Daniel Odinaka Okegbu
“If I were to play a role in the Black Panther movie, I’d be Shuri.”
Hometown: Chicago, Illinois by way of Imo State, Nigeria
Fun Fact About Yourself: I refuse to watch the last episode of Game of Thrones. Instead, I opted to binge-watch The Last Kingdom twice. I liked The Last Kingdom so much that I went up to the Nordic region (Sweden, Norway, and Denmark) to see for myself their beautiful castles and to pay Uhtred Ragnarson, the fearless warrior, a visit.
You could also say that I am a spontaneous traveler. Post COVID-19, you might see me in one city today and in another country the following month.
Undergraduate School and Major: Howard University, B.S. in Mechanical Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology, M.S. in Mechanical Engineering
Georgia Institute of Technology, M.S. in Aerospace Engineering
Most Recent Employer and Job Title: U.S. Army Research Lab, Aerospace Engineer – Researcher
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? Before joining Scheller’s MBA program, I was already pursuing a graduate degree in Aerospace Engineering at Georgia Tech. Ever since I was an undergraduate student, I have been interested in attending a business school. As a result, I ended up taking several elective business classes at Scheller to augment my engineering course requirements. The classes allowed me to learn about Scheller, its culture, and the student body. There were so many factors that drew me into the Scheller experience. Some of those factors were the breadth and depth of experience that the professors bring to classrooms, the professors’ teaching styles, the classroom discussion-based learning, and team projects. These factors were very different when compared to those of my engineering classes.
A few semesters later, I found out about Scheller’s Dual Degree program that would allow me to pursue both an MBA and my Ph.D. The program made sense financially and it worked with the amount of time I have left to complete my Ph.D. It was a great opportunity that I could not pass up.
The Scheller MBA ranks among the best for instilling innovation and creativity according to alumni and students surveyed by Bloomberg Businessweek. How have you seen this in the programming so far? In every class, there are always some team and individual projects involved. These projects aim to challenge students to push the envelope for innovation and creativity. Irrespective of students’ backgrounds, classroom settings welcome and embrace the diversity of thought. As a student with an engineering background, I tackle problems differently, and my classmates/teammates enjoy the fresh perspective that I bring when brainstorming solutions to a problem. Collectively, we all challenge each other to view things from a different angle, and I think that is the beauty of innovation.
At Scheller, the process of refining an idea is one where students test the feasibility of the concepts by drawing from business, art, and engineering backgrounds. The professors also participate in this process, where they challenge students to think critically and apply real-world experiences. The result of this process is the creation of unique ideas, products, and successful companies. The TI:GER (Technology Innovation: Generating Economic Results) Program and Georgia Tech’s Create-X start-up program are a testimony of the innovation and creativity instilled in students. I have seen some of my classmates present a concept/idea in class and then moved forward to participate in the Create-X program. Creativity and innovation have no limits at Scheller.
At Scheller, you are literally across the street from Tech Square and living in one of the dynamic business environments in the world. What makes Atlanta such a great place to live and learn for you? Over the last three years, I have witnessed Atlanta transform into a Tech Hub, and some even refer to it as the next Silicon Valley. Numerous businesses and start-ups, many started by Georgia Tech alumni, have thrived here in Atlanta. There are start-up companies like Carbice that was started by a Georgia Tech professor and recently raised $15 million in Series A funding. Such a company thrives because of the ecosystem the exists between Georgia Tech, Tech Square, and other businesses in the city of Atlanta.
I also think what makes Atlanta so dynamic and vibrant is its people. The thriving businesses attract people to move here, and Atlanta’s people make the city welcoming to live in and learn. Atlanta reminds me of Washington D.C., but bigger because it is just a melting pot with people from different cultures and ethnicities residing here. With such diversity, why wouldn’t anyone want to live here? Every interaction you have when meeting someone for the first time presents an opportunity to learn.
What quality best describes your MBA classmates you’ve met so far and why? I think the best quality that describes my MBA classmates is compassion. Getting into the program is highly competitive. Once admitted, everyone cares and looks out for each other. Even before I was accepted into the program, I was able to connect with MBA students who introduced me to other Dual Degree students. I also had some MBA students who helped review my application essays, performed a mock interview, and provided constructive feedback. These students did not have to help me, but they went out of their way to support me throughout my application process.
Now that I am in the program, I see classmates helping each other academically as different people have different areas of expertise. For instance, when in doubt of a topic covered in my financial accounting class, I would first approach my team members before reaching out to my professor. Also, my classmates do not hesitate to share career resources or pass on information for network opportunities. I believe that my classmates’ compassionate spirit reflects Scheller’s values because even the professors and faculty members do what is right to ensure students succeed.
Describe your biggest accomplishment in your career so far: I have been working as a graduate researcher in the Computational Solid Mechanic Lab here at Georgia Tech for the last three years. In a collaborative research study, I contributed to the development of a new class of metamaterial. A metamaterial is a material engineered through the manipulation of structural architecture to exhibit property not found in nature. Although the project is in collaboration, I mostly work independently and have to educate and teach myself all that I know about the subject matter.
In recent years, there has been a rising demand for metamaterial within the Aerospace industry. This past summer, I worked with the Army Research Labs, where I applied my knowledge of metamaterials to an on-going research study. Thus far, my biggest accomplishment has been using my knowledge of mechanics of materials, structural, and solid mechanics to solve real-world challenges. I look forward to the day when metamaterial will be at the core of all products designed for space exploration (i.e., Mars exploration).
What led you to pursue an MBA at this point in your career? I am very passionate about engineering. At the same time, I see the need to couple my technical background with a business degree. I decided to enroll in the MBA program, mainly because I want to diversify my experience and enhance my leadership skills. I knew pursuing a Ph.D. in engineering can give someone the impression of being specialized in one particular field, and I do not want to be viewed in such a way. I also know that wherever my career takes me, being in a leadership position is something I strongly desire.
I realized this after working as an engineer on construction projects at my former company, McDermott International (formerly the Chicago Bridge & Iron Co.) and as an Aerospace Engineering Researcher at Georgia Tech. If I decide to stay in academia, I can take the route of becoming a Department Chair or Dean of the College of Engineering. If I decide to take the route of working for a research institution, I envision myself serving as a director. Lastly, if I decide to go into the corporate world, I would want to eventually lead my team as a manager.
What was your defining moment and how did it prepare you for business school? I was on a two-year rotation program while at McDermott International. My first work assignment placed me on a liquid nitrogen gas construction project in Sulphur, Louisiana, for six months. On my first day, I was intimidated. I was a 23-year-old recent graduate placed in a position to lead a team of well-experienced construction workers, and some were more than twice my age. Additionally, I was in charge of providing technical support to a construction site that was as big as three football fields. The entire site was in a state of constant change.
Within two months, I familiarized myself with my work scope and knew the whole construction site front to back. Later, I realized how much growth I had experienced, and I attribute the growth to my teams, who all respected my leadership style and work ethic. At the end of the assignment, my manager requested that the HQ office extend my contract from 6 months to a year, and I agreed to it. The most touching moment was on my last day when some of my team members and co-workers shed tears because of my departure. I realized that despite being a younger engineer on site, I was able to influence others. I also discovered that I was a people person and that I enjoy interacting and working with people on projects. This was my defining moment for me, and it reinforced to me why I needed to supplement my engineering experience with an MBA degree.
DON’T MISS: MEET GEORGIA TECH’S MBA CLASS OF 2022