Category: EMBA Elite Spotlight Series

Adventures with August

Adventures With AugustBy Donna Blackburn

EMBA alumnus Ed Fields, Class of 2007, and his son August go on a hike in “Adventures With August” and teach us how to reflect on what is important.

As a long-time walker, I can attest to the importance of a sauntering walk, one that allows you to slow down and listen to birds, gentle breezes, the crunch of rocks under your feet, and pops of tree branches. Ed and August’s adventure is a reminder to find a moment to wander in nature.

In returning to the “reopening of the world,” Ed encourages everyone rushing to get busy to pace themselves and remember to “reserve a little time for space and reflection.” His words of wisdom to his son, and us, as well, is to remember others by “helping someone hike, helping someone build, helping someone grow.”

“I took a walk in the woods and came out taller than the trees,” wrote Henry David Thoreau.

When you take a walk in nature, a change occurs. We are strengthened and renewed, seeing more clearly, and walking taller, with our spirit soaring. From quiet moments come big ideas and just maybe an adventure. We all need more adventures with August and Ed.

For more information on the UA EMBA Program and our amazing EMBA alumni and their families who make the world a better place, contact Cheryl Altemara at


Huntingdon College Dedicates the Black Student Union Center in Honor of Wanda A. Howard

For 40 years, the Black Student Union has been a part of campus life at Huntingdon College. This October, the College community will dedicate a new BSU meeting and event space in honor of trustee Wanda A. Howard ’81, who helped to found the BSU and who has mentored countless Huntingdon students and student-athletes and served as a guiding light on the board of trustees for 11 years.

When did you find out about the Naming?

I was informed during a Friday night meeting with President Cameron West in early September.  He stated that a space had been identified to house the new BSU Center.  I was extremely pleased to hear it.  Thereafter, he asked if it could be named after me, which caught me absolutely off guard.  I ultimately agreed after picking myself up off the floor.

What does it mean to me to receive this honor?

It gives me a greater urgency to continue my commitment, responsibility, and accountability to collaboratively effectuate transformational change for racial equality, justice, and inclusion at Huntingdon, The University of Alabama, and our country in general.

As CEO/Principal Consultant for B.O.L.D. Endeavors, LLC, (BOLDnDev), Howard is currently expanding business activities beyond operational consulting and real estate restoration. She is establishing an enterprise that emboldens (inspires, prepares, and equips) this Generation with Truth, godly wisdom, knowledge, life skills, and diverse opportunities to be courageous and daring leaders spiritually, naturally, and financially as they live the abundant life in Christ Jesus.

BOLDnDev comes after a successful career in diverse healthcare arenas from pharmaceutical sales in Brooklyn, NY to business office management in acute care and physician office settings in Alabama and twenty years of high-performance healthcare project management experience, which included directing the software implementation team at a Fortune 15 company; leading complex, enterprise IT projects in the fifth-largest US healthcare system and orchestrating the UAT for the largest US home health and hospice company’s interstate, data center migration of 100+ applications.

What advice would you give to fellow EMBA alumni in serving on a board and paying it forward?

I encourage them to be servant leaders of unwavering integrity who can lead from the front by valuing all people, having a selfless purpose and a deep desire to tangibly improve the lives/conditions of the people they are serving and to equip them to also live a high impact life that pays it forward for generations to come.

For more information on how The University of Alabama EMBAs are making an impact in their companies and communities, visit the UAEMBA website or contact Samantha Vasey at 205.348.0954 or

EMBA Spotlight: Julie Mathis, HEMBA 2020

This month we are spotlighting EMBA Class of 2020 alumna Julie Mathis, Human Resource Business Partner at Pilot Company. Julie shares with us how The University of Alabama EMBA Program prepared her to move into an executive position.

Tell us a bit more about your company, Pilot, and your new role in the company today?

Pilot is a growth company focusing on innovative solutions across our retail, energy, and logistic operations. Our vast network of more than 900 retail and fueling locations provide travelers with convenient stops offering an incredible variety of amenities and products to make road travel easier.

The Pilot Flying J travel center network includes locations in 44 states and six Canadian provinces with more than 630 restaurants and 35 Truck Care service centers. Our One9 Fuel Network connects smaller fleets and professional drivers to the services they need at a variety of fueling locations. We supply more than 11 billion gallons of fuel per year with the third largest tanker fleet in North America. Our sourcing infrastructure, strong market presence, and expertise in energy and logistics optimize the distribution of fuel, DEF, bio, and renewables.

