Former Air Force imagery analyst sets her sights on success by pursuing her Online MBA at SMU Cox

Meet Kim Bouthavong, first-year Online MBA student at SMU Cox School of Business.

A headshot of Kim Bouthavong, SMU OMBA Student

This blog was originally published June 2020, and was revised May 2023.

Meet Kim Bouthavong, first-year Online MBA student at SMU Cox School of Business. Prior to coming to SMU Cox, Kim served in the Air Force for four years where she was an imagery analyst. After time stationed in Nevada and New Mexico, Kim left the Air Force in 2011 and started a career as a civilian contractor. Since 2018, Kim has been working for General Atomics, a defense contractor and energy company. Today, Kim is enrolled in the SMU Cox OMBA program to expand her career horizons, acquire management skills and set herself up for continued professional success. Below is the interview with Kim on her journey and where she's at now.

What brought you to the SMU Cox Online MBA program?

I knew that SMU had a reputable background. I’ve always been interested in going to SMU Cox, but my job requires me to travel a lot. I looked into SMU MBA courses but before the Online MBA, enrolling would require me to leave my job which I absolutely love. I enjoy the traveling aspect of it, so I couldn’t really commit to leaving work for two years to complete a residential MBA program. So when the option of doing an online program popped up, I knew I was ready.

What have the highlights of the SMU Cox Online MBA program been so far?

The networking aspect is really great. There are a lot of students who are in different kinds of career fields. Many of them are young professionals, which is really appealing to me, but there are also people who are in the later part of their career, business owners, who have been doing management type of work for a long time. It’s nice to know that I have these people to reach out to if I ever wanted to switch careers or if I ever needed career advice. I also enjoyed the immersion trips that SMU Cox offers, which is their global immersion program that students are required to do. The last immersion trip was in London in December where we met with different companies based in London to engage in case studies; we broke into teams and strategized various business solutions. This was a great opportunity, especially considering I’ve been doing defense contracting for years so I’m kind of in a closed-off, highly specialized space. Doing these immersion programs allowed me to see other sides of the professional world. SMU Cox has exposed me to specific practices that I haven’t been exposed to in my work, like how businesses generate their funds or accounting practices that go into running a business or a corporation.

What are your long-term goals with your MBA?

I’m lucky because I’m happy with my job. Maybe later in my career, I would eventually like to go into management. I know that there are plenty of defense contractors who are in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. So, at that point in my career, I likely wouldn’t be doing analysis anymore. Having my MBA will help me be successful in that phase of my career.

Former Air Force Imagery Analyst Sets Her Sights On Success By Pursuing Her Online Mba At Smu Cox 2

OMBA Student Kim Bouthavong at her Air Force college graduation.

What is it like earning a master’s degree through an online program?

So I’ve taken a couple of online business classes in the past . When I was considering enrolling in the SMU Cox OMBA program, I couldn’t help but reflect on the downsides of online programs at other business schools that I’d experienced. But after doing a little research, I realized that SMU Cox is different. The OMBA offers face-to-face connections that other online programs don’t, like the video chat feature. With the online aspect of SMU, I am able to connect with other students and my teacher; we have live meetings for a set time once a week, and during those meeting times, I’m able to address the questions I have and fill in the pieces of what may have been missing in my own study. So, I feel like it’s enhanced my studying a bit more than other online programs that I’ve taken in the past.

A professional headshot of Kim Bouthavong

Air Force Veteran, Kim Bouthavong

How would you describe the sense of community that exists for Online students?

So at the SMU Cox Online MBA, they host happy hours where students can go and physically meet each other because a lot of us are in the same boat where we’re either traveling for work or were not located in Dallas. The school also hosts gatherings at sporting events and tailgates. For me personally, since I travel for work so much, I wasn’t able to meet any of my classmates in person until the immersion trip in December. But prior to that, by being in classes with so many of my peers for months by that time, meeting them in person felt natural.

How have the skills you fostered during your time in the Air Force helped you while earning your MBA?

Discipline is something that the military has taught me. Also, time management: I’ve always been pretty bad with time management, so the military gave me those basic skills that I can apply to SMU Cox. But the most important ones were leadership skills. The military pushes you to lead, so from your lowest rank from Airman, (A1C), to a Senior Airman, they gradually prepare you to be in a leadership role, and I feel like that’s probably been the most beneficial to me going into this Online MBA.

What advice would you give a serviceperson considering pursuing a master’s degree?

I would definitely recommend SMU Cox. I feel like, not only is it an excellent program overall, but also, they have a veteran community, which caters to service members and helps them get acclimated. For me, I’ve found the Online MBA is a tight-knit community in itself, but on top of that, the smaller veteran network is another support system at SMU Cox that has been valuable to me.

Kim travels and poses at Machu Picchu

OMBA student and Air Force veteran Kim Bouthavong traveling abroad

An Online MBA from the SMU Cox School of Business can help you become more of an asset in your current role or enable you to pivot your career and professional trajectory. If you’re thinking about earning your Online MBA from SMU Cox, apply here today.