The University of Georgia Executive and Professional MBA programs, housed in the Terry College of Business Executive Education Center, have seen record enrollment in recent years. With nearly 400 students enrolled in the programs in fall 2022, the programs offer working professionals the opportunity to earn an MBA on a schedule that works for them.
Rebekah McElwain helps make that possible.
The Terry Executive Education Center, the Atlanta campus for the Terry College of Business, first opened in 2005 and has since grown to include multiple degrees and a multitude of resources for working professionals in the greater Atlanta area. McElwain started her role as director of EMBA and PMBA admissions in 2021 after joining the graduate program administration in 2015 as the associate director. Prior to graduate admissions, she worked as a facilities manager for the center.
She is a Bulldog herself and earned a degree in public relations from the Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication in 2009 and an MBA from the Terry College of Business in 2013.
“UGA has a really special way of helping people identify the things that they’re passionate about,” said McElwain. “I consider myself fortunate to work at a place where I know that I am passionate about the mission of the University of Georgia.”
In her early roles at the center, McElwain saw the importance of learning about business while working for a nationally ranked and recognized business school. She wanted to understand budgeting, forecasting revenue and making strategic decisions in ambiguous situations.
“Early in my career, I decided that it was necessary for me to get my MBA. Part of my life circumstances at the time was that my husband was a soldier, and he was going to be deployed. As we prepared for his deployment, I began my MBA to develop my professional skillsets and build a strong sense of community. For me, the MBA was the right choice professionally, and the timing was right for me personally,” said McElwain.
The Terry College of Business Professional MBA program gave her that community as a student, and it is something she continues to bring to her work and recruitment strategies in admissions.
Now, McElwain handles the first step in beginning an MBA program—being admitted.
“The challenge in admissions is connecting with people and then ultimately working with them to show that this is going to be the right place for them,” said McElwain. “I get to see people transform from prospective candidate to applicant to student to graduate to alum. I consider myself extremely lucky because I get to see those transformations.”
She said there is a diversity of applicants, each with their own drive and motivation for earning an MBA. A lot of program growth comes from “the number of referrals that [the program] receives from our students and our alumni,” according to McElwain.
“There is no ‘perfect candidate.’ Every single person who joins these MBA programs has a story. The most important thing that we look for are people who want to be here,” she said.
Part of the appeal of an Atlanta-based MBA program is the flexibility the campus offers to working professionals, offering evening classes, weekend courses and even an online degree option.
“Many of our students live and work in and around Atlanta. It’s important for UGA and the Terry College of Business to be connected to the city,” said McElwain. “Geographically, our campus in Atlanta is the ideal location. It’s a great place for people to come after work during the week, if they want to do their MBA on Saturdays, if they want to come once a month, or if they want to do it online while still having a campus in Atlanta they can call home.”
In fall 2023, the Terry College of Business will welcome its first class of fully online MBA students, something the college has been working toward. McElwain said that while they continue to build community in the Executive and Professional MBA Programs in Atlanta, the physical limitations of an in-person program kept some people from applying. She hopes the online MBA program will remove that barrier.
“It has always been important to have a home base where students can come to campus and spend time with their professors and colleagues. However, an online MBA program, for some, is going to make [an MBA] feasible,” said McElwain. “The goal is to reach more people and to deliver a high-quality degree in an online format from the University of Georgia Terry College of Business.”
Though based in Buckhead, McElwain still makes the pilgrimage back to Athens from time to time. A favorite tradition from her undergraduate days is to make a stop at Eastside Japanese-Korean restaurant Choo Choo.
“I get four boxes of Choo Choo’s teriyaki chicken entrees—with all yellow sauces—to go. I take it home, and I feed my family of four. It’s the best food in all of Athens,” she said.