First CIU MBA graduates put their degrees to work

May 13, 2019

MBA assists in business and ministry opportunities  

By Bob Holmes

Michael Lyerly says as he studied for his MBA, he could go right from the textbook to the warehouse he manages and immediately apply what he was learning. That is one of the advantages of earning an online MBA from Columbia International University.

Lyerly, 34, is one of nine graduates who are the first to earn an online MBA from CIU. He is the senior operations manager at a Florence, South Carolina distribution center of QVC, a home shopping television network based in Pennsylvania. He is the second in command at the warehouse overseeing business decisions, hiring, staffing and organizing.

After reading in one of his MBA textbooks about how Toyota’s production process eliminated waste, he asked himself a few questions.

“I go down to the warehouse floor and I’m looking at how can I keep (the employees) productive,” Lyerly explained. “Am I overstaffed? What can I do to streamline the processes?

Lyerly, who oversees 350-400 employees, says the leadership courses in the MBA program have been his favorites.

“It’s something I personally gravitate toward. What can I do to become a better leader?” said Lyerly, who before going into business was studying to be a pastor. “As a Christian in a secular business, it gives me better tools for servant leadership.”

As a dad with three small children, Lyerly says the flexibility of the online MBA was his only route to a degree as he works about 60 hours per week. He took a two-month break from the program for family time and has a couple more courses to take before completing the program by summer’s end.

“Making sure I bring my children up right is very important to me,” Lyerly added. “I personally don’t work on school while they are awake. That way it doesn’t have an impact on my interaction on my kids — that way I still get a hundred percent of them. I do all (my studies) at night.”

Earning an MBA/Having a Baby

Being able to maintain family priorities were also important for Elizabeth McDowell, 34, as she worked through her online MBA degree. McDowell and her husband Jeff direct the Columbia office of Teen Challenge, an addiction recovery program. Mr. McDowell completed a Master of Arts in Theological Studies from CIU in 2018.

With the sounds of her firstborn, Faylee, cooing and laughing in the background during a phone interview, McDowell said that she became pregnant while in the 18-month MBA program. However, because of the program’s flexibility, she was able to continue without a break. Before Faylee was born McDowell studied at night, and “pretty much when (Faylee) was sleeping” after she was born.

“My husband was a big help, too,” McDowell added. “He had already finished his program so he was able to help out.”

Just like Michael Lyerly, McDowell says she was able to apply what she was learning to her roles in the Teen Challenge ministry immediately.

“Right now I do a lot of the administration and finance — a lot of the behind-the-scenes work,” McDowell said. “I was able to apply the finance-related courses and the strategy-related courses to what I’m doing.”

McDowell says she really enjoyed her peers that were a part of the first CIU MBA online cohort. She became acquainted with them through discussion boards and weekly devotionals that she calls, “really great, because we got to discuss the devotionals with each other and got to know each other.”

As for the future, McDowell says the MBA is an asset that has made her well-rounded for ministry.

“My undergraduate degree was more about the relational aspect, but now I have more of a business foundation,” McDowell said. “Hopefully in the future we can develop new programs to help more people who struggle with addictions.”

Now that both Elizabeth and Jeff McDowell have master’s degrees from CIU, they can use their new knowledge and training together.

“My husband with the theology background and me with the business and administration side, we’ll make a great team!” Mrs. McDowell concluded.     

Discover how an online MBA from CIU can advance your career or ministry opportunities.  Columbia International University ranks #1 among colleges and universities in South Carolina by BestColleges.com. Excitement is growing on campus with CIU’s first baseball program in development and a major renovation of the CIU Dining HallRequest information on enrollment at CIU and Columbia Biblical Seminary or call (800) 777-2227, ext. 5024.