The first time Krystal Brockett attempted to go to business school, she burned out. Between a lengthy commute to attend on-campus classes, hours of coursework, and the demands of a job as a federal government contractor, the real-world juggling act of earning a master’s degree while working full-time was simply too much.
But Brockett didn’t give up on her MBA dreams. Today, she thrives in her third semester of Howard University’s Online MBA, thanks to the program’s flexible schedule and Howard’s thoroughly supportive culture.
Here’s a look at Brockett’s experience: why attending an HBCU was important, the challenges—and benefits—of online learning, and her advice for aspiring Howard MBAs.
What was your journey to earning an online MBA?
When I finished my bachelor’s degree in 2010, the job market was still suffering from the Great Recession. I wanted to go straight to business school at that time, but most schools were looking for candidates with job experience. I had a degree but lacked years of work experience. Eleven years later, I’d climbed to senior-level positions, but never into management roles. I attempted an on-campus graduate program five years ago, but I burned out quickly between a significant commute and hours of classes twice a week. This is what brought me to consider online programs.
I attended an HBCU for undergrad and loved it. It was important for me to attend an HBCU MBA program. I’ve always wanted to attend Howard University, and I applied to Howard as a transfer student in undergrad and got accepted, but I was so attached to my campus by then that I couldn’t leave. So, I was firm about coming to Howard University for graduate school. I was excited to find out about the part-time online MBA program. I knew the culture of Howard would help me in my education. Every day, I have to be who other people want me to be. I didn’t want that in a grad school program.
What are the benefits of an online program?
First would have to be the accessibility and flexibility—not having to commute to campus for class and events, and being able to complete coursework at your own pace. Second, I am more comfortable online. I feel less nervous because I’m in my own space as opposed to the physical classroom.
Next, I’d emphasize the consistency that is possible within the program due to it being online. There are no snow days, etc. The only way we won’t have class is if something’s wrong with the internet!
Lastly, I’d mention the connectivity of the cohort. We have live classes in Zoom and utilize Canvas for posting and submitting assignments. We also use an application called Group Me for interaction within the cohort. We’re able to engage with everyone in our cohort and even the online MBA students in the cohort behind us. It feels like family.
What has your experience been like so far?
I believe that every Black person should experience an HBCU at some point in their education. I grew up in places that weren’t very diverse and never realized how much time I spent being someone else for others. Culture is a strength of the program at Howard. For example, in class with Dr. Rayshad Holmes last summer during the protests and riots, he took the time to check in on us. We talked openly about being scared. Non-HBCU schools would probably have avoided addressing the emotional climate or emailed in an impersonal way about not condoning the events. Howard is unapologetically Black. While other schools pander to non-Black students, Howard is firm in who they are.
How were you welcomed into the online MBA program?
We had a virtual orientation where the dean spoke about networking and student resources, and also answered questions. We met faculty members and other online MBA students in the cohort in breakout rooms. We also received calls from our advisors (there are enrollment and academic advisors) before the beginning of the semester.
What cemented my desire to attend Howard happened long before I was accepted. I’d started my online application, but it wasn’t successful when I tried to upload a document. So, I saved my application and decided I’d come back to it later. Before I could even reach out for help, someone from Howard University called to see how they could help and ask whether I had any needs or concerns. I was cared for even as a prospective student, and that meant a lot.
What are some common misconceptions you’ve heard about online learning?
First, that online classes will be easier. Conversely, our tests are much more challenging. I almost want to take exams in person because the computer can be distracting, and there are so many things to fiddle with or make me nervous, like the timer counting down!
There’s also a misconception that online programs are watered-down versions of the on-campus programs, which is definitely not true. We probably learn even more than traditional on-campus, full-time MBA students because we’re more disciplined in time management, juggling an MBA curriculum with our full-time jobs.
Has COVID impacted your learning experience in any way?
COVID has caused probably more of a change for professors than for us as MBA students, as many of our professors teach full-time and teach other courses on campus as well. It’s business as usual for us.
Is there a professor who has made a difference in your learning experience?
Dr. Holmes. He takes a more personal approach to the curriculum that made me feel like I could be successful. One experience stands out for me. We’re in live sessions in class, and most students shout out answers when they wish to contribute. I have no problem with others shouting, but that’s hard for me to do personally. I didn’t want Dr. Holmes to think that I wasn’t engaged in the conversation, so I sent him an email about my dilemma. He comforted me and let me know he would pay attention to Zoom’s chat during the live sessions to see if I typed a comment and check to see if I’d raised my hand using the Zoom virtual feature. He pays attention to different learning styles and understands cultural differences.
Howard University hires the most impressive professors who have had powerful experiences as business leaders, such as serving on the DC Retirement Agency board and working on President Barack Obama’s campaign and Rep. Stacey Abrams’ VOTE initiatives. I feel close to every professor that I’ve had. I can send an email to any of them—even if I’m no longer in their class—to request resume tips, get their thoughts about an article, etc. Many of our professors have even given us their numbers. They are incredibly reachable.
Any advice for students considering applying to Howard’s Online MBA Program?
This program is unique and offers the best experience from esteemed professors. Whatever you’re into, you’ll find someone who can help you at Howard. Everyone wants to see you succeed. Even the help desk is there 24/7—and they’ve helped me at 1 a.m. I consider myself self-motivated, but having so many people around you who want you to succeed makes a difference. Anyone in the world can benefit from this culture of family that exists at Howard University.
This interview was conducted by Cicely K. Johnson, who earned both her Bachelor of Arts in Pre-Law Studies (2005) and her Doctor of Philosophy (2015) from Howard University. Cicely also holds master’s degrees from CUNY Graduate Center and the New School University. She is a medical sociologist with concentrations in disparities research and psychology, an adjunct professor at CUNY-Lehman and Brooklyn College in New York City, and the director of programming at the HOPE Center Harlem.