Navigating a hurricane, pandemic, and career
“I knew that the only place I wanted to go for my MBA was Loyola, because Loyola had made such a difference for me,” says Meka McKnight (BA ’09, MBA ’20).
McKnight survived Hurricane Katrina during the start of her undergraduate career at Xavier University. After struggling post-Katrina at Xavier, she transferred to Loyola University Chicago to finish her degree. McKnight returned to Loyola to pursue an MBA in Healthcare Management after attributing her undergraduate success to Loyola. In her final quarter of her MBA, the community rallied around her again as her family navigated her grandfather’s fight with COVID-19.
Below, Meka shares her story, and how Loyola made all the difference.
When I decided to return to school for my MBA, I knew Loyola was my first and only choice. I started my undergraduate degree at Xavier University of Louisiana, but when Hurricane Katrina hit, it was really hard. Life had changed forever and being surrounded by the destruction was not the right environment for me to learn in. In my junior year of undergrad, I transferred to Loyola University Chicago. It was another great Catholic school and at the time I needed the local support from friends and family.
Coming from a historically Black college in Louisiana that was heavily impacted by Hurricane Katrina to Loyola University Chicago was a huge culture shock, and I struggled when I first arrived. But Loyola wrapped its arms around me and helped me finish my undergraduate degree. If it wasn’t for Loyola, I don’t think I would have finished. I always say that what got me through was prayers, my family, and Loyola. I knew that the only place I wanted to go for my MBA was Loyola, because Loyola had done so much for me.
I chose the healthcare-focused MBA program because my entire career has been in healthcare in various capacities. My first job was as a pharmacy tech, then sales, then medical device sales. I had a nice career in sales, but I felt ready to pivot to a new career path. But in order to successfully do that, I needed to improve my business acumen. The MBA in Healthcare Management helped me acquire the business knowledge I was looking for in the context of my career in healthcare.
Best part of the program?
Being connected with the professors and classmates was very impactful. I finished my MBA in Spring 2020 as the COVID-19 pandemic began. My grandfather contracted COVID and unfortunately passed away while in the hospital with it. My professors and classmates helped my family to better navigate the situation as he entered the hospital. Their help was priceless.
We were not able to go to the hospital to be with him, but my professors and classmates helped to ask the right questions and understand the situation from the medical side. The Jesuit tradition and environment are real and alive at Loyola. It isn’t just an idea – it made a difference in navigating my grandfather’s sickness and death amid the pandemic.
What are you doing now?
I had been working with Johnson & Johnson in their sales division during my MBA program when I applied for their marketing leadership development rotational program. It’s a fast track for future leaders at the company. The highly competitive program combines two 12-month rotations in global strategy and the United States market. The program requires an MBA and having a healthcare-specific MBA was a major plus.
I was selected for the leadership program and started my new position the Monday after graduating the MBA-HCM program. Receiving my MBA and starting in this leadership program has changed the trajectory of my career.
Advice for students?
Be patient with yourself. Graduate school is different from undergrad, and you need to think differently and take time to adjust. You won’t be a specialist in the classes you’re taking, you’re learning.
Be open to other perspectives. In the MBA-HCM, there will be students from diverse backgrounds and different areas of the healthcare industry. Take the time to hear their perspectives and how course material applies to sectors other than your own.