A headshot of Joseph Protopapa

June 2023
Joseph Protopapa

Jul. 12, 2023

Business thrives on constant evolution. The same can be said about people. 

The quest for knowledge is what drives students to UNLV’s Executive MBA program, and as Cohort 22 begins their journey, Joe Protopapa is there to provide guidance. 

“In order to stay at the top of your profession, you need to stay ahead of trends, know what’s happening, and know what’s coming next,” explains Protopapa, the Lee Business School’s director of career and professional development. 

A leading figure at LEE since his arrival in 2018, Protopapa brings more than 20 years of career development experience to the EMBA program, serving as executive coach to a cohort of diverse professionals eager to expand their horizons. 

It’s a role that suits Protopapa, who began his career working in career services at the University of Akron – his alma mater – in his home state of Ohio. The experience led to career development and management roles at Stetson University and the Wisconsin School of Business before he relocated to Southern Nevada and UNLV.

“In Wisconsin, I felt like a cog in a machine,” Protopapa says. “Here, my background and experience are much more valuable.

“We’re the most diverse campus in the country with a lot of first-generation college students. What I’m doing is meeting with individual students to discuss a variety of life and career topics that are tailored to their individual needs.”

With EMBA Cohort 22 starting its journey, Protopapa sat down to discuss his role and the impact he’ll have on the program.

Q: Students coming into the EMBA are already accomplished professionals. Can you explain why executive coaching is critical at any stage of your career?

Joe Protopapa: Many of the reasons EMBA students would seek out coaching is because they’re looking for something that’s more transformational in nature, rather than transactional. They’re not looking for coaching to secure a job. They’re looking more for meaning, fulfillment, something that fills a gap in their life. They’re passionate about something, personal or professional, and they want to pursue their passion.

Q: Have you already started having these conversations?

Joe Protopapa: Yes. I met with an EMBA in his late 30s who has had a successful career and, in terms of retirement goals, he’s already there. But now he’s seeking out coaching because he doesn’t feel fulfilled. Another cohort member was looking for internships for grad students and can’t find one. For an educated professional, it’s a bigger challenge to find experiences and opportunities that fit what you’re looking for, because a majority of those opportunities may only exist at the entry level.

Q: What’s one piece of advice you share that applies to all students?

Joe Protopapa: In my experience, it’s not what you know, it’s who you know. What I mean by that is, make connections and be intentional about the connections you make in the business community, so that you can leverage those relationships, and so that you can help your contacts and help yourself in the future.

Q: Why do you love Las Vegas?

Joe Protopapa: The weather, I hate the cold. But really, it’s about how surprisingly diverse our economy is becoming. Whether we’re talking about the lithium economy or the hydrogen economy or the sports economy. The intentionality of our business community, becoming more diverse, and not relying so much on hospitality and tourism --- that’s one of the things that excites me the most.

Q: What excites you about the incoming EMBA cohort?

Joe Protopapa: As I’ve looked at the [students], I’m excited to be exposed to a variety of industries. There are some students in hospitality and tourism, finance, healthcare – it runs through every industry that you could imagine. So not only do I get to work with a diverse population, I also get to learn more about all of these different industries. When you’re working with mid-career professionals, they know a lot, and they’re going to educate you in their areas of expertise, and that’s exciting because you can never know enough.