The online Master of Business Administration program at the University of West Florida quickly went from a sprint to a marathon for Alexia Swain. One week after she completed her Bachelor of Business Administration degree, she started the first course.
"I was seven months pregnant at the time, so I knew I would be taking time off from classes in 2017 when we had our second child," she said. "I definitely wanted to get my foot in the door and get a feel for the whole program before I took any time off. Plus, I didn't want to take too much time off and never start back."
The baby wasn't the only major life change in store for Swain in 2017. She and her husband, Cody, built a new house, and she started a new job at public accounting firm Hartmann, Blackmon and Kilgore in April. Swain picked up where she left off in the online MBA program in January 2018.
"Everybody at UWF, from the financial aid to the registrar's office to my personal advisor, who made the process of transitioning from undergrad to graduate school a seamless one, was very helpful," she said. "I didn't want to rush into coming back and then get burned out and not ultimately finish. UWF has also made my transition to getting back into school a really easy one. I have been able to jump right back into it like I never left."
Swain was working in the loan department at Trustmark National Bank when she took her hiatus. Now that she is in a different field, the MBA program curriculum is even more applicable to her job.
"I get to work with clients from small local businesses to million-dollar hotels," she said. "Since I work with clients from several different industries, the MBA program really helps me."
Swain, 27, plans to become a certified public accountant once she completes the online MBA program in 2019.
"Even if you have an MBA with a business concentration, the business school still has to be approved by the AICPA [American Institute of Certified Public Accountants]," she said. "UWF is, so that was a huge plus for me. I will eventually get the credits that I need to be able to sit for the CPA exam while working in the industry and getting that experience I need, as well."
Sweet Home, Alabama
Swain grew up in the Brewton, Alabama, area where she still resides with her husband and their two sons, Luke (4) and Wilder (1).
After she earned an associate degree shortly after high school, Swain returned to higher education and graduated from Huntingdon College by taking evening courses while she worked full time.
"At Huntingdon, as well as the MBA program I'm taking online, you take one class for seven weeks, and then you start the next one for seven weeks," she said. "I was already used to the time frame, so I thought it would be an easy transition."
The key difference between the two programs for Swain is the flexibility of the online format.
"Being a full-time employee, a full-time mom and a full-time wife, there is simply no other route for me," she said. "I love the structure of the program with the weekly modules. They set the modules at the beginning of the semester, so you know what you are looking at every week until the end of the semester. It's very organized and clean-cut. I need that in my life with everything else that's going on."
Swain also likes the fact that she can work on school whenever she has any free time.
"I do a lot of my schoolwork at night, but sometimes I wake up early and do it or even on lunch breaks," she said. "The way that they have it structured, you know the deadlines you have to meet from each Sunday to the next Sunday. I plan it day by day. Some of my evenings during the week aren't as full, so I can maybe plan to do more, longer that night instead of the next night."
In addition to managing school, work and family, Swain sits on the Greater Brewton Area Arts Council and enjoys running. In fact, she plans to run one race per month in 2018 for charity.
"After I began the MBA program and saw how it was all structured and laid out, I knew 100 percent that this school would fit any busy person's lifestyle," Swain said. "I pretty much have the busiest schedule any one person could have, and I can still do it. If I can do it, there's no excuse. Anybody can do it."
Online Home, Pensacola
UWF was a natural choice for Swain since she is the fourth person in her immediate family to become an Argonaut, beginning with her 83-year-old grandmother, who earned a bachelor's degree in nursing at the university.
"It's kind of a family tradition," she said. "They all had great experiences there. My sister, Ryan Smith, graduated in December of 2016, and I was able to attend my first UWF graduation ceremony at the Pensacola Bay Center. It was very nice. I definitely want to be there."
Her friends and family are excited and supportive of Swain, although they might have scratched their heads a bit about the timing of her enrollment at UWF.
"I was seven months pregnant and had just finished my four-year degree, so they probably thought I was crazy," she said. "They are really proud. My husband is super supportive. We also have grandparents helping with the kids."
Another big advantage of UWF for Swain is its proximity to where she lives.
"We're only about 45 minutes away from Pensacola," she said. "The first thing about choosing a graduate school was I knew it had to be online. In the event I would ever have to go on campus and take any kind of proctor exam or go to any meeting with anybody there, I wanted it to be really close."
She has only taken a couple of online MBA courses, but one she thoroughly enjoyed was GEB 5930: Information Resources and Industry Analysis.
"I didn't realize how much it would help me, because I was at the bank at the time and thought, 'Banking, banking, banking,'" Swain said. "It really helps me in the position I have now. Brewton is a small town and opportunities like that don't arise every day. I had to strike while the iron was hot."
Back in the Race
Swain still has a while to go to reach the finish line of the online MBA program, but she is excited to see the doors that will open after she graduates.
"One thing that I love about this MBA is that it's general," she said. "I love every aspect of business, and I really don't want to put myself in any kind of box. I really enjoy marketing just as much as I do accounting. That's what I love so much about the MBA -- it allows you flexibility."
Swain believes organization is the biggest key to success in the program.
"You have to manage your time well," she said. "Yes, it's convenient. Yes, it's online. But, you still have to have that discipline to get the coursework done in order to not fall behind.
"You definitely have to have the mindset of an analytical business person going in. Every single course is going to focus on at least one industry. You have to have that business logic going into it like it was your own company. If you do that, you really will be successful."
As a woman, Swain is aware of inequality in the workplace and hopes women will embrace their opportunities -- both in work and education.
"It's very important -- especially for the younger generation -- for women in business to be in these leadership roles," she said. "I would really encourage anybody who is interested in business to not be discouraged. Go for it. It's really important we hold some weight in these companies."
It sounds like Swain is ready to run.
Learn more about the UWF online MBA program.
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