Our fleet also provides critical hauling and disposal services of our nation’s busiest basins. As an HR Business Partner for the Sales Division, I work with the leadership team to drive company initiatives and business strategies. Essentially my role is to make sure we have the right people in the right places.

You began your EMBA Program in the fall of 2018, what was that journey like for you?

Beginning the EMBA Program at orientation, fall 2018.

At first, terrifying. But I quickly learned that there was nothing in my classes that was “over my head.” The challenge was not in understanding new theories and concepts, rather the volume of work and time management. This is a skill you MUST have in corporate America. There were times where things would get dumped on us last minute and when you think about it—that’s the real world.

How has the EMBA Program at UA helped you in your job roles thus far?

My MBA has made me a more well-rounded professional. I chose the MBA program over an HR Masters program because I wanted to understand the whole business. In doing so, I am not just HR, I am a thought partner to Senior Leaders of the organization and help drive company strategy.

Describe a UA EMBA project, assignment, or a particular class takeaway that you considered
invaluable to you and your company.

Simply stated, this is what I learned from Dr. Ron Dulek that I will remember for the rest of my life: Humility will take you a hell of a lot farther than book smarts. Humility is a life journey. Projects will come and go. It’s about how you change the lives of others that really matter most. That, in itself, is a legacy.

Also, Dr. Larry Baldwin’s negotiation class offered me the most practical knowledge that I use every day. We would work through everyday scenarios and learn how to negotiate the desired outcome. This type of knowledge is something that every professional can put to use right away.

What one piece of advice would you give any aspiring female business professional?

The investment in yourself now is truly an investment in your future self. You’re worth it. The advice is the same as I give my kids: stop whining and be the change you want to see in the world.

What advice do you have for others wanting to start an Executive MBA degree program?

Mathis and her fellow UA HEMBA classmates.

I think this is best given as an analogy. It’s like when you were a kid and you would go to the very back of the diving board and then take a running leap into the pool. You’re a little scared, a little excited, and when you get completely submerged into the water you realize, it wasn’t so bad and totally worth it.

For more information on The University of Alabama Executive MBA Program, visit the UAEMBA website or contact Samantha Vasey at 205.348.0954 or

The Power of the UA EMBA Network

Destin Sandlin with contributing writer Cynthia Dempsey (HEMBA 2020)

I wanted to share with everyone the power of The University of Alabama Executive MBA network and what it has done for North Alabama to save lives. I am the Business Manager of Surgery for Decatur Morgan Hospital in Decatur, Alabama.

At the beginning of April, I reached out to my HEMBA 2020 cohort asking for donations consisting of personal protective gear to use in my hospital. I asked the cohort to check within their network to find those who would be willing to donate supplies.

By taking advantage of the vast UA HEMBA network I was connected to Destin Sandlin, a local engineer that offered to print face shields for us through the use of a 3D printer. Much to my surprise, Destin has a YouTube channel with nearly 8 million followers. He made a video calling for everyone in North Alabama with a 3D printer to join us in our efforts to facilitate the fantastic work that our healthcare professionals are performing day inCOVID-19 Face Shield and day out.

Destin acquired local warehousing space and set up operations for the mask bands to be received from the community, sterilized, and then sent to Huntsville Hospital Logistics as a donation. We are expecting to receive thousands of these in the coming weeks which will surely save lives. To be honest, when I reached out and asked for donations, I was expecting a few hundred masks or gloves, certainly not thousands!

Throughout this process, Destin has been meeting with our supply chain team and the Chamber of Commerce. He is now looking to see if he is able to engineer and print culturettes for our lab and protective gear for our anesthesia team. Thanks to the connections within our cohort, our medical staff on the front lines will have proper protective gear. It’s so great to see our community come together to help!

Additionally, our cohort is working to raise money to buy meals for hospital staff at Huntsville Hospital, Madison Hospital, Athens Hospital, and Decatur Morgan. The idea is to help our local restaurants by purchasing the food from them and then to treat healthcare professionals to a warm meal. We are still working on the vast logistics of such an operation and then we will move into a funding phase generously provided by the Huntsville Hospital Foundation. We are also planning on raising funds for our friends in South Korea at Teach North Koreans Refugees (TNKR) once we are through the COVID crisis. Our EMBA class visited companies in Cambodia and South Korea, including TNKR during our EMBA international trip as part of our global business course.

For more information on The University of Alabama’s Executive MBA Program, contact Cheryl Altemara,, or call 205.348.4501.

