Online MBA Best & Brightest 2022: Paul Cornwell, North Carolina (Kenan-Flagler)

“A curious and versatile problem solver with varied interests and a generally healthy competitive streak.”

Age: 33

Hometown: Ridgewood, New Jersey. I now live in Durham, North Carolina.

fun fact about yourself: I can play the pipe organ. I’ve played Sunday Night Masses at Villanova and have performed at various churches as a substitute since I was in high school.

Undergraduate school and degree:

UNC-Chapel Hill, Ph.D. in Mathematics

Villanova University, BS in Mathematics, BA in Philosophy, MA in Mathematics

Where are you currently working? Since June 2022, I have worked as a strategy consultant for Triangle Insights Group, based in Durham. While completing my MBA, I worked for Johns Hopkins University’s Applied Physics Laboratory (APL) as an air and missile defense analyst and algorithm scientist.

What achievement are you most proud of in your professional career? I am most proud of the technical effort I led at APL during the summer of 2020, shortly after we started working from home. Suffice it to say, the nature of defense work makes it very difficult to work effectively from home. This project required people in the lab to generate a lot of data from a simulation and other people to analyze the data. Since the lab time was very limited, I had to define the objectives of the project, define it and communicate the objectives to the team. I then had to weave our results into a folder that could be read asynchronously, which was not usually how we presented analyses. I’m not a project manager, so this effort pushed me out of my comfort zone and forced me to learn many MBA-like skills on the job. In the end, we ended up providing deep and transparent analysis that spurred a design change in the combat system we were supporting.

Why did you choose this school’s online MBA program? How to choose an online MBA program? Location, of course! My wife and I are both UNC alumni. When I applied, we had lived in Maryland for almost two years and knew we wanted to return to the Triangle. I also knew I wanted to change careers, but I didn’t know what I wanted to do next. I felt the best way to solve both problems was to pursue my MBA at UNC. (It also helped that [email protected] was the #1 ranked online program.) After doing more research, taking a marketing course, and interviewing an admissions officer, I was convinced that UNC would fit perfectly.

What was your favorite part of an online MBA program? My favorite thing about an online program is the autonomy. With only 90 minutes of live lessons per week, I had a lot of flexibility in choosing what to study and when to study it. When I started [email protected], I knew my son was due early in my second term. I decided to take an extra course my first term – which is rare – to make things easier later on. (That brings me to my second fun fact: I gave my last business communication presentation presentation on a magic crib that gives new parents extra sleep.) Controlling my schedule has allowed me to be more efficient with my time and to focus on the subjects. I found the most interesting or important.

What has been the most surprising thing about an online learning environment? The most surprising thing about my online experience has been an (almost) universally high level of engagement. Students in this program have a million things going on in their lives. Combined with the fact that UNC does not award GPAs for graduate programs, this might tempt us to take the path of least resistance to graduation. Despite this, I found most of my group members to be eager to learn, responsible, and determined to do a good job. Reflecting on my experience now, I realize how essential it is to have a motivated and engaged cohort.

How does your online experience compare to your classroom experience as an undergraduate student? I had good learning experiences with both formats. I will say that online classes require more discipline and initiative than in-person classes. However, this is a graduate program, so there is nothing wrong with giving this responsibility to the students. For the MBA in particular, one of the great advantages of online courses is that people work simultaneously. This enriches classroom discussions and allows you to immediately test classroom business and leadership frameworks at work.

What would you change about an online MBA program?? UNC Kenan-Flagler uses the phrase “an MBA” to reinforce the notion that all students (full-time, online, etc.) are UNC MBA students, and the format is simply the method of teaching. I recommend all changes that bring us closer to this ideal. For example, many online students find changing careers more difficult than it might seem for full-time students. I would prioritize connecting online students with resources and networking opportunities that facilitate career changes for resident students.

How has your online training helped you in your current job? My online education helped me get my current job. Although I am very new to this role, it is clear that much of my coursework will be relevant. I honed most of my problem-solving skills through my math background. However, [email protected] taught me how to translate these skills into a professional environment. One of the enduring lessons of this program for me is how much business strategy comes down to constrained decision making. As I move into counseling, information like this is going to be invaluable to me.

Did you get promoted while in the program or immediately after graduation? Yes to both. About a year into my program, I accepted a supervisor position at the APL. It was a great experience as I was able to mentor early career staff and apply many management lessons learned from my courses. My post-grad position is a promotion in the sense that it gives me more responsibility and advances my career goals.

Did you get a raise during the online MBA program? I had annual raises that were unaffected by pursuing/graduating. My new career path has a higher earning potential.

Number of hours per week devoted to the online MBA: 12-15

What is your ultimate long-term professional goal? My central professional goal is to find my career soul mate – the work-as-play career that perfectly matches my interests and abilities and makes me want to go to work every day. I decided to move into consulting after my MBA because many of the characteristics that I know are essential for my dream career (eg the ability to work on complex problems) are also essential in consulting. I’m excited to ramp up in my new career and see what the future holds.

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