Ricky Neal’s Career in Law Enforcement and State Government Leads to Youngstown MBA

Ricky Neal grew up in Ravenna, Ohio, and his plans after graduating high school were the same as many of his classmates: going to college, earning his bachelor’s degree and then starting hisYoungstown State MBA graduate Ricky Neal wearing a black suit and red shirt in a professional photo career. Things didn’t work out that way.

“It’s actually a funny story,” he laughed, remembering his experience as a college freshman. “I started right off and thought, ‘You know, this isn’t for me.’ So I stopped and I became a cop instead.”

In 2009, Neal joined the Portage County Sheriff’s Office, located in his hometown. It was the beginning of a 14-year career in law enforcement, one that eventually led to a position with the Ohio Lottery Commission as an investigator. He was promoted to Racino Regulation Manager in August 2022, four months before he completed his MBA at Youngstown State University.

Neal graduated from YSU’s online General MBA program in December of 2022, and believes his advanced coursework in business helped him move up to a leadership role.

“I’ve used things that I’ve learned inside of the MBA program already in my job,” he said. “I can relate the program to real-world applications.”

A Dedication to Public Service

Neal currently handles oversight and compliance for video lottery terminals (VLTs) across Ohio. The state classifies VLTs as both traditional slot machines and other types of electronic gaming terminals, such as those found at horse racing tracks.

The role seems tailor-made for Neal’s unique skill set as an MBA graduate, since now he has expertise in business and law enforcement. The focus of his work with racinos and gaming facilities is “making sure that their operation is very smooth and ethical and they’re not out to hurt or damage the patron,” he said.

In addition to his eight-year tenure as an investigator with the lottery commission, Neal has worked as an officer in regional, local and college police departments across Northeast Ohio. He continues to follow the example and commitment of his late father, Ricky Neal, Sr., who was the long-time chief of police in Garrettsville and served as jail administrator for Portage County.

Neal loves working with the public so much that he’s still a part-time officer with the Beaver Township Police Department. In 2017, he also found time to go back to school, earning his Bachelor of Applied Science in Criminal Justice Administration from Waldorf University in neighboring Forest City, Iowa.

“It’s a business degree for cops, basically,” he said, but reaching that goal gave him the spark he needed to keep learning.

His state job offered tuition reimbursement as a benefit, so he started doing some research on MBA programs. Four universities offering the degree were located within an hour of his home, and he liked the idea of studying close by. However, the flexibility and convenience of learning online appealed to him most.

“The online format, at least for me, was just so much nicer because I didn’t have to drive down to campus and spend a couple of hours after work listening to a lecture,” he said. “I could do it on my time.” In the end, the right online MBA program for his needs was just 20 minutes down the road, at Youngstown State.

Building MBA Skills and Confidence

The ease of applying and enrolling online at YSU helped Neal get a fast start on his degree. In addition, he was impressed by the program’s quality and reasonable cost. “It was affordable, but itYoungstown State MBA graduate Ricky Neal wearing a black suit and red shirt in a professional photo was also challenging, and it was engaging,” he said, though he admits to being a little nervous at first.

“I remember this clear as day,” he began. “It’s funny, it was like eight o’clock at night and I said to my wife, ‘Well, I’m going to start my class now.’ And I’m listening to the lecture and I’m like, man, I don’t know. I paused the lecture and told her ‘I don’t think I’m cut out for this. I’m not smart enough.’ … But then I realized that, yeah, I actually am smart enough to do this.”

He made it through the lecture, and eventually through his first class. After that, Neal’s confidence grew and he began to enjoy his graduate courses. Interacting with classmates during group projects also helped him find his way. “It was nice because then I could bounce ideas off of other students,” he remembered. “It was just a great process.”

However, Neal liked working with his online MBA professors the most.

“Probably one of the best things about this program is how wonderful the faculty is,” he observed, noting that their consistent support made a difference.

“It just seemed like it was more one-to-one,” he said, describing his relationship with online instructors. “You’re still getting the same degree as you would on campus but you’re getting the personal touch of someone that answers your questions quickly.”

Neal appreciated the fact that YSU faculty had empathy for students with busy lives. “The professors [would say] ‘Listen, we understand you’re working adults. Things are going to happen. Work is going to get in the way, life is going to get in the way. Talk to us. Let us know. We’ll work with you,'” he said. “They get it.”

New Adventures in Life and Business

In addition to his job with the Ohio Lottery Commission and picking up shifts with Beaver Township PD, Neal has become a licensed real estate agent. To him, taking on another exciting challenge is no big deal. He’s always looking for ways to protect and serve others, regardless of the role he plays.

“Getting this MBA has kind of opened my eyes to the possibilities that are out there. It’s a versatile degree,” he said. “I think it opened up an avenue to do whatever I want, because business administration touches every part of the world.”

Neal spends plenty of quality time with friends and family as well, including his four-year-old son Alexander. He says his wife Katie, a two-time YSU alum, is happy to have another booster in the house.

“Proud to be a ‘guin as we say here in the Youngstown area,” he laughed, referencing the university’s beloved penguin mascot.

He says the spirit of generosity he encountered while studying at YSU reflects its reputation as a small school offering big opportunity for online learners. And a place where students matter. “Their goals and their philosophy just kind of aligned with where I wanted to be,” he said.

Neal embraces the abundance of new connections and adventures his life now includes. He believes his experience is an example of how rewarding a return to college can be, and that learning online can make an MBA possible. Even for the busiest man in Ohio.

“I think you have to remind yourself sometimes that you can do it and just jump in,” he said. “I was glad I did.”

Learn more about Youngstown State University’s online General Master of Business Administration online program.

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