For a petroleum engineer in charge of operations in an oil field, leaving work every other Friday to attend school presents a big challenge.

However, Erin Van Volkenburgh was determined to make Wharton’s EMBA schedule work in order to fulfill her long-term goal of getting an MBA and to gain the skills necessary to move into asset management.

We recently asked Erin to tell us about how she’s juggling work and school and her experiences as a first year student at Wharton San Francisco. Here is what she said:

On Going Back to School

I’ve been doing petroleum and drilling engineering for the past 14 years. Currently, I’m an operations supervisor for Chevron in Lost Hills, CA. I don’t need an MBA for my job, however I’d like to move into asset management within my company. It would be very beneficial to have an MBA to make that transition.

I wanted to learn how to make investment decisions, manage risk, and become a better leader. In the last year, the oil industry has been thrown for a loop with the low price of oil. It’s now more important than ever to understand the whole business to make smart decisions.

On Coming to Wharton

My roommate is graduating from Wharton San Francisco this spring and I’ve gotten to know about Wharton’s EMBA program through her. I was able to spend a weekend on campus last year and talk to her classmates.

Since getting an MBA isn’t critical for my job, an MBA program had to be worth the time and money. Talking to Wharton students and visiting campus, I saw that this program is absolutely worthwhile.

On Commuting

I drive from Lost Hills, CA, which is about a four-hour drive to San Francisco. I leave after work on Thursday and usually spend the night with a classmate who lives in the Bay Area. On Friday morning, I take a yoga class with a classmate before heading to campus and checking into the hotel where all students stay on Friday nights. Then I drive home after classes end on Saturday.

On Balancing Work and School

There are many times when it’s particularly difficult to be away from my job. If anything comes up like a power outage or earthquake, I have to be in the field to manage it. It actually happened that there was a power outage around the same time as a midterm.

Fortunately, Wharton has been very supportive of my schedule. The class manager and faculty have worked with me so I can balance work and school without missing more than the allowed days per term.

On the Environment

I used to think that business school would be very competitive, but that isn’t the case at Wharton. I saw how my roommate’s class is a supportive community and my class is the same way. Everyone wants to help each other.

I think this is due to Wharton’s Admissions Committee, which looks for people who want to learn from each other and work together. They seek out applicants who want the network to be part of the experience of the program.

On Gaining New Perspectives

I’ve spent most of my life in Texas in the oil industry and I’m enjoying being in San Francisco with classmates from a wide variety of backgrounds. It’s very valuable to be aware of different views on issues, which gives me a unique perspective to bring to the table.

While we get these different perspectives from each other on class weekends, I also participated in a Global Modular Course on Finance in the Middle East and North Africa. Being in the energy industry, it was interesting to see how oil prices affect that economy.

During that week-long class, we visited Dubai and Abu Dhabi where we talked to business and government leaders to gain a better understanding of financial issues that region. I would never have had that type of learning opportunity outside of Wharton. That class gave me a whole new perspective on my own industry.

On Career Impact

The core first-year classes like Accounting and Finance have been very beneficial, as I can apply what we’re learning in the field. I’m also enjoying our required Communications course, which is a speech communications class that offers a lot of opportunities for practice and coaching. I’m becoming more confident and gaining better leadership skills. And I’m developing a more holistic understanding of the energy business as a result of this program.

On Advice for Incoming Students

Think about school as an opportunity to learn and grow. There are times when school will be very stressful, but focus on the experience. You’ve made a commitment to the program so try to get the most out of it. You’ll also make some great friends here. Even if you’re an introvert (like me), you’ll still meet wonderful people and broaden your network.

I appreciate how I’m becoming more confident and gaining new perspectives at Wharton. Some people may think that an MBA is about getting a diploma, but Wharton’s EMBA program is making me a better person. That will be even more valuable in the long run than the degree itself.

Posted: April 24, 2016

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