ROHNERT PARK -- Graduate-level business education is growing in popularity and prominence at Sonoma State University, prompting leaders there to organize those programs under a single unit headed by a well-known innovator in graduate education from San Rafael's Dominican University of California.

[caption id="attachment_81458" align="alignright" width="220"] John Stayton[/caption]

John Stayton, co-founder of the MBA in Sustainable Enterprise or "Green MBA" at Dominican, will officially begin his role as the School of Business and Economics' executive director for graduate and executive programs on Oct. 28.

He will oversee a selection of full-time, part-time and executive-level graduate programs that have attracted a widening group of students in recent years, marked most recently by what business school leaders called the largest and most internationally diverse group to enroll in the school's executive MBA.

After meeting that sixth cohort during its inaugural session, Mr. Stayton said that he saw the business school's entrepreneurial culture as fertile ground for honing programs that cater to professionals in the modern economy.

"One quality of the School of Business and Economics that I find exciting is that they're really embodying the business principals they are teaching in how they operate," he said. "I feel like my position working under leaders who support innovative programs fits well with my own philosophies."

Mr. Stayton most recently co-founded and served as director of the Venture Greenhouse, a Dominican University-affiliated business incubator and accelerator for high-growth companies with an environmental or social focus.  The program has been steadily expanding its offerings since official launch in October of 2011, helping to support ventures that include specialized lubricant and package manufacturers, energy consultants, agricultural operations and media companies.

The program is considered something of an extension of Dominican's Green MBA, which moved to the school in 2007 after its founding as a graduate program offered at New College of California's Santa Rosa campus in 2000. Mr. Stayton directed the Green MBA for eight years, helping to grow enrollment to around 135 students before moving to the Venture Greenhouse.

Those initiatives, along with Mr. Stayton's business background and approach to education, helped him to stand out in the national search for an executive director, said Dr. William Silver, dean of the business school.

"He really understands that we're operating in the transformational economy -- you 'transform' your customer," Dr. Silver said. In a business school context, "it's not just the classes -- it’s the spaces between the classes."

Dr. Robert Eyler, founder of Sonoma State's executive MBA and director of graduate programs in recent years, will be freed to focus more on instruction and economic research following Mr. Stayton's appointment, Dr. Silver said. He credited Dr. Eyler for having broad influence on the business school's graduate programs, with cohort-style learning and other elements inspired by the "incubator" of the executive MBA.

While the business school's wine industry-specific MBA and other wine programs have long drawn students from beyond the North Bay, the more traditional MBA programs have also begun to pull more students from the broader region and from outside the United States, said Shalyn Eyer, program coordinator for executive and professional programs.

Those students also represent an increasingly broad array of industry backgrounds, with a recent uptick in interest from the government and nonprofit sectors, she said.

"I would say this cohort is our most international yet," she said of the executive MBA. "There are other schools they could go to, but they chose here."

That international appeal is likely to receive further focus under Mr. Stayton.

"To have that resource in the North Bay is a great opportunity. I look forward to getting the word out there about how these programs are on the rise. I think there's a great opportunity for global recognition for the wine MBA, and also opportunity for global recognition of the MBA, EMBA and other programs," he said.

While the Green MBA at Dominican remains unique among many business programs, Mr. Stayton noted that some of its core themes have become increasingly prominent in business education at schools like Sonoma State.

"There has been a sea change since then," he said. "There is a greater focus on ethics in business management. Now is a great time to integrate those themes into business education."

Sonoma State currently offers full and part-time MBA programs, including programs with a specific emphasis on the wine industry. It's executive MBA also includes a wine industry option, and enrollment will soon open for the upcoming wine industry cohort at http://www.sonoma.edu/sbe.