Growing up in a small town in western Tennessee, Sheneka Balogun stood out as a voracious student. She loved learning, but was unsure about her future career path.

She enrolled in college right after high school, but dropped out during her sophomore year. She eventually completed a bachelor’s degree in communications at Lane College.

After college, Balogun recognized her desire to help others navigate through life’s challenges. She enrolled in a psychology master’s degree program at Trevecca Nazarene University. During graduate school, she dabbled in many fields, ranging from public speaker to mortgage processor to even Starbucks barista. After graduate school, she worked in the mental health field, but then quickly began to shift her career toward academia through various teaching and support roles.

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Balogun started thinking about how to advance her career in education. She considered an MBA but felt intimidated by some of the coursework, particularly business analytics. That realization led her to CORe, HBS Online's business fundamentals program, designed to prepare students for an MBA.

“I wanted to advance in my career in higher education and, to do that, I needed to better understand the core principles of business that would match my work ethic and high performance,” Balogun says. “CORe gave me the confidence I needed.”

It was a busy time. Balogun had two young children, ages four and six, and was holding down a full-time student support job at Western Governors University. She felt fortunate that her employer offered a generous tuition discount, making an MBA financially feasible. She felt she had to go for it. And, according to Balogun, the skills she gained from CORe allowed her to fast-track her MBA.

“CORe enabled me to pass MBA courses in economics, statistics, and accounting rather quickly and easily,” Balogun says. “Since the program was competency-based, I was able to complete the two-year program in just six months.”

Within a month after completing CORe, and before enrolling in her MBA, Balogun was promoted to university management. She credits having CORe on her resume with opening doors and helping nearly triple her earnings within three years.

The features Balogun found most helpful about her HBS Online program were the case method and peer learning.

“Students are given hands-on experience, so you feel like you’re in the heat of the problem,” she says. “You’re presented with a real-life challenge, and you collaborate with other learners to figure out how to help this organization be successful. It’s not just book knowledge. You get hands-on and experience and can apply what you learn in a real-life scenario.”

After completing her MBA, Balogun advanced to campus president at a technical college in the Memphis area, but still had aspirations to be a thought leader in higher education, specifically around improving retention in distance learning.

In 2017, Balogun applied for, and was accepted into, the prestigious Johns Hopkins University’s Doctorate in Education Program and is on track to complete her Ed.D. by the end of 2020.

“CORe has opened so many doors professionally and in education, including, helping me be a competitive applicant at Johns Hopkins,” she says. “They told me my knowledge of stats made me stand out.”

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She’s currently employed at the Greater Memphis Alliance for a Competitive Workplace (GMACW), where she was promoted to the Director of Recruitment and Project Accountability after just six months. GMACW is a nonprofit that serves as an intermediary between industry and post-secondary institutions to fill skills gaps in the advanced manufacturing field. She says she uses tools she gained from CORe in her work every day.

“I use them to measure academic progress and make recommendations about how to improve student outcomes in the areas of retention, completion, job placement, and overall institutional effectiveness for post-secondary education programs,” Balogun says. “I could not perform these critical functions in my current role without understanding the fundamentals of business analytics that CORe taught me.”

What does the future hold for Balogun?

“I never imagined I would be where I am today,” she says. “In 10 years, I know I will still be using the skills I learned from CORe and making an impact in higher education, and wherever else life takes me.”

For fun, Balogun spends time with her family, while pursuing her passion for lifelong learning. She may not be able to squeeze in much else right now, but says she’s excited to have more time to get back to old hobbies, like sewing and gardening, after she finishes her Ed.D. She’s proud that she’s the first in her family on both sides to earn a doctorate—and soon will have three advanced degrees.

If you’re interested in evolving your career and are seeking a foundation in business, explore CORe and other learner stories to discover how the program can help you advance your career.

This post was previously published as a student story and was updated on April 8, 2020, to capture Balogun’s career since completing CORe in 2015.

Michele Reynolds

About the Author

Michele Reynolds handles brand marketing and PR for Harvard Business School Online. Prior to HBS Online, she led communications for TripAdvisor and Gazelle and has been widely quoted in national media outlets, including CBS News, Reuters, and The New York Times. Michele earned her bachelor’s degree from St. Bonaventure University. Outside work, she spends time with her teenage daughter, plays tennis, and visits her enormous extended family.