Article contributed by Cynthia Dempsey (HEMBA 2020), Business Manager of Surgery for Decatur Morgan Hospital

EMBA Spotlight: Chris Overstreet, TEMBA 2018

Chris Overstreet, UA EMBA 2018
UA EMBA 2018 Alumnus Chris Overstreet

We want to start off this blog post by wishing everyone well and hoping that you and your families are staying safe during this trying time. The EMBA staff at UA knows that life has changed unexpectedly with events that have transpired over the last month and a half with the COVID-19 outbreak. Despite this adversity, there is a lot to be said about turning our eyes to the future in expectations of a better tomorrow.

To assist with helping you stay at home and not going completely stir crazy, we recently interviewed Tuscaloosa EMBA Class of 2018 alumnus Chris Overstreet,  Vice President and Director of Client Services for Doster Construction in Birmingham. A strong supporter of the EMBA program, Chris found solace in the rigorous environment at UA. Chris delves into the nuances of the program that enabled him to break out of his shell and emerge with unparalleled business acumen.

Can you provide a general overview of your career path thus far?

I have worked with Doster Construction Company, Inc., a general contractor headquartered in Birmingham, since 2003. We build healthcare, institutional work, higher education, commercial, industrial, and multi-family projects. I am currently the Vice President Director of Client Services for Dostor’s Multifamily Group which concentrates on building apartments, student living, and senior living developments. More specifically, I head up preconstruction which means budgeting and pricing for owners and clients.

What was happening with your career prior to EMBA?

I started in the 2016 EMBA program (TEMBA 33 class). My title at that time was the Director of Preconstruction Services for Doster Construction. I managed six to eight individuals and was in charge of budgeting and pricing multifamily projects. A friend of mine enrolled in another graduate program in 2015 and shared with me some of his experiences and how it was an eye-opener for him.  An M.B.A. has always been something that had interested me. I knew that I didn’t have the business background that I needed. While I was knowledgeable about construction, I was less comfortable when it came to business topics (revenues, profit/loss, etc.), and it started to feel past due. Up to that point, I had very much enjoyed staying within my comfort zone but my friend’s energy was infectious.

Why was The University of Alabama EMBA program a fit for you?

Cheryl Altemara, Assistant Director of EMBA, made it seem that much more welcoming. She was patient and helped talk me through the process. I was also able to sit in on two Saturdays in the Bryant Conference Center. One of the classes I attended was Professor Lonnie Strickland’s strategy course. It really intrigued me! I spoke with other schools and was even accepted at another university as well. The major difference for me was the in-class element. I did not want to enroll in a program and sit behind a screen and not develop a rapport with the other classmates and professors. It was a huge deal to have to be present in class. I am a natural introvert but the preparation for the classes and in-class presentations helped me gain confidence. Plus working on projects and studying with classmates who work in different industries added to my experience while I was in the program. I feel as though I was able to learn a little bit from everyone, regardless of their work discipline, and maybe use that knowledge in my own life.

Can you describe a UA EMBA project or assignment or a particular class that you considered pivotal to changing your professional readiness?

My classes had more of an impact on how I think. There are some examples that come to mind. Definitely statistics with Dr. Gray. His class helped me look at data more objectively. Also, the accounting class with Dr. Taylor gave me a lot more confidence regarding the basics of accounting and the fundamentals of financial statements. I can now look at a potential business partner and see how prepared they are to do business with me. Finally, there was Dr. Dulek’s communication class. We learned how to effectively communicate with people which is just as important as the technical skills we learned in some of the other classes.

What’s it like after graduation? As an alumnus of UA EMBA, what opportunities keep you connected to the program, college, classmates and alumni network?

I still try to stay in touch on social media and with Cheryl Altemara. I attend recruiting events because I believe in the program, degree, and what UA is doing. I have also been to our EMBA Alumni Network events: A-Day, annual tailgate, the socials, and the Family Day Barons game. I stay in touch with people from class with texts, phone calls, dinners, etc. Some of my classmates have moved on to other cities, but we still stay in touch. There is a great network of people from both a business and a personal perspective.

What advice would you give others who are considering whether or not pursuing a graduate degree is the right decision?

Don’t be afraid to do it. To be honest it is not an easy program especially for those with both families and full-time jobs. You have to view it as an investment and the decision to enroll needs to consider both family and work obligations. However, I guarantee it will dramatically alter one’s perspective on life. You will do things you didn’t think were possible time-management wise. I still don’t know how I did it with all the class deadlines, full-time job, work travel, family, etc. I would recommend it to anyone. Don’t be afraid to try it and don’t be afraid if you’re someone who’s older. I started the program at the age of 43 and one of the biggest adjustments for me was going back after being out of school for 19 years. Yet, I was able to get into it very quickly and there were people that helped me including my fantastic team members.

