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How One Howard Student Balances Earning an MBA While Working Full-Time

A headshot of Howard student Andre Samuel.

You can tell from Andre Samuel’s list of accomplishments that he’s not one to rest on his laurels. Since earning his bachelor’s degree in 2008, Samuel has consulted on government policy, worked on political campaigns, written a book, and landed a position in the Florida Secretary of Commerce office.

Despite these accomplishments, Samuel determined he needed something more to achieve his next goal: to promote entrepreneurship and business growth in Florida’s Black communities. He reached out to a Howard University School of Business admissions counselor to discuss the Online Master of Business Administration (OMBA) program at this leading HBCU. He applied, was admitted, and now attends remotely while continuing to work his full-time job in Florida.

His plate is full but not overflowing: in the interview below, Samuel explains how he manages to balance his master’s degree studies with his work and personal life.

What prompted you to go to business school?

I wanted to make a difference in my community. That’s not new; I’ve always been civically engaged. I’ve worked in presidential and state elections as well as county and city commission races. Those experiences showed the degree to which my community’s success depends on the growth of business and entrepreneurship in Black communities. I realized that if I truly wanted to make a difference, I needed to master the intersection of public policy and business opportunities in my community.

In my current job, I serve as Special Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce for the state of Florida, a role that exposes me to everything from international trade to promoting small business growth. It’s a great job, one in which I can apply my Howard education to create more significant opportunities and prosperity in my community.

What will you do with your MBA degree when you finish?

I hope to have the tools I need to be more successful in business. My goals are to run a major start-up or corporation and use my position to help disadvantaged communities.

By the time I finish my MBA, I hope to have a greater understanding of business, capital structures, and start-up financing. I’d like to use that knowledge to help craft policy and foster business growth in my community.

Everything I have experienced and learned convinces me that independent entrepreneurship and education are the keys to our community’s success. I hope my MBA will allow me to play a more effective role in uplifting under-resourced communities.

How did you choose between a full-time MBA program and a part-time MBA program?

I chose the part-time MBA program so I could continue working. I currently have a role in an organization that makes a difference, and I did not want to give that up. The part-time program allows me to balance the need to enhance my education credentials while also gaining work experience. It also provides the opportunity to immediately apply what I’m learning in MBA courses to real-world situations.

How did you choose between an in-person MBA and an online MBA program?

I chose the online MBA so I could benefit from a Howard education without having to relocate. What do you do for a living, and what was your path to this career? I am currently the Special Assistant to the Secretary of Commerce for the State of Florida. In this role, I have assisted the Secretary in expanding minority and small business entrepreneurship through capital programs. I have helped him shape policies related to Opportunity Zone initiatives and the recruitment of businesses in our targeted industries. I also aid the management of the organization primarily responsible for working with our state’s economic development organizations to ensure a strong future of high-wage opportunities for Floridians.

In addition, I assist in the development of trade-related Memorandums of Understanding and in the maintenance of our leadership role in trade organizations with Asia and Canada. Florida’s economy is the seventeenth-largest in the world and fourth-largest in the nation—that means we conduct a lot of international business. I help manage our 14 International Trade offices, which span 13 countries, and our six statewide trade offices. While the COVID era has posed challenges, Florida continues to excel. Today, our state ranks fourth among all states in foreign direct investment.

It’s not only the most rewarding position in my professional life but also the most illuminating. Working under the Secretary has exposed me to the vastness of international commerce and various opportunities that many in my community have yet to exploit. I hope to take my experiences and marry them with my education from Howard to open doors of opportunity for others, as my current post serving under the Secretary has done for me.

I obtained my Bachelor of Science in agricultural and biological engineering. After graduation, I worked in infrastructure. I also developed policy platforms for local government officials, worked in political campaigns, and published my first book NUBIA: The Rise and Fall of African Empires. These experiences nurtured an appreciation for the critical role of policy in facilitating communities’ dreams and ambitions. I saw firsthand how policy and business impact one another, and I resolved to learn as much about business, entrepreneurship, and finance as possible to be of service in my community.

Why was it important to you to continue working full-time while pursuing your degree?

It has taken a great deal of time to hit a stride in my career, and I did not want to interrupt my progress. The part-time option allows me to continue advancing while still enhancing my qualifications. How did you approach your employer when you decided to enroll in a part-time MBA program? My employer encouraged me to apply to the program. They are very supportive of career advancement and HBCUs. I could not have asked for a more enthusiastic support system.

Were they or you worried about how it might impact your full-time job?

Not at all.

How did you ensure your employer that you wouldn’t lose sight/focus?

I simply redoubled my efforts to ensure that I maintained the quality of my work. I come in earlier and stay later than before. I work on weekends and prepare to get ahead of my work. I have just had to become more conscientious about time management to ensure I don’t compromise the quality of my work. The adjustment has been difficult but doable.

Before starting Howard’s OMBA program, what was your day-to-day schedule? How has that changed?

I have eliminated the time that was once wasted in my schedule. I utilize my lunch breaks for more productive activities. I wake up earlier to study daily, and I no longer sleep late on the weekends.

This program requires a great deal of discipline and daily study. That said, my day-to-day work schedule is essentially the same. The difference is in the complete elimination of frivolous downtime.

What expectations did you have about balancing earning your MBA while working full-time?

I was not expecting the amount and intensity of studying required to keep up with the schoolwork. I study daily. I honestly did not expect to need to study so much, given my engineering background.

There is a great deal of bad advice in publications regarding the requirements of MBA programs. This advice may be geared toward less competitive universities because the Howard OMBA program requires considerable effort and rigorous discipline.

Roughly how much time each week do you spend outside of class on coursework? What’s your course load like?

I am currently in “Financial Management and Productions” and “Operations Research.” I study four to five hours a day, in addition to class attendance. On the weekends, I begin studying in the morning and continue studying until late in the evening.

What are the benefits of attending an online, part-time program? What are the tradeoffs?

The only tradeoff is that we are not on campus as full-time students are. However, my full-time career would make on-campus study much less convenient and much less practical. For a working professional like myself, the online program is optimal.

What’s been your favorite course or professor so far, and why?

“Productions and Operations Research,” with “Organizational Management” in a close second. Simply put, both classes are directly applicable to my career aspirations. In fact, I was able to apply what I learned in “Organizational Management” at my workplace immediately. “Productions and Operations Research” is so thorough that its usefulness is undeniable. It’s exactly the sort of course I hoped for when I enrolled in this graduate school.

How have your time management skills changed since enrolling in the OMBA program?

Out of sheer necessity, my time management skills have massively improved.

What advice do you have for prospective Howard MBA students for achieving work-life balance while going to school part-time?

I would merely reassure prospective students that balance is possible. However, do not underestimate the commitment required to achieve a complete education. You will need to sacrifice to be successful. Part-time does not mean partial effort. You can complete this program and balance it with your work life and personal life, but your education will occupy every moment in between.

What do you do in your free time?

I lift weights, row, run in virtual marathons (thanks to COVID), and read in my free time. I have had to make a considerable effort to schedule time for each of these and space them out in my calendar. You will need to be conscientious and disciplined about maintaining these kinds of activities because they are vital for your mental health and stress relief.

Anything else you want to add?

Please be sure to sleep!

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