Twenty-three-year-old MiKayla Raines will make history this week as the youngest person ever to earn a Doctorate in Business Administration (DBA) from UNC Charlotte.
For Raines, a DBA is just the latest of her already impressive curriculum vitae. She earned her bachelor’s degree as an 18-year-old and MBA at age 19, both from Fayetteville State University.
Raines says earning her DBA was more than about adding “Dr.” to her name – she feels empowered. She noted that many members in her cohort were female and of all backgrounds, races, and nationalities.
Seeing women in the program, especially the women who were also mothers, made an impact on Raines.
"I was amazed that these women took the time out of their busy lives to get the DBA. I was actually speechless,” Raines says. “It showed me that I could be a mother and not stifle my dreams and aspirations. "I can aspire and motivate other women to reach for what they hope and dream for. This degree is empowering, and little girls can see this as something that is obtainable. It is not only the men who can obtain a Ph.D. or a DBA. We can do it, too."
Raines says she is still figuring out her next career move. She is searching for a career and is open to job opportunities.
"UNC Charlotte has provided me with the degree and mentorship, and it is up to me to find my purpose and how I can make a difference in the world. The DBA gave me options – it did not put me in a box," Raines says.
After earning her MBA in 2018, Raines entertained the idea of going to Harvard University. She visited Harvard’s campus and attended orientation. However, to get the degree she wanted, she would have to pursue teaching only.
"At the time, I wanted a terminal degree, but I was not compelled to teach, and it did not fulfill my career goals," Raines says.
Raines and her mother and mentor, April Raines, sat down and did a Google search on doctorate degrees in business administration. The words "doctorate in business administration" popped up in the search.
"It immediately piqued my interest because it allowed the degree holder to work in business and industry, which is what I wanted," she says.
She chose UNC Charlotte’s Belk College of Business because of its proximity to her hometown of Fayetteville and because classes were held on weekends.
Charlotte offers the only AACSB-accredited DBA program in the Carolinas. Most students selected have five or more years of professional experience.
Raines is one of 12 scholars who are earning their DBA degrees in May, completing a rigorous academic program, capped by dissertations.
Raines' dissertation, “Customer Success and the Transformation of Customer Relationships,” will have theoretical contributions and real-world implications, directly affecting how academics can further use customer success and how business gets done in Charlotte and globally.
"I looked at the aspects of the customer journey," Raines says. "And, not what has been the traditional 'master and servant relationship' to show a more collaborative approach between a firm and its customers."
Raines used the COVID-19 pandemic in the data portion of her dissertation to demonstrate the application of customer success through government-to-consumer figures. "I looked at how the government responded to the pandemic and how different government officials/states use differing strategies in their responses."
The dissertation used public data and looked at how different states handled mask mandates/vaccine administration and the effect of collaboration in the United States. "We found that government strategies are not 'one size fits all' for each state.'" It revealed data related more with association and not necessarily cause and effect.' Each state is unique, just as every customer is unique."
Defying the odds
During her DBA journey, faculty mentors, including Dr. Reginald Silver, who served as DBA program director until January, and her dissertation committee chair, Dr. Sunil Erevelles, associate professor of marketing.
Silver says Raines has defied the odds in one of the Belk College’s signature programs; the average age of Charlotte DBA students is 44.
“MiKayla demonstrates that hard work, persistence, and resilience can result in classroom success at any age,” says Silver, who now serves as Belk College associate dean for graduate programs and executive education. “This milestone accomplishment positions MiKayla to impact leaders and organizations for a long time to come. It’s exciting to think about the impact that she will have over her career."
When she officially receives her hood on Friday, her proud mother will be cheering her on. Raines credits her mother's mentorship and guidance as crucial to Raines' success – for that reason, Raines dedicated her dissertation to her mother.
"My mother empowers me every day,” she says. “She has helped me succeed every step of the way."
UNC Charlotte began offering the first AACSB-accredited DBA program in the Carolinas in 2017. May marks the third cohort of graduates.
This article is part of a series of spotlights featuring our class of 2022 graduates.