“Adult Ed is a Mother, but it’s also a Keeper!” — Dr. Lulu

I recently graduated with a Master’s in Business Administration from University of Texas San Antonio ending my 27-month journey into the land of adult education. My heart is full of joy! No more staying up late studying EVERY NIGHT. No more using “school” as my excuse for everything (I really don’t want to). 

I will now add three more letters to the other two after my name. I can now get much needed rest. Let me rephrase that, I shall try going to bed earlier every night (yeah right!) I finally realize my dream of walking on an American stage wearing the gown and “crown”, and (an added treat), my VA cords!

After my 4 year term as a Lieutenant Colonel in the United States Air Force, I could: join the Air Force Reserves, go back to school, or work as a pediatrician. I chose the last two options. I had no specific “why”, since I earned the VA educational funds, it was more like “why not?” 

My decision was met with gasps, shock, surprise and even reluctant encouragement from friends and family. Never one to waste much time on a thought, I jumped in before I lost my nerve. Coincidentally, my first son and my spouse were both enrolling in college as well so, I was in great company! 

One day, after a job interview, I wondered how I would manage work, school, “mommying”. I initially wanted the combined MBA/MPH program, but FEAR and its friend DOUBT, discouraged me, so the MBA it was. I still had no idea how I was going to “manage” it, but I put my best Naija-Igbo woman foot forward and started the regular MBA. 

The first semester was a breeze (or was it?) I was going back to school in the tech age! What? Like my initial shock when I first came to the USA, attending an American school was FULL of new experiences…!

I was the oldest student in a class with late teens and early twenty-something-year-olds! What struck me the most was their attitudes towards the work! They were very content with showing up late and not doing their portion of the schoolwork (I guess I am seriously old school) This bothered me so much that, I went back to my student adviser and requested to disenroll. 

Luckily, she understood my position and suggested I sign up for the Executive MBA program instead. I made the interview on the last day!

Since my paperwork was already in the school of business, all I needed was an intra-departmental transfer. Once I understood what an Executive MBA was, I was sold! 

However, some “friends” queried the “executiveness” of it. “Is it a watered-down MBA? “Is it an online/electronic E-MBA?” “Are you going to have a real MBA degree afterward?” and, “Why are you going back to school, aren’t you tired?” 

Hmmm…how does one respond to all that love? 

At the Executive MBA program, my cohort comprised of people closer to my age, adults. Managers, entrepreneurs, vice presidents, CEOs, executives, parents, grandparents, wives, and husbands. A fair number of them were still younger than me, but the age gap not as much. The youngest in my class was 31yrs old. A lot of them were well-traveled. They were more experienced and for the most part, wanted to do their schoolwork. My kind of people. We were different, yet the same. There were veterans, foreigners, mothers of kids in college, divorcees, and one other Black person, a Nigerian like me! Awon Naija sha! 

Despite that, the schoolwork was still a challenge for me. I had to learn school the American way. Folks call their professors by their first names around here, huh? Not in Nigeria, tufiakwa! I went to medical school in the 80s, graduated in the early 90s. We had real chalkboards, not smartboards. Our blackboards were not virtual, they were black and physically present in the classroom. I had no concept of office-hours or what it meant to access library books online and to “check them out” virtually. What de…? And there was more to come.

As the only physician and one of only 2 blacks of the lot, 32 to be exact. I had no one else wearing my exact shoes. I had to weather Statistics alone (yea, I had biostatistics in med school, so I recalled sensitivity and specificity, not Anova or Covariance Analysis). Accounting reared its ugly head, Finance got crazy (my poor mom, a retired accountant, visiting at that time, got a daily dose of complaints). As a hater of numbers (except those on my paycheck and bank account), I loathed Excel…still do! I had never really heard about it, furthermore, I not only had to learn its basics, but I also had to learn to apply it to Accounting and Finance, WHY!? 

All of this made for many a tear-filled day at the professors’ offices. Every now and again, I felt lonely and left out in my cohort, but my resilience and adaptability would kick in and I would win little battles.

