Nneka Akukwe ’20 (MAX) ’22 MBA didn’t know that she would be attending graduate school so soon, but when COVID-19 descended on the country in the midst of her last semester of college, her plans changed.
“Universities were asking students to leave campus, employers were shuttering their businesses, and the world had turned to online communications. What we thought would be a two week break turned into months, and I began to question my future,” Akukwe explains. “I soon realized that there was only a slim chance of finding a job in my field of interest after graduation.”
With entering the workforce becoming a less viable option every day, Akukwe moved up her plans of going to graduate school. While her undergraduate degree is in international relations, Akukwe says that her time at Syracuse University’s Maxwell School of Citizenship and Public Affairs solidified her interests in economic growth, emerging markets, and youth and women’s empowerment.
After graduation, she began reaching out to her professional network to garner advice on continuing her education. Her connections advised her to pursue an MBA at the Whitman School of Management, and during this time she was also connected with Shri Ramakrishnan, assistant director of recruitment for Master’s programs at Whitman. Akukwe says, “She was a fountain of information about my interests and their direct connection to some of the course offerings offered in the Whitman MBA program.”
Upon acceptance to the program, Akukwe decided to specialize in entrepreneurship and emerging enterprises and finance. During her time at Whitman, she says that she has been able to strengthen both hard and soft skills. “My skill level with Excel has greatly improved as have my understanding of business organizations, business concepts and financial management,” Akukwe says. “Whitman is also a great collaborative environment for fostering leadership. Course group projects have been great for embracing teamwork, understanding different communication styles, managing a team and time management.”
When looking to the future, Akukwe explains that her culture is of the utmost importance to her. Though she now calls Silver Spring, MD, a suburb of Washington D.C., home, her family comes from Ghana and Nigeria, and she emphasizes the importance of that background. “As a Ghanaian and Nigerian American woman, I embrace all of my heritages. It is the cultural capital that informs my communication, values and aspirations,” she says. “I lived with my grandparents in Ghana for seven years—first as a toddler and then as an adolescent. Those years in Ghana helped me to cultivate a deeper understanding and appreciation of my heritage.”
Akukwe plans to take her experiences at Maxwell and Whitman and combine those skills to focus on international business. “I hope to work with social ventures or development banks like FINCA International, Ashoka, Women’s World Banking or the African Development Bank to come up with market-based solutions that address barriers to finance for women and youth in underserved communities,” she explains. “I hope to ultimately start an organization to address these same issues. “
Learn more about the MBA experience at Whitman.