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Leveling Up - Online MBA grad transitions from engineering to business

By Eric Nelson

When he joined the Online MBA program at Purdue’s Mitchell E. Daniels, Jr. School of Business in 2020, Christian Coakley worked on the engineering side of United Airlines. Now, two promotions later, he’s moved to the business side as manager of inventory performance.

“After I started the MBA program, my eyes started opening up more to the business operations of our company,” he says. “The opportunity to apply for a senior analyst position popped up one day, and I decided to take a chance on it. I remember looking at the job description and saying, ‘Okay, I know how to do this.’ Before I started my MBA, I would look at job descriptions and kind-of count myself out.”

In addition to his degree from Purdue’s MBA program, which he completed in spring 2023, Coakley credits a graduate certificate in business analytics for helping him land his latest promotion with United. “It was definitely the business analytics courses that helped me realize that the role that I’m doing now, I’ll be able to do, and succeed at it,” he says.

“The Online MBA program at Purdue provides all the tools and resources you need to be successful. All you have to do is utilize them.”

Coakley says one thing that’s been different for him in his new role is the way he reacts to problems. “As an engineer, it was all reactive. People came to me for solutions,” he says. “As an analyst, I need to identify what types of questions need to be asked, and then find the answers.”

The journey has been a full circle for Coakley, who earned a bachelor’s degree in aerospace, aeronautical and astronautical engineering from Purdue in 2013. He had worked for Boeing for nearly a decade when he decided to return to his alma mater for an MBA.

“I realized that I wanted to learn more about businesses — how they run, how the finances work, how to manage people,” he says. “So I decided to go back to school.”

Because he was employed full-time, choosing an online program just made sense. “I needed a program that allowed me to maintain a level of flexibility to still be able to travel for work without the risk of missing class,” Coakley says. “This program showed me that I can really study anywhere. I’ve had work projects take me from the most rural areas to the most populous places on the planet. Whether I was in Louisiana or Hong Kong, I could still get my coursework done.”

The experience has not been without challenges, however. “I took a lot of credits during my first semester, and I had trouble managing my time effectively,” Coakley says. “Thankfully, my academic advisor explained to me that it’s okay to take on a lighter load. You have a lot of flexibility in terms of how many classes you take each semester.”

Coakley says his cohorts in the program were another source of support. “I think if you’re struggling with the MBA course load, it’s important to remember that your classmates are in the same boat as you,” he says. “Almost all of my classmates were also full-time employees, so when it came to team projects, everyone tended to be flexible. It was easy to get along with my classmates, which made the coursework a lot less stressful.”

He also credits the Daniels School’s career services office, which helped him polish his resume, hone his interviewing skills and expand his professional network.

“My biggest takeaway from the experience was the amount of support the school provided to help me complete the coursework and advance my career,” Coakley says. “The Online MBA program at Purdue provides all the tools and resources you need to be successful. All you have to do is utilize them.”

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