Meet the MBA Class of 2022: Nagela Nukuna, MIT (Sloan)

Nagela Nukuna

MIT, Sloan School of Management

Former National Student Body President. Industrial Engineer. Politics Lover. Proud Cameroonian 🇨🇲 and Yellow Jacket.”

Hometown: Hockessin, Delaware (Not too far from where Joe Biden lives)

Fun Fact About Yourself: I teach figure skating for fun.

Undergraduate School and Major: Georgia Institute of Technology, Industrial & Systems Engineering

Most Recent Employer and Job Title: Program Manager – Business & Product Insights, Google

Aside from your classmates, what was the key part of the school’s MBA programming that led you to choose this business school and why was it so important to you?  There were so many reasons I chose Sloan, but I would be remiss to omit this one.

The way MIT authentically responded to the conversations around racial tensions in the wake of George Floyd’s death, and stepped up to be a part of the solution, validated my decision to attend the school. They immediately prioritized the difficult conversations and subsequent work, elevated Black and Brown community voices, and embraced and implemented systemic changes that would yield short and long-term impact. As this work continues, their transparent and genuine responses have made me feel valued and seen, not just as an incoming student, but truly as a contributing member of the community. How an institution reacts in tumultuous moments displays true leadership — and MIT Sloan has certainly led by example. Their actions make me proud to be a Sloanee.

When you think of MIT, what are the first things that come to mind? How have your experiences with the Sloan program thus far reinforced or upended these early impressions?

Nimble. Inventive. Humble. Data-Centric. Organic.

MIT is known for its innovative pedagogy and student-centered culture, both of which have been affirmed with Sloan’s approach amidst the COVID pandemic. Though initial execution may not have been perfect, they acknowledged any prior errors, actively sought out student feedback in the creative ideation process, and designed a detailed and thorough Fall plan complete with mitigation options.

Ultimately, this is the type of management style I hope to emulate: humble service to the community, thinking through difficult problems in a nuanced and research-focused way and corralling help from those most proximate to the task.

What quality best describes the MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? I knew MIT was the right school for me when I discovered that many of my friends at the Harvard Kennedy School, previously unbeknownst to me, were also joint degree students at Sloan.

The common thread amongst all of them was their humility, despite all of their impressive accomplishments and intellect. Even during this pandemic, prospective students in the Boston area have hosted weekly virtual calls (or socially distanced small gatherings) to develop community and belonging in lieu of pre-MBA trips. Upperclassmen are generous of their time to help incoming students shape their experience(s). Students have embraced the ambiguity that has stemmed from the COVID-19 pandemic, and developed new and creative ways to safely engage and build kinship.  Each of these examples is emblematic of the supportive, collectively contributing, and open mentality that is what I’ve found to be the Sloan culture.

Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I am most proud of achievements when I can see direct impact to those I’m serving, whether those constituencies are community members, product users, etc.

In my first role at Google on the Systems and Data Operations team, I managed the internal headcount process and associated systems for the company. In that role, I worked with a number of stakeholders – from Engineers to HR Business Partners – to implement a series of process and product optimizations based on common queries that surfaced in our feedback tools. These metrics-driven changes had both short-and long-term impact: they resulted in an immediate reduction of confusion from team managers by 33%, saved Operations teams approximately 16 hours a month, and dramatically reduced time-to-first-touch for provisioning user access while simultaneously and more consistently regulating access across varied organizations within the company.

What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career?  Throughout my life, I have been passionate about using leadership and innovation to drive social change. After my time in the Technology sector, I realized the potential impact of technology on empowering and developing scalable solutions for social issues and policies. Additionally, I began to sense a disconnect between the private and public sectors in addressing these wide-scale, aforementioned challenges, as well as a dearth of sustainable and quality management to keep pace with workforce needs and societal changes.

For me, MIT provided the best resources and support structure to learn about (1) building and leading large, adaptive organizations, (2) developing practical frameworks to implement innovative technologies and processes in established institutions, and (3) operating in the nexus between the private and public sectors.

What other MBA programs did you apply to? Immediately following my undergrad degree, I applied for numerous MBA programs, including many deferred admission MBA programs (Yale SOM, HBS 2+2, Stanford Deferred Admission Program, etc).

My second time around, a few years later, I was very intentional about my applications, only applying to Dartmouth (Tuck) and MIT (Sloan).

What was the most challenging question you were asked during the admissions process? The question I was most nervous about during my interview was why I required an MBA in addition to my current Public Policy Master’s degree, particularly given my career of interest in social impact and political work. This question was most challenging to respond to because the answer was nuanced and quite layered, and could not be communicated via a clear structure.

Ultimately, I was able to utilize specific examples that highlighted the ways in which Sloan’s analytical environment will allow me to remain immersed in the Tech and Management space while also contributing to Policy work at the Kennedy School, thereby providing active preparation in navigating both spaces later on.

What was the most impact factor in choosing a business school? How did you evaluate fit according to that factor? As a concurrent degree student at the Harvard Kennedy School, location and core curriculum structure were my primary factors. For me to effectively take advantage of both programs synchronously, the graduate schools had to be physically close– preferably in the same state or in neighboring states. Additionally, after completing a full year of core classes at the Kennedy School, I was looking for a business program that I could intentionally design, to fit the skills I was hoping to develop by the end of the MBA program.

Those two factors, combined with school culture, helped efficiently narrow down my list of schools dramatically.

What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? During my time in California, my home burned down – and it not only prepared me for business school, but it also prepared me for life in general. It taught me that life is fleeting, and the most important asset of any organization, business or social policy, and management practice is the investment in its people and culture. I learned that long-term sustainability is not just based on profit margins, but also on the moral compass of the organization, and the values that are central to its brand. I learned patience – and to assume good intent of each individual.

During that period of rebuilding (financially, physically, and emotionally), I relied tremendously on nonprofits to stabilize; not only was I inspired by their grassroots structure that drove immense impact in communities nationwide, but it also reignited my passion towards improving the world through innovative leadership.

What is your favorite company and what could business students learn from studying it? I don’t have a favorite company – but I am hopeful that during my time at Sloan, I am able to discover that organization and join it post- MBA/MPP.

One of the companies I am most in awe of is the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation – their culture and values are clearly outlined and articulated. Their hiring practices are strategic, though quite strict (and perceivably very exclusive, though transparently so). As a result, their organizational structure remains flatter than other foundations. However, their research-focused decision model is what impresses me the most, as it allows the nonprofit to make decisions based on what the data renders, rather than solely engaging in risk-averse ideas.

DON’T MISS: Meet MIT Sloan’s MBA Class Of 2022

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