For more information on The University of Alabama Executive MBA Program, visit the UAEMBA website or contact Cheryl Altemara at 205.348.4501 or

Article written by Ben Tarkoff, Graduate Assistant in the Executive MBA Program

Spotlight: Hayley Ray Hallmark and Her Life After EMBA

UA EMBA Alumnus
Hayley Ray Hallmark

There is no time like the present! It can often be difficult to choose between continuing one’s higher education and working as an industry professional. Fortunately, in this case, all or nothing is not in the EMBA’s vocabulary. We hope to provide an experience that is both inclusive and flexible for all of our students.

This week we are spotlighting an alumnus who has traveled far and wide after her EMBA experience. Beginning with performances at the happiest place on Earth and culminating in her present position as a Workday software consultant with Collaborative Solutions, Hayley Ray Hallmark (TEMBA 2017) has certainly turned balancing responsibilities into a lifestyle. Let’s wave our wands and explore how Hayley has met with so much success in her time after pursuing an MBA.

Can you give a brief overview of your work experience so far?

Sure – I will say it has been interesting! After I graduated, I became a parade/show performer and trainer for Walt Disney World. I am still a seasonal performer there now! Then I became a recruiter in different capacities for The University of Alabama (including EMBA!) for five years, while I was enrolled in the Tuscaloosa EMBA cohort. I am now a Workday software consultant with Collaborative Solutions, and I absolutely love it.

You worked in higher education and have recently transitioned to an IT company. What was that transition like?

Although the recruiter’s life was fast-paced, being a lead on a software implementation project is entirely different. I had to pass a couple of Workday certifications which were definitely difficult before I could get started on a project. With the quantitative and methodical thinking that I had developed while in the program and a lot of hard work, I aced the exams. I create branded presentations, configure the Workday software, lead workstream meetings, and present a lot. Coming from an extremely unique background (an imaginative and engaging software consultant) I see things in a different light than most, but I have found that that’s what makes me offer distinctive solutions to problems.

UA EMBA graduates
TEMBA 2017 graduates Katie Askew and Hayley Hallmark

With an undergraduate degree not in business, what challenges did you face and how did you overcome them?

Oh man – it was tough! I had never taken accounting or finance, and the one statistics class that I took in college was one of those where I never wanted to see or discuss standard deviations again. It was also difficult to have a full-time job where I traveled often and be a full-time student every other weekend. Something I really appreciated was that my team members (Shout out to the Five Forces!) and really any of my classmates would take time to work with me when I was struggling. When a professor would be explaining something and I just could not get what they were saying, I remember Doug from our class would say to me, “Hayley, think of it like this…” and he would present it in an alternate way. All of our minds work differently and sometimes all it takes is to look at it from a different perspective. As a class, we all pitched in where we could with our strengths. Presenting is my jam – so I helped others with their presentation style.

My team had a weekly meeting where we would discuss who was doing what for our team projects. We also would talk about what was due for the upcoming week and what we needed to start working on now for the future. After class on Friday, several of us would get together to go over material for the next class. Teamwork makes the dream work!

How has the EMBA program at UA helped you in your job roles thus far?

EMBA has “rewired” my brain to think in an entirely different way. With Statistics and our OM (Excel) class, I’m able to use data to support my decision-making process. When I was an EMBA student, I was able to convince my boss to allow me to overhaul our grant-awarding system of $430,000 in order to fund 20 more students.  Now when I write emails or briefs, I think of Dr. Dulek’s strategic communications class. How should I deliver this news? It also made me more aware of the way that I connect with others – and that at times I need to change my delivery. Dr. King’s Leadership & Ethics class broke my perception of what motivates others and our discussions on identifying and analyzing our audiences have aided me so much when it comes to software consulting.

Do you have any tips or advice for prospective students looking at EMBA programs?

There is never going to be the perfect or ideal time to do an EMBA program. Work, family, health, and life, in general, can all be worthy excuses to not enroll, but those 17 or 21 months are going to blaze by. My family, friends, and coworkers were hesitant about me doing the program – especially because I had to have ACL surgery in the first semester. But if you ever wanted to advance to that next level, or change industries, or just go on a completely different path than the one you’re on, I’d recommend an EMBA. It didn’t apply to me at the time I was a student, but it has assisted me in finding a flexible job as a military spouse. You get out of it what you put into it – but for me, it was one of the best decisions I’ve made in my life.

Any other thoughts or comments?

