2021 Best & Brightest Online MBAs: Brad Sonoda, Auburn University (Harbert)

Brad Sonoda

Auburn University, Raymond J. Harbert College of Business Online MBA Program

“Innovation focused leader, willing to reimagine the status-quo, and constantly seeking new challenges.”

Age: 30

Hometown: Gilbert, Arizona

Fun fact about yourself: I created and continue to run a scholarship foundation supporting future military leaders studying at Northern Arizona University.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Northern Arizona University, B.S. Psychology

Where are you currently working? U.S. Army, Hospital Center S-4 (Logistics)

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the impact my team and I had during our deployment to the Middle East. We built up medical supply warehouses in two countries that supported units operating in five different countries (Iraq, Syria, Kuwait, Jordan, and Egypt). We provided supplies to 78 medical facilities that were supporting on-going conflicts throughout the region. We reduced customer wait times from 8 weeks to four days, which meant better care for more service members and our allied partners.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? I selected Auburn to complete my MBA because they are ranked one of the nation’s best online programs. Due to my military obligations, in-person attendance was not an option when I was applying to business schools. I sought a program that had mastered bridging online and in-person learning without compromising the quality of education and Auburn was that school. Auburn’s online MBA structure mirrors their in-person classes and I never once felt that I “missed out” on my education.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? My favorite part of being in an online MBA program was that I was able to continue my professional growth while simultaneously enhancing my institutional knowledge and formal education. I believe the proposition to concurrently complete an MBA while maintaining professional momentum is significantly undervalued. While working and completing my MBA, I was able to instantly observe the “real world” application of many concepts and practices being taught in my classes. As a hands-on learner this enabled me to grasp concepts faster and be a better contributing member to my organization.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? The thing that surprised me most about Auburn’s online learning environment was how much it felt like I was a part of the classes. The classes are live streamed and recorded and some professors take steps to enable online students to actively participate in lectures and during guest speaker visits. I was amazed at how well integrated the online cohort was to the in-person student population.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? The biggest difference I noticed between the two was the significant decrease in what I call “accidental friendships”. In-person you naturally find your way to talking with classmates and creating new relationships. Online, it is much harder to strike up a conversation with another student about the big news of the day, a fresh assignment, or the brutally difficult mid-term. Auburn actively helps to bridge the networking gap by promoting group projects and online forums, but nothing can replace the relationship building of in-person interaction.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? Time block. Time block. Time block. Do not underestimate how demanding an online MBA program can become. Online MBAs are manageable when you keep pace with the class and stay on-top of lectures and assignments. However, it is very easy to get behind and get overwhelmed by the program’s demands, especially when you consider other life factors such as work and family. Utilize time blocking to ensure you keep pace with the program and aggressively adhere to your schedule. Keeping pace is easy, catching up is painful.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? I would like to change the stigma attached to an online MBA program versus an in-person MBA. We all realized this past year that higher education can be conducted online with similar efficacy to that of in-person learning. Online MBA programs provide students the opportunity to progress their education while gaining valuable work experience. Online MBA programs do not force students to realize the opportunity cost of leaving the workforce for two-years (or missing out on two-years of work experience) to complete their MBA. My hope is that employers can view online programs as even more value added since they produce graduates that have both formal education and work experience.

How has your online education helped you in your current job? My online education has helped me develop better decision-making tools for my organization and view problems from a strategic level versus an execution mindset. It has provided me a higher-level business perspective that helps me craft plans and drive decision-making that is focused on the long-term impact as well as short-term results.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent On Online MBA: 15-20 hours

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? I would love to help build small businesses as an investor, consultant, or combination of both. I am invigorated by the challenge and excitement that comes with developing ideas into reality, and would love to work with companies looking to grow themselves in an ever-changing business environment.


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