An interview with Mesoma Akaolisa, future iMBA graduate.

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An interview with Mesoma Akaolisa, future iMBA graduate.

Meet Mesoma, a native of Nigeria. She is currently based in Houston, Texas, and is a rising leader on the engineering team at ExxonMobil. She knows it’s important to acquire new skills to progress further in her role, and Coursera has become instrumental in her growth. In a recent interview, she shared her thoughts on the importance of education to her career, her reasons for choosing to earn her degree online, and her strategies for achieving work-life balance. She even has some advice for newly enrolled students!

Hi Mesoma, thank you for taking the time to meet with us. To get started, can you tell us a little bit about your career path? 

Of course! I am an engineer at ExxonMobil, where I manage a cost estimating tool. Prior to that, I served in the United States Army for about six years.

Thank you for your service! And can you tell us about when you discovered Coursera, and what were your learning goals at that time?

I first used Coursera to double up on skills that I felt were necessary when I was applying for jobs after transitioning out of the military. I wanted to be more competitive in the job market. 

Talk a bit about your decision to go from taking just a few courses online to pursuing a full degree. 

The reason I decided to pursue an online degree is because I’m a working professional. I didn’t want a situation where my work would impede my goals of getting another degree. It’s unacceptable. I needed an advanced degree, but I also needed something that would accommodate my flexibility needs. 

It’s wonderful that you found a flexible option on Coursera! As someone with an engineering background, why was the MBA program so attractive to you?

The MBA program was the best choice for me because, at this stage in my career, I’m in a leadership role. As a member of one of the founding teams working on low carbon solutions at ExxonMobil, I have to direct other people as a product owner, so I felt like pursuing an MBA was the right choice in wanting to advance in my career – especially for the current projects that I’m doing. 

Do you feel like you’re already applying your degree learning to the work you’re doing now?

Absolutely! I am working on a new project with low carbon solutions, and the statistics course that I took has helped me with things like A/B testing and how to utilize data properly. With these types of projects, you have to use a lot of data to create a product or a project, and the statistics course alone has really helped me with utilizing that data to do the work that I need to do better. 

What was it about the Gies College of Business at the University of Illinois that stood out to you? 

I compared Gies with other schools, and the first reason I chose Gies was the flexibility. You have the option of pursuing an MBA in two years, two and a half years, or three years. The second reason was the content. The courses that they were offering were things that I was interested in. Each of the classes was thoughtfully selected and relevant in real-world cases, so I decided to pursue my MBA with Gies.

Was it hard to connect with faculty and your fellow students, given that the program is online?

The professors, although they’re accommodating a lot of students, you still feel connected with them in the live lectures. The program is set up so that you don’t feel like you’re just a drop in the ocean. You can go to office hours, you can communicate with people, and they have projects with small groups so it still feels very intimate. Gies also made a conscious effort to let students connect with each other through a platform called Workplace, and if you and your classmates are in the same location, you can hang out with them. That communal feeling is one of the most important things for me.

Given all your different work and learning commitments, how do you balance it all?

Great question! My school has made it possible to take things at your own pace. For example, you can watch the course lectures at your own pace. I could be on my lunch break at work, and decide to pop up a 30-minute lecture, and I’m killing two birds with one stone. Because of that flexibility and the fact that I can take courses at my own pace, it is very easy to plan and schedule my work properly. So the balance is not a problem for me.

So what does the future hold for Mesoma? What do you hope to do after you earn your degree?

I intend to apply what I’ve learned in higher positions when I get promoted at work. I want to use the degree to put in the work I have learned and help my company out. Not everybody has an MBA, and having one sets you apart, and I want to provide more value with this knowledge.

Any final words for students starting the iMBA program at Gies?

I would tell them to utilize all the resources that Gies provides. There are also people that you can talk to in order to plan your courses. There’s an email called iSupport that allows you to ask questions. They have made the effort to make sure that the students have all that they need. This is a once-in-a-lifetime learning experience, so I would tell them to enjoy online learning and get to know a lot of people because there are a lot of people in the program from different backgrounds. That one connection could maybe impact your career or give you a little boost or maybe you can just become friends. So enjoy the ride!

Thank you so much, Mesoma! 
If you’re considering whether earning a degree is the right choice for your career, we hope Mesoma’s story is inspiring and insightful. And remember, Coursera is here to help you along the way!  

Learn more about the Gies College of Business iMBA program