Discover the comprehensive curriculum of the Penn State Smeal Executive DBA program. With a minimum of 54 credits, including core, elective, and culminating research project courses, the program aims to bridge the gap between knowledge and practice. Develop a strong foundation of research and gain the skills to address complex problems using timely knowledge. Explore a wide range of core courses, covering topics such as accounting, marketing, finance, organizational research, and more. Customize your education with 16 different areas of specialization, allowing you to tailor your studies to match your ambitions. Finally, engage in an original culminating research project, demonstrating your ability to leverage existing theories and produce valuable insights. Join the Penn State Smeal Executive DBA program to advance your knowledge, skills, and research capabilities.

The Penn State Smeal Executive DBA curriculum is specifically designed for an executive-level audience. Unlike traditional academic tracks, our courses are finely tuned to meet the specific needs of seasoned executives. The program requires a minimum of 54 credits – 30 core, 6 elective, 18 culminating research project – and is designed to translate knowledge into practice. Smeal DBA students can expect to achieve the following through the program:

  • Knowledge
    • Foundation of research and intelligent consumption of knowledge
    • Integration of disciplinary knowledge for translation into practice
  • Skills
    • Define, address and solve problems using timely and actionable knowledge
    • Develop scaffolding to evaluate knowledge/cutting edge research in discipline (of each student) for solving problems

Core Courses

3 credits | Professor: Dr. Rick Mergenthaler

The course prepares DBA students to engage with accounting research, covering topics such as research consumption and production. It includes teachings on the philosophy of science and research study design to avoid validity threats. Additionally, students will learn about academic etiquette, particularly in the context of scholarly peer reviews.
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Stefan Wuyts

The course focuses on exploring both conceptual and applied aspects of marketing management. It is a seminar course emphasizing class involvement, paper preparation, and oral presentations. Throughout the course, students will engage with important topics in marketing management, analyze research papers, and present their own research proposals, culminating in an examination at the end of the term.
  • Knowledge
    • Key marketing concepts and foundational theories
    • Advanced understanding of marketing phenomena, from both academic and managerial perspectives
  • Skills
    • Conceptual modeling and theory formation
    • Develop novel ideas and research proposals to advance marketing strategy research
    • Bridge marketing academia - practice divide
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Stefan Lewellen

This a foundational doctoral-level course that covers essential concepts in corporate finance, including contracting frictions, financing, investment, M&A, and corporate governance. Students will gain mastery of both the conceptual and methodological aspects of each core concept. By the end of the course, students will be well-prepared to teach introductory undergraduate or masters-level corporate finance courses at four-year colleges or Ph.D.-granting institutions.
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Stephen Humphrey

This course will provide experience in designing research for organizational science to maximize the validity of eventual conclusions; methodological choices, constraints, and compromises (trade-offs).
  • Knowledge
    • Research design
    • Determine validity and generalizability in research
  • Skills
    • Develop and design research studies
    • Recognize gaps in knowledge
    • How to contribute to the academic body of knowledge
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Margaret Luciano

This seminar course delves into current theoretical and research issues in management. It covers topics ranging from individual behavior within organizations to organizational design and strategy implementation. Students will explore important management theories and cutting-edge research, with a focus on emerging areas, especially in the applied domain.
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Andrew Petersen

This course grounds students in the process of developing translational research broadly within the business domain. Students will learn how to identify applied challenges, develop research questions to address these challenges, design applied studies, and frame their work using rhetoric that connects with the applied community.
  • Knowledge
    • Research design
    • Translational science
  • Skills
    • Formulate research questions relevant to applied professionals
    • Design studies that match methodological rigor and applied relevance
    • Frame and communicate ideas consistent with translational science
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Tim Simin

This course provides a breadth of statistical skills necessary for advanced data analysis. Students will learn how to employ data analytic processes that address challenges associated with experiments, surveys, time-series, panels, and/or multilevel models. Software packages, concepts, and business applications will vary and evolve to keep pace with technology, theory, and instructor interest.
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Hui Zhao

This course equips students with various business analytic tools and techniques to analyze data, make predictions, and propose optimal solutions. Topics covered include data visualization, regression, classification, machine learning, optimization, and simulation, enabling students to address descriptive, predictive, and prescriptive business analytics challenges. The course emphasizes methodological aspects, providing a comprehensive understanding of how to apply these tools in diverse business scenarios, with software packages and applications tailored to evolving technology, theory, and instructor expertise.
  • Knowledge
    • Business analytics concepts and techniques
    • Basic analytics skills for research
    • Descriptive analytics, predictive analytics, and prescriptive analytics
  • Skills
    • Descriptive analytics and visualization
    • Sampling of various methods of predictive and prescriptive analytics
    • Application of analytics to research
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Kevin Linderman

This course is designed to develop students' understanding of strategic decisions within the end-to-end supply chain. The course adopts a systems perspective, exploring critical decisions related to make, source, deliver, and return processes of goods and services, all linked to the firm's business strategy and financial outcomes. With a problem-driven approach, students will connect supply chain management issues to research, analyze emerging industry challenges, and learn to formulate new research questions, gaining valuable insights into key concepts and decision-making in supply chain management.
3 credits | Professor: Dr. Raghu Garud

