Royal Roads’ innovative DBA program sees its first dissertation defence

Edward Appiah-Brafoh

Read more about Royal Roads’ Doctor of Business Administration program.


Edward Appiah-Brafoh has made Royal Roads University history by becoming the inaugural candidate to successfully defend his doctoral dissertation in the first cohort of the Doctor of Business Administration program.

After six years of planning, the DBA launched in 2020. The program combines the academic rigour of a conventional PhD program with the applied, real-world focus of a professional doctorate and is aimed at attracting people who are already leaders in their fields. 

Appiah-Brafoh fit the bill just as the program fit his needs.

A native of Mamfe, in the Eastern Region of Ghana, he’d previously earned an undergrad degree in educational psychology as well as two master’s degrees, in human resources development as well as communications and public relations. He enrolled in RRU’s Doctor of Social Sciences program in 2019, then switched to the DBA.

But it was his professional experience that not only sealed his decision to change programs but also provided his dissertation topic.

The dissertation is titled “Developing Human Capital to Accelerate Time to Autonomy for Petro-technical Professionals in the Upstream Oil and Gas Industry” and attempts to address an issue he’d seen in 15 years of human resources work in the petroleum industry: getting enough petro-technical professionals — geologists, geophysicists, petrophysicists and engineers — up to speed quickly enough to take over from those retiring. 

Noting that many younger people were advised not to go into an increasingly volatile petroleum industry, Appiah-Brafoh says there’s a shortage of skilled labour.

“There are a lot of people who are nearing retirement and those who have retired but they are still working because we don’t have many experienced petro-technical professionals,” he says.

Portrait of Hassan Wafai at Royal Roads University

“Aspire to make change”

It’s this type of applied research that RRU’s DBA program was designed to encourage, says Hassan Wafai, DBA program head.

While some doctoral candidates go on, or back, to teaching in academia, far more are in leadership positions in the private and public sectors.

“Since its launch, it has been a very successful program, attracting top-notch talents, attracting the very talent we designed the program for,” Wafai says.

“We’re very fortunate to have colleagues who aspire to make change, who aspire to be subject matter experts and who have the potential to advance management practices and also contribute to scholarly literature.”

Indeed, the first cohort boasts doctoral candidates in a variety of professional fields, from academia and IT to health care and transportation.

“The first cohort actually captures the diversity of the program,” Wafai says. “They represent the kinds of students that we’re really trying to attract. They are working professionals. They have a lot of experience. They have the potential to lead change in their sector or industry or community.”

“It’s very important for us to be flexible”

Because they’re working professionals, change is built into the system, Wafai says. 

“Throughout the last five years, we’ve been very receptive to feedback from students and faculty to make sure the program evolves in the right direction.” 

Flexibility is also part of the DBA program, which has enjoyed a steady level of enrolment since its launch.

“We do have that cohort model but everyone has their own path,” Wafai explains. “It’s very important for us to be flexible — not just flexible in the processes, also to be open to different research ideas. That is our job.”

In addition, that flexibility accommodates students’ family and work commitments, he says, noting, “We are the best to do this at Royal Roads University. This is what we do.”

Putting DBA education into action

Appiah-Brafoh says he appreciates the flexibility, and he praises his cohort, calling his classmates “an experienced group … very much respected in their various fields of endeavour” and adding that their example encouraged him to work hard. 

“You could see the depth of knowledge and understanding… That really kept me on my toes to study harder.”

He says he owes “a huge debt of gratitude” to his dissertation supervisor, Frances Jorgensen, and emphasizes the support he received from his wife, Olasumbo Appiah-Brafoh, and their daughters, Samuela, Edwardine and Samantha.

Asked about his reaction to his successful dissertation defence, he says: “I became so happy. I became so emotional. I was filled with tears of joy.”

Now, soon to be equipped with his DBA — he’s scheduled to graduate in June — Appiah-Brafoh plans to return to Ghana to continue his work in the oil and gas industry and put into action everything he’s learned.