With time spent in more than 40 countries throughout the world, Karen Courtney brings an international perspective to her work in the EMBA industry.
During her career in higher education, she has helped develop international programs, organize international experiences, and build and support a new international campus in China, broadening the global view of many EMBA students and business leaders.
Her passion for opening the world to students began early in her career with a position at Georgetown University.
“I moved into a role with the School of Foreign Service for many years – where my love for education and all things international evolved,” she says. She also received her master’s degree in liberal arts from Georgetown University, as well as a bachelor’s degree in psychology from Canisius College in Buffalo, New York, and a master’s degree in higher education from National University.
Now as associate dean of the EMBA Programs at Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business, Courtney continues her commitment to expanding the horizons of EMBA students in every sense through seamless program management.
“At this time, I focus mostly on behind-the-scenes-operations,” she says, which often involves “getting hundreds of students in and out of various countries safely, mitigating risk, managing and providing professional development opportunities for my team, and making overall quality continuous improvements based on student feedback.”
Courtney first moved into the role of assistant dean of EMBA Programs eight years ago, with responsibility for Duke’s Global Executive, Weekend Executive, and Cross Continent MBA programs. She was promoted to associate dean last fall. Before both positions, she played a key role in the establishment of the Duke-Kunshan, China campus.
“As the first regional director for China, I traveled to China almost every month for a week or two and was very involved with the Duke-Kunshan University (DKU) campus project in China.” During this time, her responsibilities included reconnecting with Duke alumni throughout Asia, building relationships with the Municipality of Kunshan government officials, and connecting with companies in the area that may ultimately send employees to DKU’s campus in China. She was also responsible for recruiting, hiring, and training the team to work for Duke in China.
“I felt that it was essential that the first few hires at Duke-Kunshan University be either Fuqua or Duke alumni, who have experienced Duke’s culture firsthand, to help bring Duke to life in China.”
After two years of constant travel, Courtney decided to transition into the EMBA world. “I moved back to what I know and love. Previously I was on the recruiting and admissions side, but I had a solid understanding of the operations side of the house as well.”
Courtney’s time at Duke includes two distinct periods. She did her first stint at Duke during the time the Fuqua School was increasing its own boundaries throughout the world. “During my time at the Fuqua School, I have served in a variety of roles, including marketing, recruiting, and admissions for what was once a new program, the Duke MBA–Cross Continent program,” she says.
As director of recruiting and admissions for the program, she recruited the inaugural class with students in North Carolina and Germany within a seven-month period and increased student enrollment by 50 percent in the second year. She also worked as part of a team to develop worldwide information sessions.
For four years, Courtney left Duke for the West Coast – first, directing recruiting, admissions, and financial aid for the Graduate School of International Relations and Pacific Studies at the University of California, San Diego, and then directing executive and specialized programs at the San Diego State University College of Business Administration. She moved to the West Coast to be closer to family, but ultimately recognized the many wonderful benefits of working for Duke and came back four years later.
When she returned to Duke, she welcomed the new challenges. In particular, Duke’s EMBA Programs hold a special draw for Courtney.
“I really enjoy working with students who decide to remain on the job while securing their MBA. It takes a real commitment to get through such a rigorous academic experience. I find it a very rewarding career and truly enjoy hearing from alumni worldwide when they achieve goals set during their Duke MBA experience.”
Courtney first learned about EMBAC as a result of her experience with Duke’s EMBA Programs. She attended the council’s Marketing and Admissions Program (“It was fantastic”) and a number of regional meetings and annual conferences.
“Duke colleagues have volunteered to speak at a number of annual, as well as regional, conferences, co-hosted the USA/Southeast Regional Meeting, and volunteered to work at the annual conference,” she says. In 2017, Courtney decided to increase her involvement with election to the EMBAC Board of Trustees.
“Throughout my more than 25 years in academic administration, I have found the Executive MBA Council to be an excellent professional association that provides invaluable learning and training opportunities for its members. I am so excited to serve on the board and look forward to working with all members!”
Courtney also shared the following insights:
- My hobbies include: “In my dream world, I am an interior designer and professional baker. However, reality requires a day job at Duke. I love baking and have taken a number of classes to improve my craft. Greatest accomplishment to date was baking and decorating a cake for my sister’s wedding.”
- My favorite city is: “Oh, so many, but San Diego definitely tops my list – along with Istanbul and Beijing!”
- I'm most proud of: “Overcoming a lot of adversity to get to where I am today, both personally and professionally”
- I'm reading: “The Body Reset by Harley Pasternak – interesting book on lifestyle choices, how to eat healthy, exercise, and maintain consistency.”
- I'm passionate about: “Travel, family, learning. I have served as a volunteer for LEAP (Latino Educational Achievement Partnership) for nine years now and tutor children on a weekly basis. It’s an incredibly rewarding experience and it’s amazing to see the progress the children make over time.”
- My next project is: “Preparing for Persian New Year, painting/updating our laundry room, and spring landscaping! It’s never just one project with me!”
- When I think about the Executive MBA Council, I think: “Positive, supportive, engaging opportunities, innovation, collegial, global!”