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Sam Choi, MSBA' 21

A portrait of Sam Choi

Fifteen years into his tenure at Nordstrom and six months shy from graduating with an MBA,  Sam Choi felt like he needed to differentiate himself from his peers. “I wanted to add on a degree that was practical yet cutting edge,” he says. 

Sam’s passion for the expanding field of data and analytics drove him to seek an MSBA to give him that cutting edge.  

“Data and analytics excite me because the scope of application is extremely broad.  Data is all around us.  The most interesting thing is finding out how to collect it, clean it, and analyze it. Analytics can change how we approach and solve problems,” he says. “There are several business concepts that overlap between the MBA and the MSBA curriculums, and this was an opportunity to further solidify what I had already learned, but more importantly, apply those concepts to the technology space.”

Stern’s program—which he describes as “reputable, practical, and diverse”—was Sam’s first choice for several reasons. “First, the curriculum was more technical than other programs.  I had already done an MBA so technical skills was what I was aiming to develop.  Second, Stern had an application-based approach to teaching tech skills, which integrated well for working professionals.  And finally, the modular format was unique to NYU.  With several of the modules held abroad, it created an opportunity to travel with other students, which in my opinion, creates strong connections that solidify into long-term relationships,” he says. 

One of the most notable highlights of the program for Sam was learning from the diverse backgrounds of his cohort. “My cohort was full of bright individuals who came to the program with unique stories and accomplished resumes.  It is a rare opportunity to be around people from a variety of industries who share the same drive to work in data,” he says. “Because there was a diverse cross section of industries represented, I learned a lot about how data applies to such different disciplines.”

Sam describes an early ah-ha moment in the program: “I realized that in data analytics, there is a standard process in handling a business problem.  While there are multiple frameworks used to break down each project, the same set of components emerge and naturally converge to an output that leads back to the solution of the problem.” 

Sam didn’t have to wait until graduation to apply these breakthroughs and his coursework to his day-to-day operations at Nordstrom, with major payoff. While taking the course Decision Modeling in Module One, he was able to apply what he learned directly to a pricing problem he needed to analyze at work.  He built a linear programming model that optimized profit and used this model as an example in the interview for a new position within Nordstrom, as Technology Program Manager, which he landed. “I am certain that this experience was a contributing factor to getting the job offer,” he says. 

Less than one year out from graduation and having already leveraged his new skillset for his current position within Nordstrom, Sam is confident he will continue to see a return on investment.  “Today, I already see a return. I have been able to use the foundation I built at Stern to seamlessly onboard into my role,” he says. “I anticipate that, from here, I will get the exposure I need to data science and engineering to launch a path towards building and managing my own team of data scientists and analysts.  The practical foundation I have gained from Stern will continue to help me towards that goal.  In the distant future, I potentially see myself launching a data science organization within an early-stage start-up firm.”  

Sam also anticipates that Stern’s expansive network of faculty and students will continue to add value to his professional path.  “I have access to world-class faculty as a resource. And with connections I have made at Stern, I can leverage the network of alumnae to extend my continued education beyond my time in the program,” he says.

When reflecting on the advice he would give prospective students considering the program, Sam underscores his you-get-what-you-give philosophy: “Time management is a skill you will gain or further develop while attending Stern.  The program is rigorous because there is a healthy dose of technical learning in the curriculum.  Students must account for the steep learning curve related to using R, Python, and other programming languages.  There are frustrating moments, and there are accomplished moments.  But managing your time between work and school is key to being successful.  My strategy was to give myself as much time as possible to work through projects that involved coding. My approach was to give all of myself to the program, and when I did, the program gave back post-graduation.”