Donna Lamson didn’t carry alum status when she arrived to interview for the program director job with Oklahoma State’s Ph.D. in Business for Executives.
Still, she spoke the language. Fluently.
“She was wearing orange and shared several OSU stories,” says Jose Sagarnaga, the former director of the Ph.D. in Business for Executives program and now Director for the school's Center for Advanced Global Leadership and Engagement.
Lamson’s credentials were stout, as a former longtime sales executive with Xerox. She showed clear personal-care skills. And she knew and adored Oklahoma State, indoctrinated into the Cowboy Way after marrying an OSU alum in husband Dan.
“She was the perfect candidate for the position,” Sagarnaga says, “because of her previous experience with Xerox and also her love for OSU and the state of Oklahoma.”
Lamson shares the love in her position, pumping personal touch and care into a costly degree program that places extreme demands on its students over the span of three rigorous years. As part of the program, the students – already full-time professionals who average some 50 years of age – spend 10 weekends of residency a year on the Stillwater campus, augmenting heavy online requirements that typically cut into their free time and take them away from their families.
It’s this time the students spend in Stillwater that brings out the best in Lamson.
With the students fully immersed in course work, Lamson handles the details of arranging their lodging and meals, all the way down to the specifics of the daily menus. And that’s not all. She’s on top of birthday cards and cakes, provides items of the correct color for anyone who forgets Orange Fridays and schedules some fun for the rare spare-time opportunities, perhaps a Cowboys basketball game. She takes special requests when it comes to diets, making sure to offer vegetarian and vegan options, and even gluten-free pizza. She also preps those traveling in with logistics and the latest weather forecasts.
“Donna adds a personal touch to a professional program,” said Bryan Edwards, a professor in OSU’s Department of Management. “She takes personal responsibility for everyone during residencies. She learns everything about everyone so she can anticipate their needs. For example, she has special meals made for our diabetics, knows who is left-handed, remembers the names of children and what activities they are involved in.
“Nothing falls through the cracks when she is in charge.”
And Lamson does it all with a care that’s earned her the moniker of “house mom” by those who have enjoyed her special attention.
“It’s a three-year death march and she brings a personal touch to the degree,” said Toby Joplin, director of the Ph.D. in Business for Executives program. “She really brings a concierge level of service to the program. She has just a great eye for detail. And that’s so important.”
It’s a level of service Lamson developed while fostering relationships with her customers while at Xerox.
“I think it’s just innate with me,” she said. “I was in sales, and you just take care of customers. I was very successful, and that comes with great customer service. Some of my customers I had for 10, 15 years. So they also became close personal friends.
“I respect what they are having to pay to come to this program. So to me, they deserve top-of-the-line customer service.”
And Lamson delivers.
“Donna’s greatest assets are that she’s incredibly conscientious, service-oriented and optimistic,” said former Oklahoma State associate professor Tracy Suter, who worked in the program. “Also, in the context of this program, she understands that the rigor is high, the time commitment is extensive, and the balance for the executive Ph.D. student is intense.
“Thus, she found her niche as being the breath of fresh air at the end of every long, tiring day. She gave these very accomplished students room to relax in the face of high personal and program expectations.”
Oklahoma State’s Ph.D. in Business for Executives program is among few like it in the nation, offering executives the opportunity to earn an AACSB-accredited doctorate degree while continuing their full-time careers. A 60-credit hour program, it requires a major commitment of time and money, with a cost of $120,000 over the three years.
Students from across the United States, as well as Canada, Mexico, Europe and South America have participated in the program. And a limited number of students are admitted each August.
Currently, two cohorts totaling 28 students are pressing toward Ph.D. degrees, while another eight students are working on dissertations.
“The three years I was in this program, I did nothing – nothing except my day job and this PhD program seven days a week for three years,” said Joplin, who was a student in the initial program. “I didn’t mow my yard; someone else did. I didn’t hang my own Christmas lights, which I always do. I didn’t go on vacation. I didn’t do anything.
“That may be a little more discipline than most students, but it’s not far off the average.”
Lamson, who lives in the Tulsa area and works on the OSU-Tulsa campus, relocates to Stillwater for the three days the students come together. It’s a working weekend, but also a rewarding weekend.
“The satisfaction I get from seeing their emotions and their happiness, it’s just wonderful,” Lamson said. “They are my customers. I’m here because of them. And they’re happy people. I love taking care of them.”
Lamson declares her love for OSU, too, with an assist from Dan.
“I grew up in Kansas, but I met my husband in 1979 and he’s an OSU graduate,” she said. “And God love him, he bleeds orange.”
So did their son, a grad who also earned a master’s degree at OSU. The Lamsons enjoy boating on Skiatook Lake, and relaxing by the fire on their back patio or under the fan on the front porch, depending on the season.
Still, their schedules mostly revolve around the OSU athletic schedules, “who plays what, and when,” Lamson said.
Donna Lamson may not carry alum status, but she speaks the language.
“This is my second career and I don’t have to work,” she said. “So you have a nice little different attitude. I have a fun job. And the reason I have a fun job is the people I work for and the people I work with, my students.”