Nkem's Graduating with a Great Job

Nkem Okoye has a top job; she'll work as a business technology analyst for Morgan Stanley

In the summer before her senior year, Nkem Okoye fielded job offers from two top investment banks: Barclays and Morgan Stanley. Investment banks make early offers like that only to exceptional students.  Nkem is that. 

It was a difficult decision, but Nkem chose Morgan Stanley, where in August she’ll begin working as a Business Technology Analyst.

Morgan Stanley is a leader in cutting-edge technology, she says, and she’ll be part of the bank’s Private Wealth Management division. It’s a rigorous job that will challenge her intellectually, day in and day out, and that’s precisely why she took it. 

“Some of my friends told me that choosing a challenging job is crazy,” says Nkem, an Information Systems major in the Albert Dorman Honors College. “But I think being a bit uncomfortable in a job makes you grow.  Morgan Stanley presents a challenge to me and that seems exciting.”

She’s graduating with a near perfect 3.988 GPA and a host of honors.  At NJIT, she has three named scholarships and has won awards for student projects and for community building. In the summer of her freshman year, she worked as a cluster coordinator for the freshman orientation program and as a Teaching Assistant for the Educational Opportunity Program (EOP). For the Student Senate, she was a vice president and also worked as a Tutor in the Math Department.

But perhaps most impressively, Nkem left Nigeria when she was 16 to enroll at NJIT.  She finished high school at home a year early. When she arrived in New Jersey, she knew no one; she had no family or friends here.  Yet now, four years later, she’s graduating into the upper echelons of investment banking.  In this interview, Nkem talks about how she accomplished that. 

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What was it like to leave Nigeria at 16?  

Coming to America was much difficult than I had expected. I was at first eager for the new experience, and environment, but when I started that first week of school, it was scary and hard. I knew no one from back home here at school with me, so I had to make new friends while struggling to keep in touch with the ones back home -- despite time zone differences. I had to make decisions by myself. Being lonely and overwhelmed made me cry for the first few weeks.

How did you find NJIT?

I found NJIT myself on the internet as a school highly ranked in computing sciences.  I requested information from NJIT and closely reviewed it. I applied and was accepted.  I actually had to convince my parents on why they should let me go to a random school they knew nothing about, and in a state where we had no immediate family there. There are a couple of good colleges in Nigeria, but the focus is different. I knew what I wanted out of my college life: a great academic and social experience. I wanted to be well rounded in the computer sciences and prepared for the future, and when I researched NJIT and looked at the prospectus, I imagined myself there.

My parents took a risk, and at the end let me decide my major and what college I wanted to go to. To an extent, what kept me on track these 4 years was the fear of letting my parents down, or disappointing my siblings, and extended family that look up to me.

Why exactly did you decide to work for Morgan Stanley over Barclays?

I received their offers last August, and it was a difficult decision in that that both are amazing investment banks. I had also been fortunate to have interned at both banks during the past two summers, so I had first-hand experience of both.  In 2011, I worked as an Application Development intern at Morgan Stanley; the following year I was a Business Analyst Intern at Barclays.

I thought about it for a few weeks, and after a lot of consultation, I accepted the offer from Morgan Stanley.  I had had an amazing summer at Barclays -- I worked closely with Project Managers and got to lead global meetings with employees in India, London and Singapore!  But Morgan Stanley presented a challenge to me. And though I will be in a familiar environment, I will be in a new role and different division from my past internship there. 

You worked on successful projects at NJIT. Can talk about one of them?

My capstone project in fall 2012 was creating a Support Portal for Students in the Online Learning Program at NJIT. My team had to make the portal from scratch and it encompassed everything I had learnt from freshman year. We worked closely with our sponsor, which was the Continuing Professional Education Department. We conducted surveys of the students, analyzed the results, and at the end of the semester my team rolled out a very rich and functional portal that our sponsor said exceeded expectations.  From this project I learned how to work in and manage a team; how to keep on track to deliver expectations; and how to plan for unknowns. I and my team also learned how to be creative when thinking of solutions and accountable for every aspect of the project.

How did you get your internships?

I got the Barclays internship by attending the Society of Women Engineers' (SWE) conference in Chicago in 2011.  A group of us in NJIT’s SWE attended together.  I got a number of interview invitations from companies; they were impressed by my past experience at Morgan Stanley, and I got that internship through Career Development Services at NJIT. That’s why I often encourage my friends and acquaintances to look at the job listings posted on the Career Center’s database.

Talk about your major and why you like it?

My major is Information Systems with a minor in Business. I am not primarily a programmer but I am knowledgeable in certain programming languages like Java, and web based languages and script. I am more of a design and people person so my major interests are in Software design and Project management. I love computer science and I chose that field because every challenge is thrilling. With each code or project, you learn something new, and you feel creative when you create that optimal solution to a problem that affects many areas of life.

What about your background impressed employers during interviews?

Although, I am an Information Services major, my curriculum included programming and math classes, and these helped me be a richer candidate. I found that interviewers were impressed by my class projects, and even my involvement in activities on campus such belonging to Student Senate and the Honors College. I also worked as Teaching Assistant for Math and as a Resident Assistant in the dormitories.

Did it benefit you to be in the Honors College?

The honors college helped me a lot. The advisers offered great encouragement and support. My honors classes pushed me to think differently and more advanced. I also had to take leadership positions in teams, and that helped me learn to work better with people. The college’s community service requirement actually helped me get involved with helping people, which I enjoyed immensely.

And what is your long range goal: To work in America or return to Nigeria?

Long range, I would like to return back to Nigeria. That is home for me, and the place that laid the foundation for the person I am today. There are a lot of opportunities to make a difference in my community and I want to be part of helping the country grow.

Would you recommend NJIT to a high school senior?

Yes. The opportunities at NJIT are endless. There’s a program for everyone and people who are willing to work with you to develop your interests. At NJIT you get to learn, and grow at the same time.

By Robert Florida