2022 Best & Brightest Executive MBA: Aimee Smart, University of Maryland (Smith)

Aimee Smart

University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business

Age: 45

“Life-long learner and strategic thinker who loves building teams and solving problems.”

Hometown: Charlotte, North Carolina

Family Members: Shefa Gordon (husband), Zohara (daughter, age 4), and Aryeh (son, age 1)

Fun fact about yourself: I took a 22-week French cooking course for non-professionals at a culinary school and went on to win my neighborhood “Iron Chef” challenge cooking a 3-course meal centered on mushrooms, innovating a portobello Wellington and porcini crème brulee.

Undergraduate School and Degree: North Carolina State University, BS in Microbiology

Where are you currently working? Vice President of Clinical Development and Regulatory Processes, Lung Biotechnology PBC, (wholly owned subsidiary of United Therapeutics Corporation). I also lead our Lung Bioengineering Inc. subsidiary.

Extracurricular Activities, Community Work and Leadership Roles:

  • Executive leadership team, United Therapeutics Corporation
  • United Therapeutics Executive DEI committee member
  • Founding member of Chief, DC, a national network of women executives
  • NC State School of Sciences Foundations Board
  • NC State Alumni Board (2019-2022)
  • NC State 2016 Young Alumna of the Year

Which academic or extracurricular achievement are you most proud of during business school? Completing the program. I wanted to study business for several years and I felt that I had delayed long enough. I am proud to have managed the many personal and professional challenges I faced during the program. I remained academically focused and brought value to the classroom and my groups, while continuing to grow two organizations, Lung Biotechnology and Lung Bioengineering.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have had the privilege of being able lead two company turn-arounds. In 2012, I took over leadership of the clinical research and development organization within Lung Biotechnology. The organization was on the verge of being eliminated, had downsized by a third and was developing one investigational product. Today, the organization has doubled in size, with low turnover and a cohesive team of talented professionals responsible for four major clinical programs. Building on this success, I was given the opportunity to also lead the Lung Bioengineering organization as we commercialize an innovative, centralized ex vivo lung perfusion service. We celebrated our first full year of commercial operations in 2021, enabling 47 lung transplants that would not have happened without our service.

Who was your favorite MBA professor? All the Smith School instructors are wonderful. I really enjoyed Dr. Kislaya Prasad’s Data Modeling class. I had not taken a data analytics class before, so this was impactful. I learned how to explore data and ask different questions.

Why did you choose this school’s executive MBA program? I chose the Smith School because I was looking for an in-person program with a strong reputation. I was able to attend a class, Strategic Management, with Dr. Paulo Prochno, and meet with a current student over lunch before I applied. I found Dr. Prochno’s class immediately relevant and was excited to learned more. Smith’s focus on leadership and personal development – through executive coaching and the mastery sessions, covering topics from mindfulness to blockchain – goes beyond traditional business coursework. I felt that this program would provide the knowledge I needed with the leadership focus required for my professional growth.

Give us a story during your time as an executive MBA on how you were able to juggle work, family and education? When I started the program, I had two small children, a 3-month-old and 3-year-old, and my father was entering hospice. COVID had disrupted everything, including closing my children’s daycare and blocking my ability to hire an au pair. At the same time, the restrictions that came with COVID helped me. The first nine months of the program classes were virtual and during that period, I lost both of my parents and traveled regularly to North Carolina to be with them and my family. The virtual class allowed me to continue my studies while traveling. I also hired an amazing a nanny, who could travel and had endless support from my husband and my twin sister. The work-school-family balance was still difficult. I committed to making time for family dinner every evening and would return to my studies while my husband took on evening childcare.

What advice would you give to a student looking to enter an executive MBA program? An EMBA is intense, it will require you to commit time and resources, but it is an investment in yourself. Success requires being intentional, having goals, and being willing to engage fully. I encourage prospective students to really think about the lifestyle changes needed to accommodate the class schedule, studying, and doing group work and homework. Start setting new routines before the program starts, to prepare your family and work colleagues. During the program, ask for help and accept the help offered by supportive friends and family.

What is the biggest myth about going back to school?  The myth from the notion that ‘going back’ to college is synonymous with ‘doing it again’ is really exemplified with a graduate business program. The executive MBA experience is intense and there are no breaks until graduation. Mentally and emotionally, this is an all-consuming experience that is more than something added during free time.

What was your biggest regret in business school? The coursework has been both intellectually stimulating and practical. I’ve enjoyed the quantitative and qualitative assignments. I learned so much that my only regret was not starting earlier in my career.

Which MBA classmate do you most admire? My cohort at Smith is an amazing group of professionals that all bring something valuable to this experience. One person I really admire is Elizabeth Chaney, who I’ve had the opportunity to work beside on our business problem solving project. Her professional dedication is evident in everything she does. I am impressed with the business she built starting from designing her facility to her focus and intention with growing and supporting her staff. She is making a difference and I look forward to seeing what she does next.

What was the main reason you chose an executive MBA program over part-time or online alternatives? As a senior executive, I was looking for an in-person program geared towards older students with more professional experience. I wanted to learn from a diverse group of professionals who offered perspectives from many different industries. The in-person EMBA program provided an experience where we could easily engage with the professors and really get to know our classmates.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I have achieved many of the professional goals I set for myself earlier in my career and moved from technical roles into executive leadership. I want to continue to have an impact through solving problems and leading exceptional teams.

What made Aimee such an invaluable addition to the class of 2022?

“I recall first speaking with Aimee shortly after she started the program. I had offered the EMBA executives in her cohort the option to set up a short one-on-one meeting where I could get to know them, and Aimee took me up on that offer. I am glad she did so because I got to meet a truly remarkable person. I was immediately struck by how accomplished, poised, and intelligent she was. I recall expressing amazement at how she managed to juggle so much so well in both her professional and personal life. Over the course of the semester, I had the chance to personally witness her focus, hard work, and determination to learn an initially unfamiliar subject. During the course of my class, Aimee faced much personal adversity, including the loss of her father, and still pushed herself to do well because, she said, she loved the class and wanted the quality of her work to express that. A true professional!”

Kislaya Prasad
Research Professor and Academic Director of the Center for Global Business
Robert H. Smith School of Business


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