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Academics

Dare to Fail

Jeff Stonebraker is no stranger to wrong turns and dead ends. Before he graduated with a B.S. in electrical engineering from the University of South Florida, he changed his major five times. He went on to earn an M.S. in engineering-economic systems from Stanford University, which he calls a “humbling experience” that required every drop of intelligence and perseverance he could muster. 

A few years later, while earning a Ph.D. in business administration at Arizona State University, he received the lowest grade in his class on a computer programming midterm exam. Unwilling to admit defeat, he worked tirelessly to finish the course with an A. 

Though the path to the commencement stage wasn’t always smooth, Stonebraker learned resilience and leveraged his education to build a successful career at the nexus of management science and epidemiology. As an officer of the U.S. Air Force, he rose through the ranks before moving on to strategic planning roles in the pharmaceutical industry. 

His dual passion for teaching and research made him a natural fit for the Poole College of Management, where he became an assistant professor of operations and supply chain management in 2009. 

Carving Out a New Niche

As a researcher, Stonebraker has drawn inspiration from unexpected sources. He will never forget the day he read a newspaper article about the health journey of a man from Jacksonville, Florida, who ran his own lawn care business.

This man was wheelchair-bound because of hemophilia. I asked myself how this could happen in the United States.

That question lit a flame of curiosity for Stonebraker, who has since dedicated much of his research to analyzing the prevalence of hemophilia, available treatments and the existing discrepancies between national income levels and affordability of treatment. Stonebraker paved the way for synthesizing existing data and making it more accessible to health care providers around the globe.

Empowering the Next Generation

While Stonebraker is passionate about leveraging his expertise to inform the treatment of rare diseases like hemophilia, he is equally invested in teaching the next generation of leaders to discover their own areas of interest. The challenges he overcame to earn three degrees and forge a path to a rewarding career has imparted profound empathy for his students.

I like to tell them that everyone has unique gifts, and sometimes you have to pay attention to what you don’t like to find out what you really love. You have to be willing to fail.

At the Poole College of Management, Stonebraker has found a supportive community for encouraging this lifelong quest to think deeply and refine one’s interests. While many top MBA programs restrict students to a narrow list of courses, the flexibility of NC State’s Jenkins MBA curriculum gives students and faculty members a unique opportunity to learn and teach in highly interdisciplinary, intensely practical settings. 

Stonebraker with his family on Halloween.

Stonebraker points to the course he teaches on decision-making in the midst of uncertainty, which combines business theory with concepts he gleaned from his engineering classes to bridge theory and reality. “It’s incredibly gratifying to see the lightbulbs turn on in my students’ minds, and it’s even more gratifying to watch them pursue their own answers to the questions that spark curiosity,” he concludes. “The path ahead of them won’t always be straightforward, but it’s always worth taking.” 

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