Marci Armstrong combined her interests in education and math early in life: At 15, she served as a math tutor for students at a local community college in her Texas hometown and thought about a career in academics.
Ultimately, she decided to pursue teaching and received her undergraduate degree in education. During her time as a student teacher in an inner city high school, she began to consider what most appealed to her – and it led her to a management training program at a bank and later back to school for her master’s degree in consumer science.
“I can always relate to EMBA students because I pursued my master’s degree while working at the bank, and I know how hard it is to do,” says Armstrong, now associate dean, graduate programs, Cox School of Business at Southern Methodist University.
Her degree experience helped cement her desire to pursue a career in academia. She received her Ph.D. in management science from the University of Texas at Dallas, focusing her research on solving marketing problems with quantitative methods. She then joined the faculty of Olin Business School at Washington University in St. Louis as an assistant professor in marketing.
After several years of teaching EMBAs, she was presented with an entirely different opportunity and her real immersion into the EMBA world began. The associate dean of executive programs resigned, and she was tapped for the job on a temporary basis that turned into a permanent one.
“It was a very important move yet something I never thought about pursuing in my career,” she says.
More than four years later, Southern Methodist University approached Armstrong with an intriguing recruiting pitch: Would she be interested in leading all graduate degree programs for the Cox School of Business, back in her home state of Texas? She said yes.
“My passion was on the degree side,” says Armstrong. “I liked teaching executive education, but in degree programs like EMBA you can make a much bigger difference in students’ lives.”
In her current position, Armstrong oversees 11 graduate programs – the MBA, Professional MBA, EMBA, Fast Track MBA, MA/MBA in Arts Administration, JD/MBA, MS in Management, MS in Accounting, MS in Finance, MS in Sport Management, and the MS in Business Analytics.
A six-time teaching award honoree, Armstrong still teaches in a number of programs. Though not currently teaching EMBAs, she truly enjoyed her EMBA classrooms, where she saw the tremendous impact of the experience on the trajectory of students’ careers.
“What first attracted me to teaching them was that they were so incredibly challenging,” she says. “They do not suffer fools gladly, that is, any faculty member who teaches only theory, who doesn’t truly understand real-world business.”
Armstrong’s involvement with the council began early. When she transitioned form her faculty-only role to associate dean, the associate director pointed her to EMBAC. After attending her first conference in Washington, D.C., she joined the next year’s conference committee and shortly after was elected to her first term on the board.
EMBAC members were key to her own education as an administrative leader, she says. “I couldn’t believe people from so many top tier EMBA programs would spend time with me and teach me about running a program. They were so open and willing to share. I was astonished and humbled by that.”
In respect for EMBAC members and their contributions to her career, Armstrong has remained a dedicated EMBAC volunteer throughout the years. In the mid-1990s to early 2000s, she served two terms on the council board, including positions as chair, past chair, and treasurer. She agreed to extend her second term on the board to help guide the council to its status as an independent non-profit organization. “That was an enormous, risky decision to make,” she says.
Armstrong has helped with leadership searches for the council, marked its growth, and noted its global reach, a goal that was a dream in the council’s early years.
“We have been able to grow and flourish as an organization, yet retain what was so special about the organization – that strong collaborative spirit that still hasn’t changed.”
She also recently spent five years on the Graduate Management Admission Council® Board of Directors, including time as chair and past chair. In 2014, EMBAC members elected her to her third board term.
With so much happening, it was a great time to return to the board, she says. The council is undertaking initiatives such as the prospective student website, new council branding, and a new member website, among others.
“I don’t think in almost 25 years that I have seen as much change as is happening now in our industry,” she says. “I am so excited about what the board is doing that will benefit the council and its members for years to come.” Less...