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Dr. Wendy Acker Leads Avila University Business School to Success With 100% Online MBA Programs

Avila University Director of Graduate Business Programs Dr. Wendy Acker

Dr. Wendy Acker has lived in metropolitan Kansas City her entire life, and like many locals, she’s an avid fan of KC sports teams. She keeps up with the Royals and the Chiefs and loves watching the region’s college basketball teams compete during March Madness.

Dr. Acker is also an ardent fan of Avila University, where she arrived on campus in 1982 as a student in the Master of Business Administration (MBA) program. Just over 40 years later, she is the Director of Graduate Business Programs. She believes in Avila’s commitment to learning as a lifelong practice and values the relationships she has built at the University.

“We have an Avila MBA Wall of Fame,” she said proudly. “I know every one of those people on it.”

Over the course of her career, Dr. Acker has also served Avila students as a professor, advisor, and assistant dean. One of her most ambitious projects, however, has been launching online MBA programs at the University for the first time.

“In the spring of 2020, we had planned to move everything online in the fall. The pandemic advanced that a bit,” she recalled. The University welcomed its first online MBA students that summer and now offers multiple accelerated, 100% online MBA concentrations in high-growth career fields.

She remains committed to giving online graduate students the same care, attention, and rigorous business education that she experienced in the MBA program.

“We are here to meet the needs of the students,” she said. “That’s our number one priority.”

From Industry to Academia

As an undergraduate, Dr. Acker never suspected she would have a career in education. After graduating with a Bachelor of Science in Mechanical Engineering from Kansas State University in 1978, she went to work in the telecommunications industry.

“I worked for Western Electric as part of the Bell System,” she said. “I was responsible for the molding machines, transistors, and diodes — we didn’t even see where the devices went in the phone systems because we did not make the phones themselves or the rest of the system.”

While studying for her MBA at Avila in the mid-eighties, her first instructor in a marketing course noticed her potential for an academic career. He also happened to be the director of the MBA program at the time. “I thought he had my dream job,” she remembered. “He knew that I was interested in doing that.”

The director went on to become her mentor, providing her first opportunity to explore working with students. “He asked me to cover for him in the summer,” she continued. “I advised students face to face.”

After earning her MBA in Marketing from Avila in 1988, she also began teaching in the business school part time. “I felt like I was home here,” she recalled, noting that it wasn’t hard to leave her engineering days behind. “Higher education is so much more satisfying,” she said.

Dr. Acker went on to earn her Ph.D. in Higher Education Administration with a minor in Marketing Communications from the University of Kansas in 2006. She was named Associate Dean of the Avila University School of Business in 2014 and assumed her current role in 2017. She has occasionally taught courses since moving into administration, but sees advising as her most important responsibility.

“That’s been my primary job,” she said. “Advising is very rewarding and satisfying. I enjoy helping [students] reach their goals.”

A Model for Learning and Serving

Dr. Acker believes in the “triumvirate of education” model, focused on knowledge exchange and open dialogue. In other words, students learn from their instructors but also from each other. Professors learn from students as well and incorporate that knowledge into their teaching. All parties then carry new information forward into future courses.

“It’s a feedback loop, and it’s something that we do realize is extremely important,” she confirmed.

Dr. Acker also notes that students from diverse industries and professional backgrounds can thrive in this environment as they learn together. “They’re here for a degree, but they bring a lot of experience and expertise that they can share with each other and with the instructor,” she said.

She also highlights the University’s efforts to ensure online students have the resources they need. She credits Dr. Andy Jett, Dean of Avila’s College of Professional Schools, with coining the phrase that best describes her own philosophy. “He says we provide concierge-level support, and I think that’s a good term,” she said. “That’s what we’re here for.”

As a graduate advisor, Dr. Acker strives to make the enrollment process easy and straightforward for online students since many are working full time while earning their degree. “We plan out their entire program,” she said. “We advise them, and then we enroll for them so they don’t have to get online and worry about scheduling classes.”

She believes that offering convenient processes and individualized support is worth the extra effort. “We value all of our students and make their experience exceptional with the personal touch,” she said.

Two recent MBA graduates in healthcare administration – Julia Ogutu and Jasmine Brooks – agree, crediting Dr. Acker specifically for the guidance she provided them.

“She was the best advisor anybody could ask for and made it so much easier,” Ogutu said. “She is the reason I was able to finish successfully,” Brooks remembered, calling Dr. Acker “a huge support.”

Carrying On a Tradition of Excellence

Dr. Acker currently teaches an undergraduate business course on consumer behavior in addition to her advising role with graduate students. She has enjoyed being back in the classroom and is inspired by her colleagues teaching online MBA classes.

“One of the strengths that we’ve had in the MBA program is we have a good mix of doctorate-qualified full-time faculty, in addition to industry practitioners,” she noted. She is especially pleased that her teaching peers include Avila MBA graduates.

“I’m thrilled about that because I’m the poster child for earning my MBA at Avila and then getting my doctorate and staying at Avila,” she laughed. “So it’s good to see that happen to other people.”

In addition to teaching, advising, and writing recommendation letters, she’s also committed to ensuring the online MBA program remains relevant in a fast-changing global business climate. Dr. Acker works with faculty to review curriculum and course offerings on a regular basis. “We prepare our students well,” she said. “We have that strong tradition of excellence.”

As she begins her fourth decade with the University, she feels blessed that she’s able to continue helping Avila Eagles grow and thrive. “The most rewarding thing that I do is work with students,” she affirmed.

“I love that part of my job,” she said. “I look forward to coming to work every day.”

Learn more about Avila University’s online MBA programs

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