2022 Best & Brightest Online MBA: Whitney Graham, Auburn University (Harbert)

Whitney Graham

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

I am a hard-working mother who is self-motivated, focused on increasing my knowledge, and giving back to others in my community/organization.”       

Age: 42

Hometown: Carrollton, Kentucky

Fun fact about yourself: I love to travel (especially with my family) and have been able to visit every continent except Antarctica. My family is currently planning a trip to Italy, which will be my children’s first time out of the country.

Undergraduate School and Degree: Bachelor of Science in Chemical Engineering from the University of Kentucky

Where are you currently working? Senior Director of Product Strategy & Management at Valvoline

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I have spent my entire professional career, 20 years, at Valvoline. I am most proud of receiving the Valvoline V Award in October of 2021. I was nominated by my peers for championing an innovative new product for the organization. Each year only 5 people globally are awarded this honor.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? I selected the Auburn MBA program because it is an excellent education that is recognized nationally. The Auburn program has also mastered the online instruction and allows students to feel like they are part of the in-person experience. I also needed a program that would allow me to take 1 class per semester. The flexibility of the program was important to me since I was working full-time and have three young children involved in several school and sports activities.

What was your favorite part of being in an online MBA program? My favorite part of the Auburn online MBA program was being able to utilize my professional experiences over the past 20 years in an academic setting.  Merging the academic knowledge that I was gaining with real world experiences gave me a different approach to assignments like case studies, discussion posts and group projects. My second favorite part of participating in an online MBA program was the example I was able to set for my children regarding study habits and putting in the hard work to achieve your goals. The example I was able to provide to my children was as valuable as any academic knowledge that I gained during my time at Auburn.

What was the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? The most surprising thing about an online learning environment was how easy it was to connect with other online students in the program, even though we were in different states and time zones. The professors did a great job of trying to accommodate different geographies when selecting project teams.

How did your online experience compare with your in-the-classroom experience as an undergraduate student? Given that I graduated with my undergraduate almost 20 years ago, there are many changes that have occurred. However, Auburn has been participating in the online learning platform for more than 20 years and has mastered their ability to provide an in-classroom experience to distance students. The lecture halls were equipped with cameras and audio equipment that allowed the online students to feel included in the class without physically being there. Over the 13 courses that were required, I only experienced one lecture that had any audio issues, which is a large achievement for the Auburn team. The professors made sure to accommodate the online students with extra time to complete projects, case studies, or exams and were also available via Zoom or email for questions/help.

What is your best piece of advice to an applicant for thriving in an online MBA program? My best piece of advice for an applicant would be to connect with other students in the program. Having a support system is very important with an online program. I was fortunate that throughout my time at Auburn, I had three co-workers that were also enrolled in the online MBA program too. Sharing this experience with co-workers was a great opportunity.

What would you change about an online MBA Program? Unfortunately, a lot of people think that participating in an online MBA program is not as prestigious as an in-person MBA program. However, this is not an accurate statement regarding the Auburn online program. Online students are expected to participate and complete the same work as the in-person students. Therefore, I would like to change the persona of online MBA programs.    

How has your online education helped you in your current job? My undergraduate degree is in engineering, but for the past several years I have been in the marketing segment of my organization. At times, I was unfamiliar with terminology that my colleagues were using due to the difference in our educational backgrounds. By gaining my MBA, I have been able to acquire additional knowledge that has benefited in my professional career.

Did you earn a promotion while in the program or immediately after graduation? When I started the MBA program, I was a director of Valvoline heavy-duty product strategy at my organization. However, I was recently promoted to my current position, which is a senior director of product strategy and management.

Number of Hours Per Week Spent on Online MBA: I typically spent 10-12 hours per week on my schoolwork.  It is important to note that I only took one class per semester.      

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My long-term professional goal is to continue to progress in my responsibilities at my organization. I want to provide value by applying my educational and real-world experiences to improve the business. I also enjoy coaching and mentoring others at my organization and in my local community.

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