Executive Master of Business Administration
"Online classes in the EMBA program connect my technical experience with real-world, real-time business skills and knowledge by drawing on the experience and teachings of the graduate program’s instructors. An online degree does not restrict contact to class times or specific office hours. Instead, it allows me to prioritize my time, work class assignments around my job schedule, and communicate with instructors at my convenience."
Brett Littlejohn’s job requires him to “chase the sun,” working with customers and vendors stretching from the Atlantic to the Pacific. Enrollment in the Executive Master of Business Administration degree program at the University of Arkansas gives him the background education and confidence to try new things, to merge the worlds of technical and manufacturing with business.
“It’s almost like the Rosetta Stone for me,” Littlejohn said. “It allows me to translate technical stuff into a business language that my employer and business stakeholders can understand. I needed the flexibility [of online learning] for job function. Mine isn’t a standard 9-to-5 job. Some weeks there’s traveling and other weeks very heavy with work. I never know when I’m going to have time to spend on the schoolwork. The flexibility [of online learning] provides that, as well as some of the networking, which is really an important piece. A lot of places offer online degrees, but to network with people in Northwest Arkansas, which is not a place that I’m from, was a real advantage to me.”
Littlejohn, 42, of Bentonville, has worked in various states in a number of industries, mostly related to food companies. He is currently employed in the dairy science industry in Northwest Arkansas, primarily in research, development and manufacturing.
“My background is entirely technical,” he said. “By training, I’m best described as a chemist or process engineer. That’s all well and good, but it’s not how the world really works. We need both sides, the business and the technical. So, the further I got into my career, the more I started finding gaps in general business education. I’m trying to pick up an EMBA to close those gaps.”
Online classes in the EMBA program connect Littlejohn’s technical experience with real-world, real-time business skills and knowledge by drawing on the experience and teachings of the graduate program’s instructors. An online degree does not restrict contact to class times or specific office hours. Instead, it allows Littlejohn to prioritize his time, work class assignments around his job schedule, and communicate with instructors at his convenience, he said.
“The nice thing is that you know what your assignments are so you can work ahead a little bit if you need to,” he said. “The instructors are as understanding as I would expect them to be. They’re not giving any extra permissions or anything like that, but they understand that it’s work that needs to be done and are accessible. Whether I sent an email at 3 in the morning or 12 o’clock at night, I get an answer within 24 hours, which allows me to keep it moving.”
Littlejohn found valuable help in the tutoring services offered by the university, he said.
“This was my first experience with the finance class,” he said. “The math was not the problem, but understanding where finance fits into the overall business world was a huge source of confusion for me. I met with the tutor weekly just to understand what a finance department or a finance professional does. It was hugely instrumental in my coursework.”
When taking online courses, time management is critical to a student’s success, especially when a course is difficult or frustrating, Littlejohn said.
“You need to have the persistence to stick with it,” he said. “It always comes down to how much time you’ve got to spend on it. It’s all pretty regimented, like you do this the first semester, you do that the second semester. The instructors will do their part. It’s up to you to do yours and put in the time, put in the hard work and actually learn. Nobody’s going to do it for you.”
Littlejohn was one of 25 people to receive the W.E. Manning Memorial Scholarship for online U of A students for the 2021-2022 academic year.
“I saw a lot of myself in W.E. Manning in, specifically, the way he enjoyed working with other people, but it was more than that,” Littlejohn said. “It was the people-centric approach and how he always made time for students, which is something that I really respect in an educator. As far as the impact of the scholarship, it’s huge. I don’t work for a company that will pay for my education, so I have to pay for it out of my own pocket. I was planning on trying to pick up extra jobs just to cover the cost of tuition. So, it’ll defray some of that.”
In addition to the Manning Scholarship, Littlejohn has applied for other forms of financial aid to help him pay for his graduate education, including student loans, he said.
“[The loan process is] better than it used to be,” Littlejohn said. “Being older, I’ve been around when the FAFSAs were paper and that was not a lot of fun. Now, it’s super-easy. There’s even an online application, there’s an app, and then the folks at the Financial Aid Office at the University of Arkansas were absolutely amazing. They helped me understand where things were and what I need to do to keep me on track.”