UA EMBA International Trip
EMBA Assistant Director Cheryl Altemara and Hayley on EMBA Trip to South Africa

I’m so thankful for all of the fascinating people that I have met through the EMBA program- while I was a student, a recruiter, and now as an alumna. From racing down the streets on the back of motorbikes in Vietnam as a student on our international trip, or doing a safari as an EMBA alumna in South Africa, to cheering at Alabama football games, to celebrating my friends reaching the goals that they told me about when they joined the program, the EMBA has added so much color to my life. I miss everyone so much, but I know that they are only one phone call or alumni event away. You should do an EMBA program for the experience and knowledge that you get out of it. However, it’s with my EMBA family that although we move often (every year with the army recently!), I feel like I always have a home.

For more information on The University of Alabama’s Executive MBA Program, contact Cheryl Altemara,, or call 205.348.4501.

Article written by Ben Tarkoff, Graduate Assistant in the Executive MBA Program


EMBAAN Honors Kent Darzi as Alumnus of the Year

Kent Darzi, ADTRANKent Darzi, vice president of quality at ADTRAN and EMBA Class of 2010 graduate, was named this year’s EMBA Alumnus of the Year at the EMBA Alumni Network (EMBAAN) Conference on October 4. In an interview after winning the award, Darzi talked about the various nuances of the EMBA Program that enabled him to be successful and why he continues to stay involved in EMBAAN and work with undergraduate and graduate students at UA.

From 2013-2015 Darzi served on the EMBAAN Board and was the first EMBAAN president, where he ensured that alumni could continue forging the legacy they had started in their pursuit of an M.B.A. in the form of various networking and alumni events. Darzi has been an active promoter of the EMBA and STEM programs, and the Culverhouse College of Business. He sponsors EMBA students, hosts opportunities to promote the EMBA program to ADTRAN employees, and recently worked with UA STEM students on a senior design project using artificial intelligence (AI) to advance ADTRAN solutions.

Darzi joined ADTRAN in 1995 and has been advancing within the company ever since, culminating in his current position as vice president, quality.

Kent Darzi, EMBAAN Alumnus of the Year 2019
Kent Darzi (L) accepts EMBAAN Alumnus of the Year award from 2019 EMBAAN President Russ Chambliss

How has the EMBA Program had an impact on your career?

I thoroughly enjoyed my time as a design engineer at ADTRAN and have always looked for ways to bridge both our technical and business needs. At ADTRAN, we are leading high-speed telecom solutions that are both best in class as well as expand our business presence. Right after completing my M.B.A. at The University of Alabama, I was asked to be part of the team that worked on one of our company’s largest acquisitions: integrating the R&D teams from Nokia Siemens Networks into the ADTRAN family.

Everything we learned in the EMBA Program was always practical. What I learned in class on the weekend, I was able to put it into practice on the following Monday. I know you hear this from a lot of different EMBA programs, but I could see it, especially in the UA program. To have colleagues compliment you on how you increase business by what you are learning in the UA EMBA Program is incredibly satisfying.  

What challenges did you face when deciding to enroll in an EMBA Program?

One of the hardest parts of the EMBA Program is committing yourself to enroll. Once you make that decision, you realize that balancing your school, home, and work schedules are possible. Once I decided to pursue my M.B.A., I never had second thoughts.

What drove you to become the EMBA Alumni Network President, and what does it mean to you?

The class before mine wanted to launch an alumni network, and when I was approached to help create and lead this effort, I thought this was an excellent way to keep connected with my UA professors, students, and peers. EMBA’s are a select group of industry leaders and professionals. The EMBA Alumni Network was an opportunity to continue to interact with former students and leaders across various industries. I was humbled and honored to become the first president and help solve some of the unique challenges of developing our network.

What do you envision for the future of the EMBA Program?

The program continues to expand and adapt to the fast-paced changes that impact all our respective industries. For example, within the financial and technology sectors, we are looking at how data analytics and artificial intelligence will become significant influencers over the next few years. I was so pleased to see that Alabama held its 2019 Business Analytics Symposium with hundreds of students, EMBA alumni, and faculty talking with leaders from companies like Intel, Disney, and ESPN, about the challenges of these business-changing technologies.

Additionally, I am proud that the EMBA Alumni Network holds to our goal of wanting to keep our alumni current on the latest ideas in business and technologies. For example, Tom Edwards, a technology futurist, shared his vision of industry changes during our October 2019 EMBAAN Annual Conference. Many futurists cannot always provide a clear picture when it comes to an understanding of what’s next. Tom was able to show in the next three years how much-augmented reality and AI will become a critical business catalyst. 

