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Lelna Desta has spent the last seven years working in the health insurance world with UnitedHealthcare.

Desta, a student in the Saint Mary’s Doctor of Business Administration (DBA) program, has a background in biomedical engineering, and an MBA with a focus on business analytics.

When Desta arrived at UnitedHealthcare, she began working on a tech project where she was placed on an agile team. Agile project management is a methodology used in project management that emphasizes flexibility, collaboration, and iterative development. Working on the agile project at UnitedHealthcare, Desta was on a team that was based half in the U.S. and half in India.

“I was just fascinated by how the teams blended together, worked together, and leveraged their expertise to work on an innovative product” she said. “It was a very different type of team and different type of collaboration.”

Because of her experience at UnitedHealthcare, when it came time to pick a research topic for her dissertation, Desta chose to study the lived experiences of dispersed agile software developers working for international companies.

Desta is still halfway through her research but says she has uncovered interesting findings, especially when it comes to how people view dispersed work.

“Usually when researchers and practitioners consider dispersed agile teams, they think about various parts of the world.” she said. “However, a lot of the people I’ve talked to who live in India have said, ‘I’ve never seen my colleagues because they’re in other parts of India.’ So it’s still very much a virtual experience that they have, which I think adds a whole different layer to how you consider dispersed agile teams.”

Desta says between her program cohort and her professors in the DBA program, Saint Mary’s did a wonderful job of preparing her for her doctoral research.

“I learned an immense amount from my professors thanks to their experience and unique approach to teaching,” she said.

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