2018 Best Online MBAs: Nicki Vo, Rochester Institute of Technology

Nicki Vo

Rochester Institute of Technology (RIT)

Passionate, inspiring, high-achieving, technical leader motivated to help teams innovate and solve complex scientific problems.”

Age: 40

Hometown: Richfield, WI

Fun fact about yourself: I’m a personality test junkie! I like learning about others and see if the personality tests are relevant, anything from Myers-Briggs, DISC, to crazy ones like what is your spirit animal. I think it’s fun and something everyone can relate to and talk about.

Undergraduate School and Degree:

2004, Undergrad: University of Wisconsin at Whitewater, BS in Chemistry

2005, Grad: University of Wisconsin at Madison, MS in Chemistry

Where are you currently working? Hydrite

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? In 2017, I was nominated for Employee of the Year Award for the significant value-add that I had brought to the company. It wasn’t the award I was proud of: it was why I was nominated. I had incubated the technology team from a team that had minimal capability and a poor reputation. In a short three year period, I was able to mentor, coach, and inspire the team members to doing their best.  The team had quickly turned around that reputation and become the model team, where many people had wanted to get hired into the technology group to be part of the world-class team. I’m proud to have accomplished growing such a significant contributing member to the company that was, no doubt, one of the company’s competitive advantage. I was able to implement Agile project management into the company as a standard practice, and the company has been able to go to market faster by several months with several projects. I had even filed a patent for one in May 2017.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? Before I did my EMBA program, I wanted to be sure that the curriculum and school was well acclaimed considering the cost and the time requirements, Through extensive research, I learned RIT earned a number of awards for several years. Additionally, RIT provided an emphasis on technology management. As a technology leader, I wanted to have that level of rigor to know how to successfully manage and research technology and innovation.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? I enjoyed learning the concepts of organizational design, strategic thinking, competitive analysis, strategic marketing, and being given the opportunity to apply it. There were also several cohort students who helped me to grow as they supported or challenged my thinking. The opportunity to do so was enjoyable as I learned how to grow professionally.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? I hadn’t truly appreciated the time commitment involved with this program. Differing from an in-class experience, I had to learn quickly how to manage my time and stay on top of competing priorities.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? As an undergrad, you are given all the information needed to accomplish your grade. As a graduate, much of the work is self-directed. There was also more critical thinking, as the answers weren’t always readily available. I would need to think through the analysis more and, at times, there were no right or wrong answers – only to justify your answers.  Additionally, my EMBA experience required much more group work and collaboration than as an undergrad. Through group work with the same team all throughout the program, we had learned what works and what doesn’t work, as well as how critical it is to have a trusting relationship with your teammates. I wasn’t exposed to this as an undergrad.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? My advice is to be sure that you are fully committed to an online MBA program. The program is very intense and requires a lot of your time; you have to be very diligent about what you are going to work on. As opposed to undergrad studies, one cannot do it all going through the program and working full-time; there is just simply not enough time to do it all. So I had to learn quickly what activities I needed to focus on to give me the best results. If I wasn’t thoughtful and disciplined on what I would work on, I found myself working on small areas that didn’t give me a large return on my investment. It’s about thinking through the opportunity cost. Additionally, be open-minded about who you are learning from. As adult students, many of us come from great vast experiences that brings richness to the subjects and discussions. If I was closed-minded about learning what others know or had gone through, I would not have grown in my knowledge and skills.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? I have understood better how to manage a team and organization. I have also set forth more strategic directions both as a personal means and with my department. By applying the models and principles, I have been able to clearly identify strategies and communicate them to upper management. The knowledge I have gained and applied has helped me to recently land a job and create visibility for the path towards being a technical director. The value I have brought to this new job in terms of setting strategic initiatives in technology has gained much attention and has helped me become a “high-potential” leader in this new organization.

If you had to do it all over again, would you? Why? I would do it all over again, but I would have wanted to apply the things I learned along the way. This is particularly true about disciplined time management, opportunity costs, and being firmer about team member selection, to ensure I have teammates who are going to challenge and grow me.

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would like to be a Chief Technology Officer who leads a group of scientists developing ground-breaking products and technology, creating a thriving innovation community where all of the scientists are proud to be part of a world-class team.


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