenience and expense. I didn’t know much about the University,” he said somewhat apologetically.

While that’s less than a ringing endorsement for the part-time Butler MBA program, Watkins became an enthusiast pretty quickly.

“I had looked at degree programs elsewhere, but Butler offered the flexibility I needed. I was traveling internationally a lot for work, so being able to pick classes that worked for my schedule was a big deal. The level of personal service I got from the professors was beyond anything I’ve ever experienced.”

For example?

“In my first semester, I had to be gone for two weeks to the UAE (United Arab Emirates). I was a little worried about telling a professor. He asked me when I would get back, then invited me to his house—on a Sunday—to catch me up on what I’d missed. It was incredibly generous.”

He was amazed at the caliber of the professors.

“They came from business or were still practicing business, and they were very intentional about bringing business into the classroom setting. Across the whole program, the professors were bringing in local business people any time there was an opportunity to take a concept into its real-world application.”

Watkins maintained full-time employment during his studies, even switching employers. And yes, he got married during the program, too.

When he graduated with an MBA in May 2018, Watkins went to work for the Indiana Small Business Development Center. As Director of Network Operations, he oversees 10 offices across the state that deliver free services to Indiana residents interested in starting, growing, or succeeding in business endeavors. He also oversees export promotion programming and assistance throughout the state to help Hoosier businesses take their expansion to the next level in overseas markets. 

He uses the business skills he acquired through the MBA program every day, especially the greater understanding of how and why every action impacts a company’s bottom line. Yet, the Butler experience had another, somewhat surprising effect on him.

“Butler helped me quite a bit in my emotional intelligence,” he admitted. “One of the great attributes of the Butler program is that with every class, you’re working with a different group of people with a different set of backgrounds. I worked with scientists, bankers, engineers, ages 22 to 42 and everything in between, which helped me dramatically in my ability to present myself in a positive light no matter the situation.”

He sees a great benefit in the Butler approach of not imposing a cohort on students. 

“I got to know a wide array of people by working with them on a project or deliverable. Multiply that over the course of an entire degree, and you’re talking about a pretty big network I came out with. Being able to talk with people in different industries has been very beneficial to me. “

Watkins said the program does everything possible to help you succeed.

“It’s a high-caliber program that, if you let it, will be personalized to your experience and your need. You don’t have to fit to the program. The program fits to you. I came into it not quite knowing what I wanted, and the program helped me figure out what I enjoyed, was competent at and wanted to do. Others came from well-established careers, so their program was more about advancement and network building.”

And the ability to have a personal coach and build a network delighted Watkins.

“The ability to have a certified professional coach who walks hand in hand with you in a personalized way was invaluable in developing my own professional presence; and just having someone to bounce ideas off of and to challenge me with questions I hadn’t been thinking of before was beneficial inside and outside the classroom. They have enough coaches that no coach is too busy for their students—and the program is not so large that you miss out on that personal level of mentorship.” He laughed. “My coach Randy Brown was almost too available. And he’s still following up with me. “I wouldn’t be where I am today without his guidance and mentorship.”

He couldn’t be happier with his experience. “I expect great things as an alum.”

Student Focused: The Butler MBA Experience of David Watkins