Stew Lilker’s

Columbia County Observer

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SRWMD Education Policy Enhances Opportunities for Employees. Latest Success Story – St. Leo MBA for Kristin Thompson 

Kristin Thompson of the SRWMD with headline: Working mom earns MBA
Columbia County Observer photo and graphic

COLUMBIA COUNTY, FL – Earlier this year, the Suwannee River Water Management District (SRWMD) updated its Education Reimbursement Policy and announced that Kristin Thompson was attending St. Leo University in pursuit of her Masters of Business Administration (MBA) postgraduate advanced degree. In May of this year, Ms. Thompson earned her MBA.


Initially approved in April 2012, the District updated its Education Reimbursement Policy in February of this year, adding reimbursement for certificates and a few other minor changes to comply with the latest IRS regulations. The District policy allows a lifetime reimbursement of $35,000, and the IRS code allows a maximum of $5,250 annually.

The recipient must stay with the District for one year to not have to reimburse the funds. There was talk about extending this to three years, but the subject did not come back before the Board.

The Program:
A Success Story For Those Who Take Advantage Of It

Your reporter contacted the District’s Executive Director, Hugh Thomas, for his comments on the Education Reimbursement Policy.

"Continuing education is vital for employees to stay current with the latest developments, skills, and new technologies required for their fields. At the Suwannee River Water Management District, our employees need to stay updated on all facets of protecting and preserving our natural resources, whether they work in the field, analyze data, or offer support services."

"With the Board's support, we support our employees who wish to further their education, encouraging their efforts."

"In the past ten years, the district has had 16 employees participate in our continuing education program, earning three associate's degrees, two bachelor's degrees, ten master's degrees, and one doctoral degree."

"The combination of experience and education benefits the Suwannee River Water Management District, the citizens of the District, and the people of Florida. Continuing education pays dividends, and I am glad the Board continues to support our ongoing commitment to education."

Kristin Thompson: A Success Story and Example For Others

Kristin Thompson worked hard for her education and advancement, exemplifying what working moms can do. Her son graduated from Suwannee County High School this year.

Ms. Thompson attended Flagler College (Tallahassee) while working full-time at a CPA firm in Madison. In December 2017, she received her BA in Business Administration-Accounting.

In February 2018, Ms. Thompson joined the District as a Finance Specialist and is now the Accounting Manager responsible for payroll, accounts payable, regulatory and procedural compliance, monthly account reconciliation, and monthly financial reporting. Additionally, Ms. Thompson is responsible for the Truth-In-Millage (TRIM) process. That is the tax rate and all the notices and filing required of the District to set the tax rate. The District’s combined budget is almost $70 million.

During the February District meeting, Pam Shaw, the District’s Director of Finance, recognized Ms. Thompson for five years of service with the District.

In May, Ms. Thompson received her MBA and began the process of testing for her Certification as a Government Finance Officer.

Ms. Thompson has also accepted the position of President of the North Central Florida Chapter of the Florida Government Finance Officers Association for FY 24.

St. Leo University: An MBA Program For Those Who Work

Not only did Kristin Thompson receive her MBA from St. Leo, her boss, Pam Shaw, also recently earned her MBA from St. Leo. Ms. Shaw told your reporter that earning her MBA online was no walk in the park, "It was hard, really hard," she said.

Former Columbia County County Manager Ben Scott also earned his MBA from St. Leo.

Recently, St. Leo closed all its satellite campuses except for the Tampa campus. The closings included St. Leo at Florida Gateway College (Lake City Community College)

In February, the university made the decision to close eight of its 14 education centers located in five states. One of those included St. Leo at Florida Gateway College (Lake City Community College).

Saint Leo continues teaching at six (6) education centers in two states: Center for Adult Learning, located at the main Saint Leo campus in St. Leo, FL, in Pasco County; Tampa Education Center, located in Tampa, FL; MacDill Education Center, located at MacDill Air Force Base in Tampa; Pasco-Hernando Education Office, located at Pasco-Hernando State College in Spring Hill, FL, in Hernando County; Key West Education Center, located at Naval Air Station Key West, Key West, FL; and Savannah Education Center, located in Savannah, GA.

Pamela LeeThe Observer spoke with Pamela Lee, Ph.D., St. Leo's MBA Director, about the St. Leo MBA program.

St. Leo’s MBA program is the largest graduate program at the university. Besides being offered online, the MBA program is available at the St. Leo and Tampa campuses.

Dr. Lee said the MBA program is SACS accredited, as is the Business School. St. Dr. Lee pointed out that St. Leo offers MBAs in many business fields.

St. Leo is also ACBSP accredited, as is Harvard. Learn more about business school accreditation here.

Your reporter asked Dr. Lee, “What sets St. Leo apart?” She explained.

"We have an excellent relationship with industry leaders throughout Florida, Virginia, and Georgia. We are asking business leaders, "What do you need? What are you looking for? What are the skills? What knowledge are you looking for from people who come into your organization.' Every once in a while, based on that information, we revise our programs to be sure that our graduates have what they need to make a difference in their organization."

“The last time we did this was in 2020. We revised and relaunched our MBA program. We identified - these are the skills - this is the knowledge - this is what the industry expects. When you come into this organization with an MBA behind your name, they expect you to know this – this - and this. The main things they expect you to know are accounting, economics, and finance. And so we designed our curriculum and coursework to focus on those skills and that knowledge. Because of that, students know, ‘I'm going get what I need.’ It's not going to be superfluous stuff that people think makes the university look good. We want to be sure that our students are prepared.”

Dr. Lee said, "St. Leo's online courses are recorded and can be viewed as many times as necessary."

Your reporter asked, "What are the stats for women vs. men in the program?"

Dr. Lee answered, "That's a great question. And that is a demographic that, you know, kind of shifts a little bit. Now we have more women than men. 56% of our students are female. And one of the things that I'm seeing in this kind of economy, people are seeing less and less of a need for education. I heard you say it, the dumbing down. So people are, you know -- I can get a good job and make a good salary. I don't need an undergraduate degree, and I certainly don't need a graduate degree. But there are still some industries that require educational accomplishment."

Dr. Lee continued, "So there are always going to be some degrees that, you know, that graduate degree is important like the MBA. People who take the MBA are looking to break out. They’re looking to advance in their careers. And we see that most women are still witnessing a glass ceiling in their organization. And they are looking at the MBA as a differentiator. Men, they don't need it so much because, you know, they - they tend to progress regardless. But women are still seeing, yeah - I need that extra, I need that. I need something to help me to differentiate myself to break through.

Dr. Lee explained that the average age of St. Leo’s MBA students is about 36-37 and that most of them take the courses online and they are working professionals. “They're mid-managers in the MBA program.”

Dr. Lee added, "Most of our students are online, and we have students all over the world. St. Leo is a really cool place to work, and I'm excited about what's coming next year and the year after that."

Those who continue their MBAs at St. Leo could probably say the same thing. Just ask the gals at the SRWMD.

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