DBA Faculty Director Spotlight: Dr. Jeanette Miller

Spotlight on Penn State Smeal Executive DBA faculty director Jeanette Miller

Dr. Jeanette Miller, Smeal Executive DBA Faculty Director, Director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation & Entrepreneurship, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship.

Some of the best and brightest minds in business call Smeal their professional home. Our faculty's contributions to teaching and research are heard around the world. And their commitment to partnering with our students is seen, heard, and experienced in our classrooms and beyond. 

Here, we introduce you to Dr. Jeanette Miller, Smeal Executive DBA Faculty Director, Director of the Farrell Center for Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship, and Assistant Clinical Professor of Entrepreneurship 

How has your background and experience in academic prepared you for being the Penn State Smeal Executive DBA faculty director? 

First and foremost, the most relevant experience I have for this role is that I earned my DBA degree in 2012. My deep international experience in economic development and emerging markets, particularly in central and southeast Europe, led me to pursue a DBA after observing that the majority of my peers in executive-level positions held a title of “Dr.”  

When I chose the DBA program, I had no idea how profoundly it would change my life –personally, professionally, and academically. During my dissertation phase, I challenged an existing theory and published on the change of that theory. This accomplishment was something I did not believe I was capable of when I first entered the program.

Even after completing my DBA, I continued to engage in diverse work such as international and domestic consulting while continuing to conduct research and publish. I have authored dozens of articles for conferences, five peer-reviewed publications, and a recent teaching case study. Although research and publishing were not my primary goals, they have become important parts of who I am, both academically and personally.

Teaching was a realm I had never envisioned for myself until a friend recommended me for an adjunct position at a liberal arts university in Atlanta. After teaching corporate finance for two semesters, I discovered an unexpected love for imparting knowledge and giving back through teaching. I was able to balance teaching with my consulting work, and I eventually embraced a full-time teaching position, with a strong inclination toward entrepreneurship, an area I am truly passionate about due to my own ventures.

Two years later, an exciting opportunity arose at Penn State that offered an enormous opportunity. When I joined Penn State, I was appointed as the director of the Corporate Innovation and Entrepreneurship major, which I perceived as a “startup” and grew the major from 40 students to over 200 students. Starting this July, I will be passing this role onto someone else, as I transition my focus to the DBA.

Now, as I embark on my role as the executive DBA faculty director, I bring with me a deep-rooted passion for the DBA program and a strong belief in its personal impact. I view it as another startup endeavor, which is where my skills land most appropriately within the academic environment.

How would you describe your role as the faculty director of the program? 

As the Executive DBA Faculty Director at Smeal, my role encompasses various aspects, including coordinating with faculty to ensure program alignment with Penn State's requirements and delivering outstanding academic value to the students. I serve as the students' academic adviser throughout their three-year journey, ensuring their learning objectives are met. Moreover, as the students engage in research for their culminating research project, I provide academic oversight, supporting them in finding committee members who can contribute to their research and guiding them toward completion.

What advice would you give someone considering pursuing an executive DBA degree? And how can they best prepare themselves for success in the program?

I think conducting thorough research on available DBA programs is crucial. In the past 15 years, executive DBA programs have become more prevalent in the United States. The Executive DBA Council, also referred to as EDBAC, serves as a valuable resource. Exploring their website can provide insights into various programs' characteristics, such as program length, cost, and academic rigor. Understanding the differences and nuances between programs tailored for early-career or later-career individuals, as well as those with different research expertise, is important when looking into DBA programs.

I would also suggest that candidates ask several questions about the program, including what the process is for selecting a research committee. Here at Smeal, one of our unique strengths is that we proactively match candidates with potential advisers even before their acceptance into the program. This approach ensures that students are paired with advisers who share similar research interests. While candidates' research interests may evolve, we will make every effort to connect them with an appropriate faculty member so that they get the most out of their research journey. That is one of the biggest advantages we have at Penn State due to our depth of research.

Another piece of advice I would suggest is to make sure you know why you’re pursuing the program. I’ve actually published research on the motivations of DBA candidates. In that research, we found that most candidates are pursuing for intrinsic reasons such as the desire to acquire knowledge and not necessarily for financial gains.

Candidates should be open to seeing where a DBA can take them intellectually. The program offers an opportunity to explore and solve complex problems, not only within one's own career but to industries or areas of personal interests. This intersection of academic research and practical experience can be incredibly powerful, benefitting individuals, organizations, and society at large.

In terms of preparedness, it is vital to be proactive and gather information from various sources. Engaging with academic literature and reading recommended books like "Engaged Scholarship" can provide a foundation for bridging the gap between academia and practice. Seeking advice and insights from individuals who have gone through an executive DBA program can also be immensely valuable. Listening to podcasts or watching videos on the academic side of the field can help familiarize oneself with the unique language and ways of thinking associated with doctoral-level research.

Lastly, I would say to embrace the journey and have fun. We are creating something special with this program that is world class, and we have an incredible group of scholars supporting it.

Can you describe your research approach and research interests? 

When it comes to my research approach, I would describe myself as opportunistic. I seize opportunities that arise when I come across a problem – or a solution – that I believe holds broader applicability. I am passionate about social entrepreneurship and the impact that social enterprises can have beyond their respective industries or organizations. I currently sit on the board of an impact investing fund and strongly advocate for impact investing in sustainability. These are the areas where I intend to focus my future research and publications.

What was the most helpful advice you've received from a professor or manager that still holds true?

The piece of advice I would like to share I received from my mom. As an entrepreneur, I have had a number of my own ventures, and there was one that went sideways due to corruption in a challenging part of the world. As I was bemoaning the fact that the venture was failing, my mother told me, "If you have never failed, that means you have never tried." That resonates deeply with me, especially in the world of entrepreneurship, as a message to keep moving forward.

Tell us an interesting fact about yourself or your interests outside of teaching. 

Outside of teaching, I love to travel and have traveled extensively, including living overseas for a total of 17 years. Another fun fact that most of my friends know about me is I used to own a winery. There’s nothing quite like wine and food to reveal a lot about a culture, and also to bring people together!

View Jeanette's Smeal Directory profile