The way Kjell Ooms sees it, his career as a project engineer for Malcolm International isn't about running a business. It's about running businesses.
That's why the Idaho native returned to Boise State University to earn a Master of Business Administration from the online program. He graduated in May 2018. Ooms also earned a Bachelor of Science in construction management on campus in 2011.
"It was always in the back of my mind that a master's degree would be something cool to get," he said. "One day, I finally said, 'I'm just going to do it. If I keep saying, I'm going to go get it someday, it will never happen.' I pulled the trigger and thought it would be a good career move for me. Managing construction projects is like managing small businesses."
A visit to Boise State's website sparked Ooms' interest in earning an MBA. The MBA program's fully online format was the accelerant.
"I didn't know Boise State had an online program," he said. "It worked out really well. The fact that I could do it all online was the driver in picking it. I liked it because it's essentially self-paced within the weeks. It allowed me to keep my current employment and work through the program. I really like the flexibility. It's huge."
Words of Advice
Ooms grew up in the Sun Valley area of Idaho, about two hours east of Boise, in a family that owned residential construction companies. Ooms attended Residential Construction Academy at Wood River High School, but had a slightly different career path in mind.
"I was originally going to go be a carpenter and swing a hammer," he said. "The lead instructor for the academy said, 'Hey, kid. You don't have to. You can go study this stuff in school. You can be the guy who's pointing fingers and talking on the phone all of the time.' That's what got me started."
Starting in 2005, Ooms worked his way up from carpenter to project engineer with stints as a project manager, a superintendent/estimator and an engineer with different firms. He joined Malcolm International in November 2017.
"I like the construction industry," he said. "I'd like to keep climbing the ladder and eventually get to the project sponsor and then the executive level. I believe the Boise State MBA program will help me do that. It definitely gives you a broad range of knowledge to understand all of the facets of business."
Go, Go, Go
The flexibility of the online MBA program was also important to Ooms because of the nature of his job, which requires occasional relocation and travel. He is currently living in Corona, California, while managing a $55 million project there.
"I had to set a routine," he said. "Life is crazy working in the construction industry; it feels like 100 miles per hour all of the time. If you don't dedicate time to do school, it will never happen. I made myself shut work off at five or six at night and dedicate at least two hours every night to doing something. I would dedicate all day Saturday and the overflow would go into Sunday."
Ooms had an even heavier workload because he took two courses at once to finish the program quicker, making time management an essential skill.
"I had been out of school for seven years, so you get out of the flow of doing homework," he said. "That was a big adjustment. Then, the online format relies so heavily on your self-motivation to get things done. You say, 'Oh, I have all week to do it. I can do it at my own pace.' It doesn't really work like that. Making myself sit down at the end of the day and do it was the biggest adjustment for me."
The majority of the courses in the online MBA curriculum were applicable to Ooms' career managing projects, highlighted by two of his favorites, BUSMBA 540: Managing Successful Projects and BUSMBA 510: People and Organizations.
"The International Business class [BUSMBA 520: Global Economics], although not applicable to my position, was interesting," he said. "I learned a lot of stuff that I never would have even thought of reading about. It could be applicable down the road as the world continues to orient itself to international business. It's highly possible."
Ooms recommends the online MBA program at Boise State, but he said it's important to consider several factors before enrolling.
"Definitely do your homework on the commitment and weigh the options," he said. "Also, do some deep thought on how it applies to your current position and how it will help, because you can orient the assignments and discussions to your current employment situation. It aids in your learning if you can relate to it. Do some research before diving into the MBA program."
An avid archery hunter who also enjoys mountain biking, hiking and backpacking, Ooms is excited about completing the MBA program. He is the first person in his immediate family since his grandfather to earn a college degree.
"I am excited to be finished," he said. "I felt like I got good value out of the program. I think it was definitely beneficial."
However, when Ooms initially told his friends and family about enrolling, his news didn't exactly go over like gangbusters.
"It goes in waves," he said. "I rolled it out, and they said, 'Okay, you're crazy. You're going to work a full-time job 50 hours a week and go to school? We'll see how this works out.' Then, they got to the point where, 'We never see you anymore. We're kind of bummed.'
"Now that I'm done, they're saying, 'Yeah, you did it. We're so proud of you.' There are some mixed emotions, but I think the underlying tone is that they're happy about it."
Just like Ooms planned the day he saw the online MBA program on Boise State's website, he has a master's degree and is better equipped to run several microbusinesses. Giddy up.
Learn more about the Boise State online MBA program.
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