Valerie Hagens is the quintessential lifelong learner and her path to being named valedictorian of the 2022 class of the University of Fredericton’s Executive MBA and MBA programs has been rich and varied. Since graduating from high school in her home country of Mauritius, Hagens has worked in accounting, been a co-owner of a family retail business and earned a Bachelor of Commerce in financial management at the University of South Africa—all before immigrating to Canada in 2010 with her five-year-old daughter.
Along the way, she picked up a Chartered Professional Accountant designation and, with her husband and daughter, moved to Sherwood Park, Alberta, where Hagens works as a finance manager at Nuna Group of Companies and is an active volunteer in her community.
One reason she chose to pursue her Executive Master of Business Administration (EMBA) at the University of Fredericton, aside from its excellent reputation, was because of the flexibility of its program. “UFred’s EMBA program is designed for career professionals, and it offers a diversity of specialty programs, which is exactly what I was looking for,” Hagens explains. “As a full-time employee, a wife and a mom, pursuing an online learning environment with a variety of accessible courses was the right path for me, and it suited both my family and my work schedule.”
Online, on purpose
The UFred online campus is open 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and the registration process was straightforward, with plenty of support for students throughout the program. While the EMBA program is presented online—and all classes are recorded—Hagens always felt connected to her professors and other students thanks to regular discussion posts and debates.
A huge draw for Hagens was that while the online EMBA can be completed in two-and-a-half years, UFred allows students to do it over five years. Hagens took advantage of that during the covid-19 pandemic, using brief stints away to focus on the change in her work life and to help her daughter adjust to online school.
“I continued to work full-time while going through the program,” Hagens says. “I was open with my supervisor, and since the virtual classes were primarily outside of working hours, it provided great flexibility for me and did not impact my work deliverables.”
Gaining valuable skills
While Hagens admits that “me time” was back-burnered while she was working, studying and taking care of her family, the sometimes-challenging balancing act proved to be more than worth it. “Before enrolling, I had a good conversation with my husband and daughter, and the expectations were clearly laid out,” she says. “They truly supported and encouraged me. They knew the family dynamics would change a bit, but it would only be temporary.”
Any sacrifices were worth it, though, Hagens adds. For one thing, she wanted to challenge herself and strengthen her communication, critical and strategic thinking and leadership skills. All of which she accomplished. In addition, she gained new perspectives from students from different professional backgrounds as well as holistic business knowledge. “It was a great and positive experience,” she says.
Already, Hagens has put what she learned to good use. “My specialization was innovation leadership, which gave me a solid understanding of what it takes for an organization to implement sustainable innovation,” she says. “And now I am working with Nuna’s leadership to integrate innovation as part of our culture and the way we perform our work.”
Being named valedictorian was the icing on the cake. “I could not have achieved this without the engagement of my classmates and professors,” Hagens says. “My experience at UFred gave me self-confidence and reinforced the importance of persevering in life and not giving up easily on your goals. And without a doubt the skills and knowledge I acquired through the EMBA program will support my continued learning and growth.”