2023 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Valecia Harris, Southern Methodist University (Cox)

Valecia Harris

Cox School of Business, Southern Methodist University

“Passionate about transforming and creating action-led plans for success and innovative leaders capturing value.”

Hometown: Born in Dallas, Texas. Raised in Augusta, Georgia.

Fun fact about yourself: I love traveling to Italy to explore historical landmarks and learn about the original architectural design of churches and museums.

Undergraduate School and Degree:  Bachelor of Science: Government-Legal Studies and Bachelor of  Arts, Performing Arts-Dance

Where are you currently working: I work as an independent senior advisor providing guidance, expertise, and support to early-stage and growth-stage established companies seeking to navigate complex business challenges and strategies. This includes managing risk associated with legal and regulatory compliance, competitive market trends, and best practices to improve operational efficiency.

What achievements are you most proud of in your professional career? The achievement I am most proud of was developing a solution to mitigate and manage regulatory compliance risk. I did this by implementing a company-wide virtual resource site that disclosed new and updated contract disclosures, fees, state-regulated new forms, and state-specific procedural guides. For years, our department operated on email and paper trails of current and previous law changes. However, we encountered challenges in informing other key business areas of those changes timely. During an executive officer meeting, I proposed developing an online virtual resources site. It included features to notify key business areas when there was a recent change to a specific state contract disclosure, fee, or contract form in real time. This update required me to work with our training department, legal, and system integration team, where it was launched throughout the organization and widely used by various departments. This also allowed us to track the time of the changes, pull reporting, and reconsolidate any accounts that were boarded to the system during the regulatory change. This provided immediate reconciliation efforts to help mitigate the risk of compliance violation.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? The SMU Cox School of Business Online MBA program is widely regarded as an outstanding and reputable program. They are known for their experienced and expert faculty members who deeply understand the business world and have a robust alumni network. As I decided to choose this school and the Cox OMBA program, I was excited to learn how the program is designed to be flexible and convenient for working professionals who cannot attend onsite classes. Offering live virtual courses where students can interact with faculty and peers in an intimate real-time setting enriched the experience. I was also impressed with the comprehensive and rigorous curriculum the program designed to meet the needs of the modern business environment and the relevant courses that are important in today’s competitive market.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? One of my favorite parts of being in an online MBA program is the variety of innovative approaches for online students. This included using case studies and simulations to gain a deeper understanding of businesses’ challenges and develop skills to solve complex business problems.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? Being part of an online asynchronous program gave me the flexibility to work at my own pace and create a schedule that helped me meet course deadlines and professional demands. In addition, the online experience compared to an undergraduate experience gave me a greater need to hold myself accountable in completing assignments and staying on track with coursework. This helped me to develop a stronger work ethic and the ability to balance competing demands.

What is your best advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? I encourage any applicant interested in enrolling in an online program to have a support system, such as friends, colleagues at work, or family members. It will be challenging initially, but the hard work each day will be worth it towards the end. Setting specific goals is essential to ensure that you are taking the courses that will enhance your skills to advance your career trajectory. Lastly, feel free to connect with your professors and MBA colleagues; you will find tremendous gratification in building your network with meaningful connections that will last you for a lifetime.

What would you change about an online MBA program? I would not change anything about my experience as part of an online MBA program—especially the SMU Cox School of Business OMBA program. As a local Dallas resident, I’ve had the opportunity to be part of meaningful student organizations, where I held the president’s role in the Cox Graduate Entrepreneurship Club and the Graduate Women in Business (GWB) organization. The GWB program offers enriching career management coaches and the opportunity to attend a series of Business Leadership courses, both virtually and in person. Attending these events. I met terrific C-Suite executives and learned about their career journeys. I’ve been honored to be part of this fantastic program.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? This online education has enabled me to develop effective plans and skills to help find solutions in a complex business setting. Also, it has helped me to develop a strong foundation in strategic thinking and decision-making. More importantly, collaborating with a team comprised of people with diverse and innovative thinking has allowed me to identify roadblocks among cross-functional teams.

Did you earn promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? I’ve been offered a high-ranking executive role within a technology company that oversees the strategies for the organization.

Why did you pursue an online MBA program instead of a full-time residential program? The flexibility in completing coursework at my own pace and schedule helps me work with professionals in a highly demanding role. Also, I chose the Cox Online MBA program because of the amount of work experience my cohort had in the workforce—an average of 10 or more years, which provided an even more enriching experience while working as a group to solve a company’s business challenges.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on an Online MBA? 30 hours.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I want to continue to be a transformational leader. I plan to create a program that involves a venture fund that invests in early-stage and high-growth stage startups and encompasses faith-based entrepreneurs leading an impact of innovative solutions through technology, health, film, and entertainment.  The Texas entrepreneurial ecosystem is one of the largest that offers support businesses. I would love to continue to be a part of this ecosystem.


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