What would you say to those considering enrolling in an EMBA Program?

The UA EMBA experience was one of the best things I have done for my career and my pursuit of lifetime learning. I was able to meet and interact with top executives from across the country in our classroom and online settings. Plus, I was able to gain incredible knowledge, professional networks, and personal friends, and it all started because of the UA EMBA Program. 

For more information on The University of Alabama’s Executive MBA Program, contact Cheryl Altemara,, or call 205.348.4501.

Article written by Ben Tarkoff, Graduate Assistant in the Executive MBA Program

EMBA Alumna Uses Podcast To Explore Contemporary Issues

Mary Scott Hunter, UA EMBA graduateAre you looking to stay ahead of the curve? Look no further than a podcast started by EMBA alumna Mary Scott Hunter, a TEMBA 2017 graduate, and a lawyer working in house with Intuitive Research and Technology Corporation. With extensive experience in the legal world, serving ten years as an Air Force attorney, and a penchant for exploring contemporary issues in hopes of finding solutions, Hunter uses Belle Curve as a platform to spread her insights to others.

With her co-hosts Rachel Bryars and Liz BeShears, Hunter works to educate her audience. They use a variety of experts, sourced resources, and friendly banter on everything from the science behind football fandom to the #MeToo movement. For a behind the scenes look at Belle Curve, we asked Ms. Hunter about her experience with the podcast and in particular, how she leverages her M.B.A. to create an experience for her viewers.

How has the EMBA program had an impact on your work? Have you been able to incorporate what you learned in the program into creating the podcast?

The impact has been significant. It has given me the confidence to spread my wings as a lawyer at Intuitive and in my side hustles.  In addition to my podcast, I started a real estate investment company with Vickie Gesellschap (2010 HEMBA graduate).  We just closed on our first property. My husband is an entrepreneur and owns his own business, Resolution LLC.  I find that I put the knowledge I gained to work every single day for Intuitive and definitely in my side businesses. I had Dr. Mothersbaugh for marketing, and I pull my notes, and his lecture slides out all the time.  I did my SWOT before I started the podcast, so I knew what I was getting in to.

What is your most important takeaway from the podcast?

I went into the podcast, knowing it was both a passion project and a business. To that end, my partners and I went on a retreat and determined what were our mission statement and values. A decently produced podcast can make enough money to cover expenses but won’t generally make enough to really profit. But, it can be a backdrop for other projects. Staying in a creative vein is important to me. As with any business, make sure to do your mission, purpose, vision, and values and approach podcasting with discipline. The most important part is knowing your audience, and their interest. Knowing where both your interests and your audience’s interests synergize is where you create your best show.

UA EMBA Teammates
Hunter (far right) with her UA EMBA Team Fidelity Five teammates.

How do you balance your podcast and your current job?

The EMBA Program was really good for that because I was forced to work on a team! I’ve always disliked and even hated working in teams. I suppose I am a typical Gen Xer that way. However, I loved my team members.  We called ourselves Team Fidelity Five, and I am still in touch with all my teammates to this day.  I learned from that experience that you need partners to do big things. For my podcast, for instance, Rachel Bryars handles production, and Liz Beshears works on the social media aspects of the podcast. Everyone struggles with work-life balance, so you have to spread out responsibilities. 

What has been your most challenging moment producing the podcast so far?

High-quality production, email marketing, social media, and the general pressures of producing a show every week, are all challenging. The most challenging piece has been finding out who’s doing what and showing grace when you realize everyone has other responsibilities. You can’t get angry with each other because it shows on the podcast. You have to hold everyone to deadlines and be accountable while also being flexible. 

Additionally, I remember one tough podcast. In the EMBA Program, we did an activity called “eat the frog” or do the hardest thing first, so early on, we did a show tackling the #MeToo movement. There were no easy answers, and it was divisive enough to roll the second show back a week because the team felt unsteady about it.

On a side note, while interviewing Hunter, I was encouraged to look at one of her shows, which discusses the psychology behind why we enjoy football so much. Many in Alabama (excluding Auburn) would say it’s because they know that whenever the Tide rolls, the scoreboard generally rolls with it. However, during the interview with Dr. Matthew Goldenberg, a picture quickly emerges that might startle most. Are human beings hard-wired to enjoy the sport of football? To hear more of the podcast along with other topics, check out Belle Curve!

For more information on The University of Alabama’s Executive MBA Program, contact Cheryl Altemara,, or call 205.348.4501.

