2019 Best EMBAs: Nicoleta Bugnariu, Texas Christian University (Neeley)

Nicoleta Bugnariu

Neeley School of Business, Texas Christian University

“Learner, scientist, leader, mentor, positive, disciplined, energy, drive, explorer.”

Hometown: Cluj-Napoca, Romania

Family Members: Nicolas (Husband), Bella (furry child)

Fun fact about yourself: A citizen of the world, I enjoy traveling and discovering new cultures, hiking, and scuba diving. The distance between the highest mountain climbed, Kilimanjaro, and the deepest dive in the ocean at Similian Islands, is 19,500 ft.

Undergraduate School and Degree:


Hedwig van Ameringen Executive Leadership in Academic Medicine® (ELAM)

Drexel University, College of Medicine


Postdoctoral Fellowship

Rehabilitation Sciences


Doctorate in Philosophy


University of Ottawa, Canada


Bachelor of Sciences, Physiotherapy

Summa Cum Laude graduate

University of Ottawa


Where are you currently working?

University of North Texas Health Science Center, Fort Worth, Texas

Title: Vice Provost, Community Engagement & Service

 Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • On-site Reviewer, Commission on Accreditation for Physical Therapy Education
  • Treasurer and Board Member, International Society for Posture and Gait Research
  • Reviewer research grants for Biological Systems and Functions Evaluation Group, Natural Sciences and Engineering Research Council (NSERC) Canada, Canada Foundation for Innovation; National Institutes of Health, (NIH) Brain Disorders and Clinical Neuroscience Study Section, NIH Motor Function Speech and Rehabilitation Study Section, and National Science Foundation, USA
  • Chair and Member of Falls Prevention Task Force, Fort Worth Safe Communities
  • Youth Leader, Students ministry, the Ridge Church, Carrollton, Texas
  • Exemplary Teaching Award, School of Health Professions, University of North Texas Health Science Center
  • Social Responsibility Award, Global Health Special Interest Group, APTA

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? One of the extracurricular activities organized by the TCU EMBA program was a day visit to the Sanders Estates Correction Center. Faculty and EMBA students all spent a day in jail. The experience was raw and intense from all perspectives: the smell of the facilities, the lack of taste in the food, the realization of what it implies to have no freedom. In that “out of comfort zone” environment, we listened and provided feedback to business plan proposals presented by inmates. The positive energy, hope, and potential of changed lives emerging from the exercise of thinking how to build a business and how to contribute positively to the society, was transformational.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? My greatest privilege and satisfaction as a leader comes from investing in individuals and teams, seeing people reach their full potential while achieving shared goals. I invest in the development of people I work with and I hold them accountable to very high standards. Over the years, I have mentored more than 50 health professionals and medical students completing terminal research projects, PhD students, post-doctoral trainees, and junior faculty members. They have all transitioned into successful careers in clinical or academic positions. In that process, they have taught and inspired me in return.

What was your favorite MBA course and what was the biggest insight you gained about business from it? The entrepreneurship course taught by Dr. Ray Smilor. My biggest takeaway was the expansion of the definition of an entrepreneurial mindset. It is not limited to creating a company or inventing a new product or service. Rather, it is solving real, concrete problems in an innovative way for a customer, regardless of the private, public or non-profit environment. Using both very practical, down-to-earth, logical frameworks (business opportunity assessment) and creative approaches (music team competition), Dr. Smilor made us realize that we hold the power of innovation and entrepreneurship in our minds. He did it in a way that seemed effortless, like a story that magically happens, although we all know how hard and rare it is to realize such mastery. Indeed, excellent teachers do more than convey relevant, important content and facilitate learning. They open windows to worlds previously unknown and inspire students to go beyond what they initially thought possible.

Why did you choose this executive MBA program? The appeal came from a combination of the reputation of faculty being experts in their field, how clearly the program is structured and organized, and the inclusion of active learning strategies, case studies and team projects. The biggest factor was the fact that it is a face-to-face cohort model and not online. The opportunity to interact and learn from individuals that have very different backgrounds and experiences than my own is a richness not found in an online program.

What did you enjoy most about business school in general? It was, without question, my classmates. What a group of outstanding, accomplished invested, brave, funny and likable individuals!

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family, and education? Truth be told, sleep was a sort of luxury during the entire period. However, the EMBA weekends, with all the additional work required, were in a way a “forced” vacation from work, an oasis of intellectual stimulation. I remember one week I was out the country for a grant review panel. I dealt remotely with two big emergencies at work and had a delayed flight (which meant I got home on Friday morning with enough time for a shower). From there, I went straight to TCU because we had an exam, a paper, and a presentation to complete. On Sunday we had a big barbeque party planned for 50 people at our house. The beauty of making slow roasted ribs? You get to nap during the process! It all turned out great and by Monday I was looking forward to a new adventure.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? Just do it! Take the plunge. There is never going to be the perfect timing with no competing demands on your agenda. Commit that you will start and finish the program and then take it one course at the time, relying on and work with your colleagues. Yes, it will stretch you in dimensions you may have not known existed, and that is how growth occurs!

What is the biggest myth about going back to school? I don’t think I ever left school, so I have not experienced any myth. At one point I said that if someone would pay me to go to school for a job I would do it for the rest of my life. In a way, ending up with a career in academia and working in a university, I realized that saying.

What was your biggest regret in business school? Throughout the program, we worked in small teams and we switched these small teams three times. I regret not spending more time with the classmates who were not on my small teams, to get to know them better and maybe make more time for social activities.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? Oh, this is a tough question because I admire all of them. If I have to pick only one, it would be Farah Lawler. Farah’s passion for her work and the joy she emanates while learning and getting better at what she does is contagious. Her resolve to translate her growth into development opportunities for her team was an inspiration for all of us. She had a positive, uplifting influence on our class and I look forward to following her career as I know she will do great things.

“I knew I wanted to go to business school when…my success as a leader depended on my ability to apply sound business principles, make strategic decisions, and innovate in a dynamic environment. I was particularly interested in learning about management of financial resources, accounting, negotiations, marketing and entrepreneurship. I was asked to serve as Interim Dean for the School of Health Professions at UNT Health Science Center and I was looking at a complex budget. As a scientist, a health care provider and an educator, I knew how to manage research grants and relatively small budgets. However, higher education is a complex business. Realizing that I will be responsible for the entire budget in our school and want to have the skills and competence to lead well was the motivator. I decided to pursue an MBA at TCU.”

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? Serve as Provost in a university and drive innovative academic programs that equip each student not only with their discipline-specific competencies and skills but with an entrepreneurial mindset.

In one sentence, how would you like your peers to remember you? As a kind, thoughtful and positive person, who would move mountains to help others.

What are the top two items on your bucket list? Hiking in Torres del Paine National Park in Patagonia, Chile; and learning Spanish.

What made Nicoleta such an invaluable addition to the class of 2019?

“Nicoleta raised the bar in the classroom on many levels. Her ability to analyze and critically think through the implications of potential strategic solutions during classroom discussions was invaluable to her classmates. She was able to break down and communicate challenging concepts effectively. Her selfless approach to learning was adopted by many of her peers which significantly built the strength and connection of the cohort.”

Dr. Suzanne Carter

Executive Director of the Executive MBA program

Professor of Professional Practice in Strategy

Texas Christian University, Neeley School of Business


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