First Gen: Inspiring Stories Of MBAs Who Beat The Odds

Jeffrey Bonsu

Duke University, Fuqua School of Business

Class: 2020

Hometown: Dallas, Texas

Fun Fact About Yourself: I LOVE Pokémon Go! And now that the “bandwagoners” are off the platform, the phone app seems to run more smoothly! Please do not be shocked if you randomly see me on campus catching Pokémon while wearing a Bulbasaur print button-down shirt!

Undergraduate School and Major: Texas State University, Healthcare Administration

Most Recent Employer and Job Title:  J.P. Morgan Private Bank, Associate

What did your parents do for a living? My father’s highest level of education is a high school diploma, which he received from a Ghanaian high school in 1973. He immigrated to the United States in 1980. His first job was at Burger King as a line cook making minimum wage. After 5 years in the position, my father began a career as taxi driver—a role he still holds today. He became a naturalized United States citizen in 1999.

My mother’s highest level of education is a high school diploma, which she received from a Ghanaian high school in 1975. She immigrated to the United States in 1986, starting her career that same year at a nursing home as a nurse aid. She has worked in a similar capacity, with the same company, for over 31 years. She became a naturalized United States citizen in 2000.

What was the highest level of education achieved by your mother and your
father?

  • Mom – High School
  • Dad- High School

Which of your family members is your biggest inspiration? Why? My uncle, who passed away in the summer of 2018, was an exceptional individual who served as the patriarchal figure of our family. He completed his first bachelor’s in Computer Science at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology; his second bachelor’s in Information Systems at the University of Texas at Dallas; and his masters in Computer Engineering at Southern Methodist University. My uncle was a lifelong learner who would often doze off in the late evening with a technical engineering book by his side. This was empowering because his approach set the academic standard for excellence. Above all, what made my uncle so special was that he possessed an effortless balance between the bluntness that comes innately in Ghanaians and the southern charm that is synonymous with those from the southern region of the United States.

What was the moment that led you to decide to pursue higher education? Although the highest level of education my parents received was a high school diploma, they, along with my African community, mandated that I pursue higher education from a very young age. This helped make this decision much easier.

What was your biggest worry before going for your undergraduate degree? Since I was the first in my immediate family to graduate with a degree from an institution of higher education, my family lacked the ability to help me navigate through difficult decisions. As a result, I felt that I would lack the tools necessary to address these future challenges accordingly.

What was the most challenging part of getting your undergraduate degree? My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer early in my college years. Because I felt obligated to help provide income for my working-class parents, I worked two full-time jobs while enrolled in school and often missed classes because I could not fully dedicate time to my studies. Once my father returned to work, I was finally able to assess my decisions. I reduced the hours I worked per week from 80 to 30 and set clear expectations about my academic goals with my family. In addition, since colleges put restrictions on the number of times a student can take a single course, I enrolled at surrounding colleges to replace lower grades on my transcript with either an A or B.

What didn’t your family understand about the higher education experience that you wish they would understand better? While my parents understood the importance of higher education, they were unable to comprehend the financial burden that comes with being a college student. For first generation college students who don’t have an abundance of financial resources, challenges such as changing one’s undergraduate major half way through a program or repeating a class to receive a higher grade can be the difference between graduating or flunking out of school, as the margin for error is so small.

What led you to pursue an MBA degree? In the short-term, I want to work either in health care, investment banking, or finance for a life sciences company. Given my undergraduate degree in healthcare administration, I have a strong theoretical foundation in health care. However, I lack the core financial competencies that are needed to transition to my intended field seamlessly. In order to close these knowledge gaps, I considered academic institutions that were equally strong in both health care and finance. The next two years and beyond will help me to build the competencies needed to create a positive impact for the economically disadvantaged while sustaining and creating economic profits for the firm where I will work.

How did you choose your MBA program? The 2017 Management Leadership for Tomorrow (MLT) MBA Kickoff Seminar in March was held at the Fuqua School of Business. This seminar was not only an amazing experience, but also a great introduction to student culture, the Health Sector Management (HSM) program, and career opportunities. After witnessing BLMBAO’s swag surfin’ moment on stage, Crystal Brown’s (Fuqua Alum) presentation, mock classes with Dr. Purohit and Dr. Petranka, and a 90’s theme party and book harvest with admissions and other Fuqua students, it became clear to me that Fuqua cultivates a culture that aligns perfectly with both my personal and professional goals. As a Fuqua student, I am inspired to bring my background in finance, personal experience as an underrepresented minority, and my passion for health care (which stems from my father’s fight against prostate cancer) to Durham where I can contribute to Fuqua’s diverse environment in a meaningful way.

What was your biggest worry before starting your MBA?

  • Financial Security – Will I be able to survive without a consistent salary during the duration of the MBA program?
  • Authenticity – Am I willing to present ALL aspects of myself to my classmates?
  • Recruiting – Will I be able to successfully pivot from private wealth management to health care finance?

How were you able to finance your MBA as a first generation student? I received a merit-based scholarship.  #SoBlessed!

What advice would you have for other first-generation college students?

  • Be authentic! As Dr. Seuss said so eloquently, “Be who you are and say what you feel, because those who mind don’t matter and those who matter don’t mind.”
  • Be honest about your challenges! Generally speaking, people will give you advice based on what you tell them. If you’re not willing to divulge your challenges, it will be difficult to receive the feedback needed to overcome those challenges.
  • Find an accountability partner! Share your goals with someone you know will encourage and support you. If you’re slacking, as we all do from time to time, this individual will get you back on track. My accountability partner is my younger brother.
  • Move at a pace that is suitable for you! Don’t let societal norms (e.g., the pressure to have a bachelor’s degree within four years of your high school graduation) dictate how you view success. Be comfortable with your truth. My expectations for a student who receives financial support and academic guidance from family will be much different from my expectations for a student who is paying her way through college while supporting her family financially.

What do you plan to pursue after graduation? In the short-term, I would like to work either in health care investment banking or in a rotational finance program for a life sciences company. My long-term goal is to become a CEO/CFO of a biotech firm.