Article written by Ben Tarkoff, Graduate Assistant in the Executive MBA Program.

Traditions of Excellence

By Laci Williams

Students who have earned their MBA degrees from The University of Alabama’s Executive MBA program have a history of establishing themselves as industry leaders in the corporations and businesses they serve. Tommy Walker, Tuscaloosa EMBA (TEMBA) 2016 graduate, is a prime example of putting his MBA to immediate use and exploring one’s place in the entrepreneurship realm.

TEMBA 2016 graduate, Tommy Walker

In a very short conversation with Walker I was able to see his vision. I learned a lot about his experience in the EMBA program and how it shaped the creation of S(w)ervice, an on-demand automotive maintenance service for automotive repair shops. As an entrepreneur, businessman, and a two-time graduate of The University of Alabama, he has put his own, unique spin on the automotive maintenance industry and continues to add to the list of all of the amazing things UA EMBA alumni are involved in, professionally and personally.

S(w)ervice is a one-stop system designed with auto maintenance in mind. With scheduling, a convenient mobile app, and valet vehicle services, S(w)ervice aims to increase the overall productivity and efficiency of auto shops, while also directly making the experience for the consumer better. Ultimately, this app is not only beneficial for the automotive maintenance shops, but also for the customers who frequent those shops for all of their auto care needs. A goal for S(w)ervice is to help traditional auto shops move away from traditional marketing and provide customers with a digital, technological solution to their problems. According to Walker, S(w)ervice provides consumers with, “accessibility right at your fingertips.” Walker and his partner plan to expand their service and scale of the application so that it can be used by larger dealerships and national enterprise retailers.

S(w)ervice Team (Left to Right): Warren Wills and Tommy Walker

You might be wondering where the idea for S(w)ervice came from; it turns out auto maintenance is in Walker’s blood. Walker and his family have three independent auto service locations. Walker has both mechanical and managerial experience within his family’s shops, so if anyone knows the ins and outs of the automotive maintenance industry, it’s him! Walker also has some post-undergraduate experience working with Goodyear in their headquarters.

Tommy is an extremely active member of the National Black MBA Association (NBMBAA) and is a member of the Charlotte, NC chapter of NBMBAA. His involvement in this organization has been very valuable to not only Walker’s development as a professional, but also as his company begins the process of establishing S(w)ervice. Tommy and his partner have also participated in the NBMBAA Scale-up Pitch competition, encouraging members of National Black chapters across the nation to create startups that are scalable. Tommy and his partner have had tremendous success with participating in and gaining investments and advice from professionals around the nation. The very first competition that Walker participated in was the Rise of the Rest National Competition in Birmingham, AL in May 2018, where S(w)ervice competed as a finalist. Most recently, S(w)ervice was accepted into the Velocity Accelerator cohort for 2019 and was able to secure at $50,000 investment!

Wills and Walker presenting at the 2018 Rise of the Rest National Competition, Birmingham, AL

Overall, the EMBA program was very influential to Walker and his experience as an entrepreneur. Having classes in the program that taught practical skills, Walker was able to transform the knowledge he gained in the classroom into immediate action with his own business. In addition to courses, an international trip, outside speakers, and diverse, high-achieving classmates, Walker was able to have many different experiences and learning opportunities. Congratulations Tommy and we look forward to seeing where S(w)ervice takes you!

For more information on the UA EMBA Program, contact Cheryl Altemara at or call 205.348.4501. To request information now, click here. 

Setting the Bar – Ben Paulk Receives First EMBA Alumnus of the Year Award

Benjamin Paulk (TEMBA 2012) received the first EMBA Alumnus of the Year award from The University of Alabama Executive MBA Alumni Network at the annual conference on October 5.  He is a Senior Product Manager at BBVA Compass Bank. He is responsible for supporting strategic direction and execution of business plans focused on the evolution and delivery of Commercial Card products.

Ben served in several positions on the EMBA Alumni Network Board from 2013-2016. During his tenure as President of the board (2015-2016), he championed the family day event at Regions Field in Birmingham, pushed for more alumni events, and promoted the EMBA Alumni on-line store, where alumni can purchase branded apparel while supporting the program.

Paulk receives Alumnus Award from Russ Shamburger, EMBA Alumni Network Past President (2017-2018).

The award recognizes graduates of the UA EMBA Program who have had, or continue to have, a significant impact on the program. In selecting the recipient, the EMBA Alumni Network Board consider overall contribution and promotion of the EMBA Program, efforts to help other EMBA alumni, the longevity of engagement and involvement in enhancing the program experience for students and faculty.
We were fortunate to have an interview with Mr. Paulk and chat with him about his experiences in the EMBA Alumni Network and his new award.

