An online EMBA meant I could stay in the US for my family and high-profile career |

An online EMBA meant I could stay in the US for my family and high-profile career

By Laura L

Updated September 22, 2022 Updated September 22, 2022

For senior project engineer Olga Passarelli, an executive MBA was an opportunity to demonstrate the scope of her professional capacity and give her high-profile career the credibility to go even further.  

With a family to raise and a job she loved, travelling for a full-time on-campus programme wasn’t feasible. Whereas an online EMBA gave Olga the freedom to choose an elite programme from a broader selection of international institutions, while working and living in New York.  

Olga is studying her online EMBA at POLIMI Graduate School of Management in Milan, Italy while working for women-owned civil engineering company, Nova Consulting.  

Balancing motherhood and an intense job, where she’s often on site in a hard hat and high-vis, Olga says that her online EMBA has been ideal to work around her hectic schedule.  

Olga said: “My job at Nova Consulting is to adapt to whatever project I am assigned to. The ability to adapt, learn fast, understand the big picture and map stakeholders are key to meet the deliverables of every project I work on, and it keeps me busy.  

“Studying and working at the same time requires a lot of planning and it has taken discipline, but the online EMBA has enabled me to be flexible. I give myself a number of videos to watch or reading to do each day to ensure I keep up with the learning ahead of each live lecture.” 

An oasis of like-minded people in uncertain times 

Studying during the COVID-19 pandemic and dealing with the challenges it brought to her professional and personal life, Olga found that her EMBA programme provided an oasis of curious, focused and like-minded people.  

“During globally stressful times, I needed to stay rational and focused. The EMBA was an invaluable source of motivation and great for my mental health.  

“That’s not to mention my classmates, who have been an incredible support for me. We talked and shared moments of weakness and despair. We were there to raise each other up when we needed it and it helped me to realise I was not alone. 

“The humility, professionalism, diligence and wit of my classmates accompanied me for two incredible years, and many will remain in my life as friends.”  

Finding motivation for online study 

Working long days and coming home to study while caring for a young child, it was important for Olga to be able to learn in a flexible and digestible way.  

On the POLIMI International Flex Executive MBA, students attend one weekly live session and further course material is provided on a digital learning platform, D-hub, developed with Microsoft. As well as reading materials, focus is given to video content and interactive peer-to-peer learning and collaboration.  

“I loved some of the video forums which enabled lots of discussions and exchanges among classmates and professors. Some of the discussions we had during live classes have buzzed around in my head for days and kept me engaged.  

“Finance was a real bugbear, but the courses on the platform were very well done and really helped me to clarify my understanding. I even started some investing too.” 

With the help of POLIMI GSoM’s online learning platform, Olga is convinced that “learning new concepts and practising new tools that have immediate applications in my work and in life have played an important role in minimising burnout, and have helped me to work smarter.” 

Managing a family, work and study 

When asked how she manages studying with work, raising a family and having time for herself, Olga candidly responded, “I didn’t. During the pandemic I was alone for many months in the US with a small child while distance learning... do I need to say more? 

“My son took priority, of course and then work and the degree came third. I had to make some difficult choices and ended up minimising the time I had for myself, but I did carve out half an hour of yoga twice a week, so I didn’t crumble.” 

While managing it all, Olga has also dealt with imposter syndrome throughout her career. “It has been one naughty life companion for me and bothered me many times during the EMBA. I have to fight it by acknowledging all the steps I’ve climbed and celebrating the small achievements.” 

Despite Olga’s struggle, she still feels like the EMBA is worth it. Above all else, she feels empowered. She said: “I’ve really grown. My self-confidence and self-esteem have improved, and I feel much closer to my purpose, my inner self and I’m making plans.  

“Chase your dreams, be brave and choose your travel companions wisely. You’ll need strong support to be able to adjust the sails to the wind and make the most of your journey. As Franklin D. Roosevelt said, ‘when you come to the end of your rope, tie a knot and hang on.’” 

Strategy for any situation

For Olga, the biggest takeaway from her EMBA programme is the newly gained knowledge in strategy and innovation. She said: “I’m convinced that the power of the EMBA is to make everyone more aware of the macro dynamics that can slip through the fingers of the day-to-day work.  

“In my opinion, that’s the common thread connecting all topics on the programme. Even the career development workshops were aimed at learning the scientific foundations of how to analyse context, define internal strengths and weaknesses, formulate strategic alternatives and evaluate them for any project or situation.” 

While working in the US, Olga felt that the EMBA at POLIMI GSoM gave her a truly international business experience, too. She said: “Our class has been a real melting pot of professionals with various backgrounds, living and working in many different countries. I’m not sure even the most renowned EMBAs in the US could have gathered such a diverse cohort as we’ve been.” 

This article was originally published in September 2022 .

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