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The #1 Thing You’ll Learn Isn’t in the Curriculum: One Howard OMBA Student’s Journey

April 20, 2021

When Naomie Baptiste decided to get an online MBA, she did what most prospective students do: she asked around. Having already earned a bachelor’s in engineering and a master’s in global business leadership, Baptiste knew a thing or three about the (often-nightmarish) process of selecting, applying to, and enrolling in a degree-granting program. However, she didn’t expect it to be quite so easy to narrow down her business school search. Every one of her peers enthusiastically answered, “Howard!”

“I feel blessed,” Baptiste says. “I know how hard it is to get in.” Even before Vice President Kamala Harris further elevated Howard for educating some of the brightest minds in office, Howard ranked third for its Most Competitive Business School Students and first providing the Greatest Resources for Minority Students. And it is precisely that balance—fiercely entrepreneurial, yet fiercely supportive—which has defined Baptiste’s experience thus far.

Baptiste has learned a lot since beginning Howard’s OMBA program in 2020. Much of what she’s learned aligns to the MBA curriculum. But she’s also learned things not found in course catalogs: that diversity is more than how you look or where you’re from (Baptiste was born in Port Au Prince, Haiti), for one. Diversity of thought and diversity of experience resonate deep throughout Howard’s culture. Online or on-campus, it’s inescapable (in the right way). “This type of insight opens your eyes,” Baptiste says.

What was your journey to Howard University?

I always wanted an MBA. After my undergraduate studies, I earned a Master’s in Global Business Leadership. When I expressed interest in pursuing an MBA degree, my current employer encouraged me to attend a local university here in Florida. But, in the spirit of pursuing this degree for myself and my future—and wanting this to be an incredible, unforgettable experience—my main criteria was to attend a Historically Black College or University (HBCU). When I asked for suggestions, African Americans in my field all said, “Howard!”

It was also important that I earned my MBA degree from a school accredited by the Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business (AACSB). Of the best online MBA programs, very few are AACSB-accredited, and even fewer HBCU MBA programs hold this accreditation. Howard University only began offering its online MBA program in 2020, so it was really special to get admitted in the inaugural year.

Why Online? What else cemented your decision to attend Howard University?

At this point in my career, there was just no way for me to be in a full-time, in-person learning environment due to how much I travel for work. That would not have been a successful route for me. I needed to go at my own pace. I was assigned an admissions advisor who virtually held my hand throughout the entire process. The accessibility was incredible. Numerous informational meetings allowed prospective students to ask questions about start dates, financial aid, coursework, credit hours, and Howard’s methodology for teaching the MBA curriculum through online learning. I know how hard it is to get in, and I feel blessed.

“Your MBA experience is built upon the community of people you will join. This network needs to be one you’ll take pride in because they’ll take pride in you.”

Is there a specific professor that stands out so far?

Dr. Holmes is such a joy! To be in the classroom and at Howard University at the height of the Black Lives Matter movement was quite an experience. Dr. Holmes emphasized the responsibility of being a Black leader. He pushed us to ask what we’re bringing to the table. He asked, “Are you talking to the Black community and educating others, or are you taking part in a culture of ‘shut up and dribble’? Are you giving your true selves to this role as a Black leader?” Dr. Holmes inspires students to think deeper and more critically about our paths.

A misconception about online learning is that students are often disconnected and disengaged. Have your experiences at Howard confirmed or negated this?

That is definitely not the experience in Howard’s online MBA program. Professors require students to have their cameras on. They will not allow you to slip to the shadows—they will call you out to make sure you’re engaged and up-to-speed on the material.

As students, we work a lot with everyone in the cohort, which helps me build relationships and learn from others’ execution styles. I have connected with students local to Orlando, joined the chess club, and attended online workshops on branding and salary negotiation. Students who want to be engaged can be. At Howard, you can find what you came here seeking.

What are your goals?

My goal is to continue to make myself marketable. Howard does a great job of increasing our networking opportunities and preparing us, as future MBA graduates, to become business leaders in our fields—whether that’s healthcare, sustainability, global business, or something else. I want to grow my management skills, general business knowledge, and competency in managing a P&L.

Howard also has a Global Trilateral MBA Certificate Program, allowing MBA students to develop international business consulting experience. Students match with companies in Africa, China, and the U.S. and help those companies solve real-world problems through decision-making, business analytics, and other skills we’ve learned in Howard’s MBA program. I hope to do this.

Any advice for students considering the program or for incoming MBA students?

People often pursue master’s degree programs for the physical, paper certificates needed to advance. But your MBA experience relies upon the community of people—the faculty members, past MBA graduates, and current MBA students—that you will join. This network needs to be one you’ll take pride in because they’ll take pride in you. I chose Howard before Vice President Kamala Harris (a Howard University Graduate!) was elected.

For incoming students, don’t operate in isolation—build relationships with your peer group. Some people think they have to “network up,” but you need to develop these critical peer-level relationships, and Howard’s cohort-style program provides such opportunities.

What are the strengths of Howard’s OMBA program?

This program has it TOGETHER! My previous master’s degree program assigned homework sporadically, and it was due throughout the week. In Howard’s OMBA program, all of our assignments are due on Sunday night, so I don’t have to maintain a calendar of projects with multiple due dates. That’s beneficial.

For the most part, every project in Howard’s online MBA program is a group project—and they’re all extremely interesting. In “Financial Accounting and Business Statistics,” we’re manipulating and analyzing CDC data on opioid usage in large cities. These projects allow us to drive innovation. Our professors hold us accountable and want us to apply what we’re learning in the real world.

What does the student body of the online MBA look like?

The majority of students have careers in management, and many are on the East Coast. We have a rich mix of introverts and extroverts. For many students, this is their first HBCU experience, and most have entrepreneurial endeavors that they want to pursue. Some students are parents; some are married. A classmate who just had a baby offered considerable insight on a project regarding infant mortality. This type of insight opens your eyes. Diversity is not just diversity in the physical sense, and these projects create opportunities to share and learn from various experiences.

Has COVID-19 impacted your online MBA experience?

Due to the pandemic, I don’t have to go to the office physically, so I have more time to study, which has benefited me. I’m able to transition from work to school (online) easily. In 2020, Howard voluntarily refunded $7 million to on-campus students whose in-person learning was disrupted by COVID-19. Howard also received funding as part of the Coronavirus Aid, Relief and Economic Security (CARES) Act, which allowed the university to distribute $2.5 million in emergency funds to undergraduate, graduate, and professional students. These gestures cement the type of university Howard is.

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.

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