Some people get overwhelmed with performing the duties of their jobs and having families. What piece of advice would you give someone who is wanting to get more involved with the EMBA Alumni Network but doesn’t think they have the time?

I understand the constant demands that we all have on our time. And I know that everyone who has been through the program is capable of managing competing and worthwhile priorities. For me personally, I like to think of where I can have the most significant impact with my time, and I cannot think of a more worthwhile endeavor than promoting this program. The EMBA Program literally changes people’s lives. It’s not only transformative regarding people’s careers, but I have talked to many alumni who share my sentiment, that it has changed the way they view the world.
Another thing to note is that there are multiple ways to be involved. If you cannot serve on the board, you can share ideas with the board. They are always looking for ways to strengthen the network. You could mentor a current student to help them through the transition process, helping them to remain in the program. You could also give to the Brian Rankin scholarship fund, which will help a student struggling with the financial decision to enroll. In place of those options, simply attending an event during the year helps us to generate excitement and promote the program, while networking with classmates and other alumni. If nothing else, place some promotional material on your desk. I have had countless conversations about the program because I keep a copy of the latest view book on my desk. 

What are some hopes that you have for the future of the EMBA program?

I envision the EMBA Program growing over the coming years with the highest caliber students. I believe the faculty and staff have created a world-class program that creates meaningful value for students. I think we also have a unique opportunity in the future to leverage the substantial growth of the University and the Culverhouse College of Business. All of this should create a robust and active alumni network, where we add value to the program by creating networking opportunities, recruiting the best students, and providing career enhancement opportunities. All of this generates a virtuous cycle where the alumni network enhances the program, and the program builds up the alumni network.     

Were you surprised about receiving the award?

This was a humbling experience. Beyond being the first recipient and not knowing about the award, when I think of all of the accomplished alumni that I have met and heard of, I count myself lucky just to have been part of the program and this group. It was a complete shock.

What motivates you to be so active in the program?

I believe in the power of education to change lives. When I think about the arc of my life, which really begins with my parents and now extends to my children, I clearly see the impact of education. This program has helped me in my career, and the effects on my livelihood cannot be overstated. However, it has helped me think about the way I see the world in a whole new light. I had experiences that changed me in a profound way. I have met so many wonderful people through the program that have helped me develop, professionally and personally. When you experience something like that, how could you not want to share it? What motivates me, is that I know other lives are waiting to be changed.  

What brought you to the program?

Initially, it was a degree that I felt I needed to advance in my career. As I looked at job postings, I saw MBA preferred listed on most of the positions I was interested in. I have talked to others who enter the program for the credential, while others really need to fill a gap in their formal education. When I began the program, I was surprised to see people with medical or law backgrounds, and entrepreneurs that need particular skill sets to run their business. But I have found that no matter why someone enters the program, invariable they feel it was worth it in the end. In fact, I have never met anyone who has completed the program that regrets it.  

What does this award mean to you?

When I received the award, I thought about all of the wonderful people I have met and worked with since graduating. I cannot say enough about all of the hard work that Dr. Gray, Donna, Cheryl, Hayley, and Linda have put into making this program what it is. I have also worked with great professionals on the Alumni Network Board who have created something meaningful out of ideas. I have also had the opportunity to see recruits enter the program, graduate, and become involved in the alumni network. I just feel grateful to be a small part in all of this.

What is one of your greatest highlights while in the program and participating in the Alumni Network?

While I had many great and unforgettable experiences in the classroom and on the international trip, the thing that sticks out most in my mind are the indelible relationships that I have formed. One of my classmates is a very close friend. I have gotten to know so many people, and we are watching each other’s lives unfold, and children grow up. We see each other’s careers advance and celebrate each other’s successes. That’s not something I had set out to do in the program but is a natural consequence of being involved.

Where do you see yourself in the future and how will you utilize your MBA to get there?

The MBA has helped me in my career in a myriad of ways, but the most visible are the advancements, promotions, and opportunities it has opened up for me. I don’t know precisely what I will be doing  5-10 years from now. But I recall on the day of orientation, we were asked to write down professional and personal goals. I have achieved most of them, but I am not finished yet. This program has given me the tools and skills needed to attempt and pursue greater ones.

Article written by Laci Williams, Graduate Assistant in the Executive MBA Program.

For more information on the UA EMBA Program, contact Cheryl Altemara at or call 205.348.4501. To request information now, click here.