An Electrical Engineer from Ghana Makes His Way to Yale SOM

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An Electrical Engineer from Ghana Makes His Way to Yale SOM

This interview is the latest in an Accepted blog series featuring interviews with business students, offering readers a behind-the-scenes look at top programs. And now, introducing Ernest Kojo Mills…

Accepted: We'd like to get to know you! Where are you from? Where and what did you study as an undergrad?

Ernest: I’m from Cape Coast in the Central region of Ghana. That’s where I was born and lived with my family until we moved to Accra (Ghana’s capital) when I was about two. I was always curious about Technology, so I studied Electrical/Electronic Engineering at the Kwame Nkrumah University of Science & Technology (KNUST) in Ghana for my undergrad. While there, I got really fascinated about Telecoms, so I took a job in that industry upon graduating and worked in it for six years across six different functions in Accra and London.

Accepted: Where are you currently in business school? What year are you?

Ernest: I’m currently a second year at Yale SOM.

Accepted: Why did you choose Yale? How did you know you were a good fit?

Ernest: Growing up in Ghana I idolized the Ivy League, but it wasn’t until I started college that I realized “Oh, I could actually go there!” So when I decided to do business school, I considered Yale and a couple other top schools. A number of things stood out to me at SOM: first, I found their integration with other schools (in and out of Yale) to be remarkable. We have one of the highest percentages of dual degrees (which brings multiple perspectives to the classroom), and also have the chance to take classes from other schools. As an example, last semester I took a Programming class from Yale College, this semester I’m taking this really cool class at the Law School called Regulating Emerging Technologies, and next semester I’ll take something from the Divinity School. There’s also great integration outside of Yale via the Global Network for Advanced Management. This past fall break, a ton of my classmates went to study in member schools all over the world, and I was a TA, welcoming 85 students from 26 schools across the world. It was really fun getting to know these amazing people and showing them around Yale. Since I’ve spoken so much about my first point, I’ll just quickly mention that SOM has an amazing culture (people are so smart, down to earth, help one another a lot with recruiting, academics, etc. and are from very diverse backgrounds); the professors are awesome (they’re super approachable, do great research and teach really well); and we have a very engaged alumni base, that isn’t limited to SOM (which alone is very impressive), but includes all other Yale schools – from the Medical school to the Drama school. That’s pretty awesome! Working in a cross-functional rotational program early in my career and working in London where at a point, no two people in my team of 10 were from the same country made me realize my strength in diverse teams, so I knew I’d fit well into Yale’s diversity. I also thrive in smart, yet humble environments, and SOM offers exactly that.

Accepted: Looking back at the application process, what would you say was your greatest challenge? How would you advise other applicants who may be experiencing similar challenges?

Ernest: I’ve thought very hard about this question and no major challenge readily comes to mind. As I reflect, I think it’s because I planned far ahead of time and was therefore able to pace myself during the application process. I had many months to reflect on all of my achievements and collate them in one place even before the schools released their questions. I also notified my recommenders in advance, so it was easy to get their recommendations when the time came. I would say a minor challenge was that having been out of school for six years made it more difficult to ace the GMAT as much as I would have wanted. I guess my advice to other applicants will be to start the process very early. Think about when you can make time to research schools, study for the GMAT/GRE, write your essays, engage your recommenders, etc. Planning and starting the process early will set you on a course for success!

Accepted: As someone from Ghana, and who has worked in international roles, what made you want to pursue your MBA in the United States?

Ernest: My desire to experience a different geographical and cultural environment, coupled with my strong passion for tech brought me to the US. Another childhood dream of mine growing up in Ghana was to work in what I call the world’s Tech HQ – the Bay Area. This past summer I had the opportunity to do just that as a consultant with The Boston Consulting Group, advising a really cool tech client. It was just awesome being on the train and seeing people in YouTube hoodies, with Airbnb backpacks, Salesforce umbrellas, etc. It was also great to visit the Google and Facebook campuses.

Accepted: Where do you see yourself, and your career, in 10 years?

Ernest: I honestly don’t know, but that’s okay because I have some good options. Ten years is a long time and many things will change, but my passion for tech will remain. There’s a couple ways I can realize this passion including consulting for tech clients, being a leader in a large tech firm (either here in the US or somewhere in Africa or Europe), or creating my own startup to help solve some of the issues in Africa and the world. Speaking of solving African issues, I wouldn’t be surprised if I went into politics in Ghana because one of the things I’ve learned is that I should be the change I want to see (and SOM is educating me to become a leader for Business and Society!). There’s also very important factors to consider such as where I would want to raise my family. So there’s many possibilities, and we’ll take it a step at a time.

Accepted: What are some of the most important lessons you've learned about yourself in business school thus far? Is it as hard as you imagined an MBA program to be?

Ernest: This might sound strange but a big lesson I’ve learned is the very important role my faith plays in my life. I’m constantly reminded of how God’s blessings have been and continue to be a big part of my achievements.

I also realized that although I’m closer to the introverted side of the spectrum, and my background didn’t focus a lot on networking, it’s an important skill that I could learn, become good at, and enjoy. So I’m working towards that, and I already see great improvements.

The answer to the second part of your question changes from first year to second year. First year was much harder than I ever imagined it to be! Transitioning from Engineering to Management, adapting to the culture, learning to network, recruiting, trying to make friends, being away from my family, etc. was just overwhelming, and that was one of the hardest years of my life. Second year though has been amazing! Having learned to navigate all the above-mentioned challenges, and having a job offer made second year a cruise control situation. There’s more opportunities to connect with friends (old and new), help classmates out, give back to the school, and really just enjoy the amazing community here at Yale.

Accepted: Lastly, what are your top tips for b-school success?

Ernest: Priorities, priorities, priorities! There’s so much to juggle in business school, and in order to succeed you need to determine what’s important to you and prioritize that. The beauty about it is that you can have a different set of priorities at different times during your MBA journey. This means you can do (almost) everything you want – just not at the same time. Also make a conscious effort to get to know your classmates. Arguably the best value proposition of the MBA is the network you build. Get to know people, be interested in their lives, share your life, make friends. That’ll be helpful to you in the long run.

Want to learn more about Ernest? You can check out his LinkedIn profile here. Thank you Ernest for sharing your story and advice – we wish you much success! 

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Related Resources:

Navigate the MBA Application Maze, a free guide
Yale SOM MBA Application Essay Tips & Deadlines
The Importance of Teamwork in MBA Admissions

This article originally appeared on blog.accepted.com.

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