Celebrate the Milestones: Master of Business Administration Program 50th Anniversary

The year 1970 was an eventful one at Gannon College. Successful basketball coach John “Denny” Bayer resigned abruptly, and the Hammermill Center – then called the Gannon Auditorium – hosted raucous concerts by Three Dog Night and Steppenwolf, and student protests against the Vietnam War roiled the campus. It was an unusual time, to say the least, to launch Gannon's Master of Business Administration program. 

Little noticed at the time, the MBA program launch didn’t even crack the pages of the newspaper. Yet in the half century since, nearly 1,500 Gannon MBA graduates have made news as entrepreneurs, visionaries and leaders of corporations, financial institutions, organizations and governmental units in positions of all levels. More than 60 have earned advanced degrees including doctorates from institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, Stanford University and the University of Michigan. Nearly 50 Gannon MBA graduates teach at colleges and universities nationwide. 

Much has changed since 1970 in the way that businesses are managed, staffed and operated, and the Gannon MBA program – the region’s first – has responded at every turn. 

Michael Messina

Michael Messina, Ph.D., professor of marketing and graduate business studies, has taught at Gannon since 1982.

The program was a success from the beginning.  “Because of the pent-up demand, we had 300 students almost immediately,” said David Frew, Ph.D., who was director of the MBA program for its first 10 years. Fueled by the creation of regional MBA cohorts in 1980, the program grew to serve nearly 500 students at its peak enrollment.

“For many international students, getting a U.S. master’s education was a dream, and we are helping make that dream come true. These students are truly grateful to be at Gannon University, learning from our faculty and experiencing life in Erie, Pa.” – Celene Kalivoda, DBA, ’11MBA

“This was just an unbelievable thing,” Frew said. “We had a bigger MBA program than anybody in the surrounding areas. We were just growing so fast.” 

Innovative new programs contributed to the growth. The increasing economic importance of the nonprofit and government sectors led Gannon to become the first university in the region to introduce a Master of Public Administration program in 1981. The use of personal computers in all aspects of business operations led to the creation of a pioneering computer-intensive MBA curriculum in 1998. Two years later, the Gannon MBA program became the first in the region to receive national accreditation from the Accreditation Council for Business Schools and Programs. In 2009, an accelerated one-year MBA program was added, followed by an online MBA first offered in 2011. 

In the decade that followed, the MBA program and the Dahlkemper School of Business joined Gannon’s Erie Technology Incubator and Small Business Development Center in the new Center for Business Ingenuity. This laboratory for the future of business and entrepreneurship is located in the heart of Erie’s central business district and simulates a corporate headquarters. In atmosphere and technological infrastructure, CBI makes a startling contrast with the Beyer Hall of the 1970s, where many of the first MBA classes met. 

Archived photo of Robert Wallace PhD pointing to an equation on a chalkboard.

Robert Wallace, Ph.D., taught in Gannon’s business administration program for 45 years.

The curriculum, too, would be unrecognizable to the first cohort of Gannon MBA students and shows a far-seeing commitment to meeting the needs of our global economy. 

The latest innovation – introduced in 2019 – is the MBA in Business Analytics program, a collaborative effort between the Dahlkemper School of Business and the Department of Computer and Information Science.   

Students work collaboratively in consulting-like projects to create business plans, present Gantt charts, conduct research and recommend branding strategies. Using advanced tools such as GIS mapping and data visualization, they present analytic summaries to regional organizations from tech startups to legacy health care and social service providers. 

Duane Prokop, Ph.D., a professor in the Dahlkemper School of Business since 1981, seated with a student.

Duane Prokop, Ph.D., a professor in the Dahlkemper School of Business since 1981, seated with a student.

“Our students are experiencing how data impacts their lives both personally and professionally, and the program’s content positions them to be effective, entrepreneurial thought leaders who can immediately add value to any organization,” said Karinna Vernaza, Ph.D., dean of the College of Engineering and Business.

In recent years, the MBA program has seen the most diverse student group in the program’s 50-year history.  
“For many international students, getting a U.S. master's education was a dream, and we are helping make that dream come true. These students are truly grateful to be at Gannon University, learning from our faculty and experiencing life in Erie, Pa.,” said Celene Kalivoda, DBA, ’11MBA, director of the MBA program. 

Yet, while much has changed in the business arena in the last 50 years, the energy and optimism of MBA students has been a constant. 

“The accomplishments of these students and the joy in their eyes as they explain everything they have done,” Kalivoda said, “this is why I love my job.”

By John Chacona, contributing writer

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