Worth the wait: Alumnus returns to Wake Forest for graduate degree

5.24.2022 Alumni News, Article, M.S. in Business Analytics

Alumnus Elliot Mee (MSBA ’20), a Resource Management Non-Commissioned Officer in the US Army, speaks with Stacy Owen, Executive Director, Alumni Engagement, about how his career has flourished after returning to Wake Forest for a graduate business degree.

Stacy: You earned a degree from Wake Forest 10 years after you began your undergraduate studies. Why such a long time, and what is the significance of this milestone? 

Elliot: Growing up in the Williamsburg, VA, area, I’d planned to go to college at William & Mary. But my uncle is a Wake Forest alumnus, and he encouraged me to apply to Wake Forest – I completed my application the day before it was due! After being admitted, I came for a visit and knew immediately it was the right place for me. I saw the size of the network, the big-time school feel [through the sports programs] with small class sizes. I was a business major and performed as a member of the marching band, wind ensemble, and university orchestra. I genuinely loved my time as an undergraduate student.

After my junior year – right before Farrell Hall opened – I withdrew. Not being confident of a career path and generally not in a good place, I went back home to think about my next steps.

My family has a long history in the military (Air Force and Army) – we have served in every conflict in the US dating to the Civil War. I knew the Army had tremendous education benefits, so I enlisted as a Satellite Communications Systems Operator/Maintainer. Right before Basic Training, my recruiter was able to secure an audition for me with the Army Band, and I successfully passed my audition to serve as a trumpet player. After Basic Training I spent 10 weeks in the US Army School of Music before going to Ft. Bliss, TX, for the next three years. In addition to music responsibilities, I was exposed to the procurement process when I helped oversee the furnishing of new computer and networking equipment for my unit. I was intrigued as to how the solicitation and procurement processes worked within DoD, and I saw how the process could be improved. This project really confirmed my interest in returning to the business realm.

Stacy: How did you hear about the MSBA program?

Elliot: I finished my undergraduate degree through Old Dominion University’s online program and loved the flexibility of virtual learning. Big data was hot – I started hearing a lot about analytics. Wake Forest was not on my radar, even though I had promised my mom I’d come back to Wake Forest and earn a degree. When an ad for Wake Forest’s MSBA online program appeared on my Facebook page, I thought it was a joke! I clicked on the ad and filled out the information page, which started me down the admissions process.

Stacy: You moved into a new position your second semester in the MSBA program; did your coursework help with this transition?

Elliot: Yes! I currently serve with The United States Army Band “Pershing’s Own” in the Washington, D.C., area. My job focuses on budget management and execution, contract solicitation and compliance, travel budget management as well as overall allocation of funds. The MSBA program is 100% the reason why I got the job. My practicum project involved building an analytical forecasting model of the budget we use at “Pershing’s Own” to more effectively and accurately project expenditures in future fiscal years for various requirements (equipment replacement, production services, and travel to name a few). We’re in the second year of utilizing this model for our internal budget review process.

Stacy: The world of analytics is changing constantly. How do you stay current with new tools?

Elliot: The analytics skill set is perishable if you don’t keep up. Professor Mike Ames recommended DataCamp (an online platform to help you learn new skills at your own pace) during our first semester, and I’ve found this resource to be extremely effective at maintaining and improving my coding abilities. Fortunately, the Army is adamant about continuing education in the data management field. There’s been an increased focus on utilizing machine learning techniques within the financial management field as we continue to adapt and evolve with the changing fiscal environment.

Stacy: What was your experience like in the MSBA online program?

Elliot: Going into the program, I thought everything related to analytics was in Excel. So, I was scared when I realized that wasn’t the case! After week two, we were learning a new language and how to break it down conceptually. It began to click and became exciting as I thought about how to apply what I was learning at work, which made my job easier.

From my previous experience taking courses online, I knew that I liked a virtual format. My time is at a premium. I have a family and a job; meeting one day a week was manageable. I did wonder about the quality of the teaching in an online program, especially at Wake Forest, where the teaching quality is so high. But I quickly realized that I didn’t need to worry. The environment was different, but the attention to detail that faculty give students and the faculty-student ratio was exactly the same as it was when I was an in-person student.

My classmates were phenomenal, brilliant people. We were able to leverage each other’s experiences in our own jobs. I’m very grateful for the experience I had and the people I was able to meet and connect with.

Stacy: Any words of wisdom for our students?

Elliot: One of my favorite quotes that I try to live up to is one I heard from a former music instructor after finishing a rehearsal. He said to our group, “Nothing great ever happened to anyone who didn’t inconvenience themselves.” Any goal you try to achieve will have hardships and challenges; embrace them. Don’t be afraid to inconvenience yourself. If it were easy, everyone would be doing it.