Line Francine Kouecheu was one of a small group of MBAs who recently attended a “virtual” commencement with some fellow (vaccinated) classmates from the University of Michigan Ross School of Business, gathering in a barn in Ann Arbor and walking across a makeshift stage to cheers as their names were called via video. It was a strange end to a long, incredible, and yes, strange education journey for the newly minted MBA. Few have juggled so many responsibilities, under such unusual circumstances, through two years of business school. And few deserve more to bask in a happy Mother’s Day this weekend.
Line (pronounced Lean), born and raised in Douala, Cameroon, moved to the U.S. for college in 2006, then spent the next decade working first in product development, then in technology consulting, including a consulting role at Accenture, the global professional services giant, where she worked for five years. She has lived all over the U.S., from Atlanta to Philadelphia to Boston to New York City, most recently calling San Francisco home.
Around 2018, Line began to envision a role in product management in technology, a major pivot from consulting. The best way to achieve that kind of career redirection: business school, of course. In fall 2019, Line began her full-time MBA journey at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan.
Then March 2020 happened. And Line, with a 2-year-old daughter and a husband working full-time, having just returned from a school trek to Colombia and planning to join a tech startup in Palo Alto, California for a seven-week curricular internship, was faced with the biggest pivot yet.
‘WE DELIVERED WHAT WAS EXPECTED OF US’
“Things went very fast from the moment we were informed we could possibly go virtual, to the moment it was definitely sure that we’d go virtual,” Line tells Poets&Quants, recalling the early days of the pandemic. “A lot of my classmates who were looking forward to going on international trips were very disappointed. But overall, I think people were very resilient.”
Line ended up doing the seven-week curricular internship — one of the Ross School’s signature multidisciplinary action projects (MAP) — virtually from home. “I pulled my daughter out of daycare because I didn’t feel safe having her out there while I had to work from home, and while we were all just trying to understand what this virus really was,” she recalls. “And my husband and I were both working from home. It was really challenging. I joke that my daughter ended up being the fifth MAP member, because there were four of us in my MAP team but my daughter would regularly pop in my Zoom calls. And so they got used to seeing her, and she’d wave, ‘Hi,’ and we would go about her business.”
The coronavirus pandemic made life difficult for everyone. But not everyone was a parent of a small child when it began.
“It was challenging,” Line says. “It was challenging to have a toddler at home while trying to work. We weren’t necessarily prepared for it. But people are tough and resilient. So we powered through it and we delivered what was expected of us.”
CELEBRATING MOTHERS DAY 2021 — TIMES 2
It has been a full two years for Line Francine Kouecheu by any measure. A member of the Consortium for Graduate Studies in Management, she was also in five clubs: Tech Club at the Ross School of Business, Healthcare and Life Science Club, Michigan Business Women, Black Business Students Association (BBSA) and Net Impact @ Ross. She was a Ross Ambassador and Ross admissions interviewer. Last summer she interned in product strategy, virtually, for 12 weeks with Genentech, the biotech giant.
Most importantly, early this year Line became a mom for the second time.
Mother’s Day 2021 is Sunday, May 9. Now officially a Ross MBA, Line is moving back across the country to Palo Alto to start a new job in product management with VMWare, accompanied by her husband and daughter, now 3, as well as her son, who is 12 weeks old.
“Basically my second year of business school, I was pregnant and I was expecting my second child,” she says. “There were days when it all felt like ‘This is a lot,’ right? But during those days, I felt that I had the space to cater to whatever was overwhelming, because I had communicated my life changes with my professors and my teammates.”
‘KEEP RUNNING THE RACE TO THE FINISH LINE’
Managing a daily mountain of pregnancy, childcare, and school responsibilities, the support of Michigan Ross’s professors and administration was essential, Line says.
“It would have been impossible to manage, especially as I got close to my delivery date in the midst of winter,” she says. “I shared with my professors that I would be absent for one week, because I had to deliver my second child. And they were very, very collaborative, responsive. They said, ‘Congratulations’ first. They said, ‘We can’t wait to see the baby.’ And then they said to not worry about deadlines, that I could turn in my work as soon as I could.”
Line’s professors at Ross made it possible for her to focus on school at a time when the demands on her attention were mounting faster than most people could handle.
“There was no pressure to deliver exactly by the deadline that apply to every other student. And I ended up turning in most of my assignments, maybe a day or two late. But that flexibility reinforced my commitment to Ross,” she says. “Once you are admitted into the program, the professors and the full-time MBA program office really want to see you succeed. They will do everything to make sure you succeed.
“As a student parent, you just have to be prepared to be interrupted throughout your day because you’re being pulled in all directions when you have young children. But you have to understand, for example, when is the best time to do shallow work — checking emails and replying to GroupMe messages? And when is the best time to do deep work? Late at night, when everybody else is sleeping. Then you can definitely deliver on all your tasks.
“It’s very possible if you can just acknowledge what you are going through and take a pause and breathe, then attend to what needs to be attended. And then, you can you keep running the race to the finish line.”