Alumni Spotlight

The Executive Evolution: From EMBA to EDBA

Drs. Rhonda Bartlett `15MBA `19DBA and Monica Clayton `15MBA ‘19DBA relied on each other as they made their way through the Executive MBA program, and five years later defended their doctoral dissertations on the same day.

While Crummer prides itself on its Executive Suite of offerings—providing a range of education solutions for executives with diverse needs—it is not very common to have individuals attempt to conquer both of the School’s flagship executive degree programs.

But that’s exactly what Drs. Rhonda Bartlett and Monica Clayton did—and they did it together.

Over the past five years, they have endured the rigor of not only the Crummer Executive MBA program, but also the Crummer EDBA (Executive Doctoral in Business Administration) program.

Starting as strangers in the same EMBA cohort, Drs. Clayton and Bartlett have seen each other go from two executives looking to expand their knowledge of the business world, to certified experts and thought leaders in their fields with doctoral degrees.

Although their academic career arcs match each other’s, their backgrounds couldn’t be any more different.

Professional Backgrounds

Dr. Bartlett’s background is in the healthcare industry, having spent her entire career as a nurse until she was promoted to a vice president role. It was then that she realized she needed to supplement her healthcare knowledge with an MBA to expose herself to the business side of the healthcare industry. As she worked her way through the EMBA program, she realized the need for doctoral experts in the healthcare industry and decided to pursue her EDBA degree to become a researcher and thought leader.

Dr. Clayton’s background is in marriage and family counseling, where she owns and operates a private counseling practice as well as two other startups, while also being in academia. She became interested in the EDBA to further her opportunities in academia, writing, and consulting.

“I had been a business owner for quite some time but thought it would be great to expand my business knowledge, since I only had a bachelor’s degree in psychology and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy” said Dr. Clayton. “Ever since I knew that Crummer had begun the EDBA program it was an interest of mine; however, I thought the EMBA was a good start to determine which area I wanted to focus on during the doctorate program.”

Drs. Bartlett and Clayton first crossed paths as EMBA students when Dr. Clayton’s cohort needed a team member – thus Dr. Bartlett was added to the cohort.


As the only two women on their team, Monica and Rhonda started to naturally develop a bond.

“That gave us different perspectives from the rest of the group. It was really balanced,” said Dr. Bartlett.

While their friendship grew throughout the hours spent working on projects and studying, Dr. Bartlett notes as close as her and Dr. Clayton are, their personalities are very different.

Coming from the intense healthcare world, Dr. Bartlett says Dr. Clayton was the one who helped keep her even-keeled throughout stressors in the MBA process.

Dr. Rhonda Bartlett

“Dr. Monica Clayton had a calming effect for me, because when we went through the MBA, she would be very calming within our team. We would come in very fast-paced and high-energy, and she was really a fabulous person at the team dynamics of bringing us all together,” said Dr. Bartlett.

Throughout their MBA journey, both of them realized how much they enjoyed the Crummer MBA experience, and while Dr. Clayton always wanted to go for the EDBA degree, Dr. Bartlett started to consider it as well.

However, throughout the EMBA program neither of them talked about going back for more education after they were done with their MBA degree.

“We never talked about doing the EDBA. We always joked that we were ready to be done with school when the MBA was completed,” laughed Dr. Bartlett.

As fate would have it, when they walked across the stage with their MBA degrees, they both talked to each other, laughed, and decided to apply for the EDBA program next.

Dr. Monica Clayton

“When we found out we both got accepted, we reconnected, and it was a moment of ‘oh my goodness! We both got in,’” recalled Dr. Bartlett.

Taking on the Crummer EDBA program is one of the toughest academic challenges a person can take on. It’s a 3-year program, including a yearlong dissertation that addresses issues and challenges that apply directly to the executive student’s business interest. The rigors of the program require any prospective student to understand that it requires a lot of sacrifice and support from those around you.

For Dr. Bartlett, having Dr. Clayton—and her calming support system—there during the class sessions was crucial for her.

“Everyone outside of your family and that class doesn’t understand what you are going through. It’s only the people in there who know how hard it is,” said Dr. Bartlett. “To walk in and see Monica Clayton, who went through the MBA program with me, I knew there was someone that was on that journey with me who was going through the same thing.”

Just as much as Dr. Bartlett said she needed Dr. Clayton there, Dr. Clayton also needed her. Throughout the journey of the EDBA program, they became each other’s student support system.

“In the EDBA process, especially during the dissertation phase, you are pretty much on an island and you have to be very self-motivated,” said Dr. Clayton. “Being available to check in and support each other throughout the process was huge. Rhonda Bartlett is an amazing person and I’m glad that we had the opportunity to share this experience together.”

That connection and support system served them so well, that they finished their dissertations at roughly the same time (Dr. Bartlett’s on healthcare and Dr. Clayton’s on consumer engagement in social media).

In a culmination of over five years of intense, rigorous work, Monica Clayton and Rhonda Bartlett became Drs. Clayton and Bartlett on the same day.

“It can take years, and months, but on the exact same day together we defended our final dissertation, and I thought that was really unique as well. Then we both walked together at Crummer graduation. We both laughed when we walked in because it was pretty endearing,” said Dr. Bartlett.

As they each go on to use their Crummer MBA and DBA degrees in different fields and different states (Dr. Bartlett moved to New York where she works as a healthcare executive), they remain close and will always remember their journey together through Crummer.

“Even though it was very difficult over the last 5 ½ years, sacrificing weekends for the MBA and then going into the doctorate program for four years, I would do it all over again. I couldn’t have asked for a better education and a better experience throughout all of this,” said Dr. Clayton.