Macro Economics was good, but not Micro. The professor works for the FED, he is a kindly older gentleman with a thick Texan accent and a friendly smile. I spent many afternoons in his office at the Federal Building downtown San Antonio. 

Corporate Restructuring was okay until we got deeper into the calculations. As a wordsmith, Organizational Behavior was great, Ethics was a bit confusing. Marketing, Negotiations, Business Strategy, and International Business Studies were easy. I LOVE reading and discussions. 

My favorite subject was Leadership. Not only is our professor cool and soft-spoken, but the cases were also interesting and thought-provoking. I enjoyed learning about exemplary leaders. I learned a lot about my own flavor of leadership. 

The final TEDx talk we each had to give at the end of the class was the icing on the cake. My talk was on the power of the word “NO.” 

One of my favorite experiences was Executive Coaching.  My coach is one cool chica. She worked for NASA, so she is equal part brains, beauty, class, and control. I absolutely admire her poise and her presence. She exuded knowledge, and she got me on my current path.

The highlight of my entire MBA experience was our 12 day international trip to South East Asia! We left San Antonio bright and early that January morning through LAX. The 17hr flights were no match for the excitement I felt in seeing Singapore and Vietnam! 

I grew up in the 70s and 80s and remember the song “Vietnam” by Jimmy Cliff, so, this was a sort of homecoming for me. Singapore, a country born with a golden spoon, is eating its cake and having it too. An example of how hard work pays off. Vietnam, a country that is well on its way back from the ashes of multiple wars, betrayals and “destruction of men in their prime, whose average age was 19” a la Paul Hardcastle in his Jazz Masters hit.  After everything she has been through, her people still wake up every morning, practice Tai Chi, get on their motorcycles and ride!

I cannot put in words the excitement of Singapore! Its clean streets, ultramodern architecture, eclectic suburbs, fine dining, high-end shopping, educated minds, and multiracial indigenes all living harmoniously despite differences in religion, language, customs, and cultures. A hard lesson for all African countries to learn (sadly). Singapore welcomed me with open arms. I even got a chance to sing Karaoke tunes with a local band at a local pub! 

Vietnam was different. More real, dirtier, noisier, almost “happier” than Singapore. Our class got to visit the Crocs factory, eat with the locals in a traditional Vietnamese home, and take a canoe ride on the river to the coconut village, where my sense of smell was completely mesmerized by the indescribable smells of coconut. Since my wife is part Island Girl, and I am the quintessential Tropical Chic, this, was HOME! I was immediately taken back to my childhood, my grandmother’s hut. 

Amazingly, I topped up the trip, by completing the final edits of my first book, an Amazon bestseller, on the plane ride home! 

I shall miss school. I have always been studious and had a quest for knowledge. Though old age is setting in and my memory is not as good as it could be. I am proud to say that I completed the MBA and can now print out my new business card with all five letters in their proper order MD/MBA. I earned it. Considering I got the degree nearly 30yrs post-graduation. 

I have no idea what I am going to do with my MBA yet, I am hopeful for all the potential doors it will open for me. I admit I had no “why”. I did it because I could, because the funds were available through the VA, and because I might have needed to prove to myself that I still “gat” it after all these years, or simply because…

In ending, I would like to say; my program is done. Was it hard? Yeah! Is it doable? Hell yeah! Can you do it? All day! So, follow your heart, try something new, push yourself. No one ever died wishing they spent one more day playing a round of golf. This is my legacy, what is yours? 

What is holding you back from following and fulfilling your dreams? Work? Kids? Family? What are your priorities? Are they in proper order? Remember, life is what happens while you are busy planning…so get off your phone, get off your couch and just do it! 

My name is Uchenna Umeh, MD, MBA and I approve this message 😊

Peace still.

Dr. Uchenna Umeh is a board certified pediatrician and speaker on youth suicide. She lives in San Antonio TX, and enjoys writing personal stories. She can be found on her website teenalive.com and followed on Instagram @askdoctorlulu

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