This course provides the foundational skills necessary for conducting qualitative research in an applied business context. Students will explore some of the following topics: ethnography, observation, interviewing, grounded theory, discourse analysis, case method, narrative analysis, and action research. Through this process, students will be introduced to the epistemological foundations of qualitative research, learn different methods of data collection, introduce different techniques for coding and analyzing qualitative data, and provide guidance on creating rigorous qualitative research.
  • Knowledge
    • Gain an understanding of the bases for knowing in and about organizations—such self-awareness will be based on an appreciation of epistemology (how we know), ontology (our assumptions about the world around us and our roles), and axiology (the values we subscribe to, and the values implicated in research
    • Demonstrate understanding of key organization theories, the connections between them (if any), and the methods used to study them
  • Skills
    • Search, locate and critically evaluate research (on various theories) to explore research questions of interest to them
    • Synthesize and apply published research to refine their research questions and design
    • Communicate the conclusions and implications of their research to key audiences such as colleagues, clients, and other stakeholders (including the public)
    • Practice to be a self-directed learner, who also helps others to learn by discussing own experiences pertinent to concepts and theories learned during the course
    • Apply the concepts and theories learned during the course to potentially improve organization’s operations and performance

DBA Areas of Specialization

Penn State Smeal offers 16 different opportunities to specialize – more than any other program – to allow students to customize their education to be as unique as their ambitions. Each area of specialization comprises 3-4 courses that are taught independently from the core courses.

Gain a broad understanding of principles and practices in areas such as financial and managerial accounting, taxation, and auditing. Topics in the courses will include:
  • Recording of business transactions and communication of accounting information in public financial statements
  • Foundations of U.S. federal taxation of individuals, corporations, and other entities
  • Principles and procedures of auditing financial statements and corporate internal controls
  • Assembly and use of internal accounting information for managerial decision-making
Learn the foundational principles, theories, and methodologies unique to B2B marketing, and gain the skills to craft a comprehensive strategic marketing plan.
Develop the quantitative and managerial skills needed to analyze complex data sets and support data-driven business decisions. The focus of the business analytics curriculum is to explore and analyze data to support data-driven business decisions through the complete spectrum of analytics activities:
  • Descriptive (what happened)
  • Predictive (what will happen)
  • Prescriptive (what should happen)
In addition to learning how to use optimization and forecasting techniques, you can gain a practical skill set to perform tasks in various areas of business, such as marketing, supply chain management, operations, and risk management.
Gain the expertise to align your organization's higher-level strategic objectives with tactical enterprise-level projects and technology initiatives to improve overall effectiveness and efficiency.
Build a strong foundation across a wide range of business disciplines, including management, accounting, finance, leadership, and marketing.
Learn sustainable business practices that can drive environmental, social, and governance (ESG) performance while improving profitability, reducing cost and risk, and building competitive advantage.
Build a strong foundation in the business, leadership, and entrepreneurial skills needed to develop groundbreaking products and services and manage high-performance teams. This specialty is ideal for entrepreneurial-minded, creative thinkers who want to understand the principles of innovation and entrepreneurship in a corporate context or apply them in a startup.
Develop the in-demand leadership skills and knowledge needed to effectively manage diversity and inclusion as strategic imperatives as well as the competencies needed to lead diversity-related change initiatives.
Gain the knowledge and skills required to succeed as an independent management consultant, member of a consulting firm, or in-house advisor in a corporate or public sector setting with this specialty in management consulting.
Gain the core knowledge necessary to make data-driven marketing decisions. Marketing Analytics can give you the skills to evaluate meaningful metrics and then successfully communicate how to leverage data for future growth.
Acquire the skills you need to gain support for your ideas, influence the outcome of negotiations, and successfully implement your solutions. This specialty can help you learn to identify personal interests and gives you the opportunity to practice strategies though multi-party negotiation scenarios.
Prepare to succeed in a variety of positions related to the competitive and rewarding commercial real estate market. As a student, you can learn to:
  • Assign value to properties
  • Calculate and communicate risk and reward potential
  • Negotiate contracts and leases
  • Create legal real estate documents
Explore the challenges that managers face when implementing corporate strategy and learn to shape organizational cultures that facilitate change. This specialty can help you become a more effective leader as you:
  • Think strategically about organizational issues
  • Develop effective strategies for performance and success
  • Explore the managerial challenges of strategy implementation
  • Learn to shape organizational cultures that facilitate change
  • Examine unique approaches to strategic leadership
Gain the skills you need to maximize the efficiency of your organization’s supply chain. This specialty can help you learn to develop supply chain solutions as you gain an understanding of how companies use networks to acquire, produce, and deliver goods and services domestically and worldwide.
Learn to create a more secure supply chain using industry-proven strategies for managing interruptions as well as tactics for mitigating risks. As a student, you can learn about cutting-edge strategies that successful companies employ to mitigate supply chain interruptions. The curriculum also examines business continuity planning, cybersecurity, and supply chain resilience, providing students with current supply chain knowledge through deep dives into these topics.
Acquire the core knowledge and practical skills needed to help organizations maneuver through overly complex tax laws in order to promote legal compliance and minimize tax liability.

Culminating Research Project

Students will engage in an original research project that aims to leverage and test existing theories to answer a research question relevant to their field. The project involves the collection of data (primary or secondary), analysis of that data, and interpretation of the results, all documented in a final written product. Students will present their research to a committee that will evaluate on quality, originality, accuracy of research methods and analyses, and insightfulness of conclusions.