The field I was in before business school, digital advertising, thrives on the practical. Since it’s only existed for a handful of years, there’s very little theory—it’s all being created by practitioners as time passes. I knew I wanted to go back into the digital space since before I applied to business school, but how could I? I needed a way to go to school, but stay current with the latest industry trends, and do so in a way that fit my schedule, since time is the most precious resource in business school.

Then I learned about Fuqua’s Mentored Study opportunities.

Mentored Study allows students to engage with local businesses for class credit, so you don’t have to worry about juggling volunteering for a local business in addition to taking a full course load. I sought out Mentored Study to keep my digital marketing skills honed. However, I know other students who participated because the business was in their targeted field after graduation or they were changing careers and wanted to showcase practical skills beyond what they were digesting in class.

My project was with Mati, a startup energy drink born in a Duke undergrad dorm room, mainly because: 1) I love caffeine, 2) I wanted additional e-commerce experience, and 3) I wanted to learn how selling physical goods on Amazon functioned. During two quarters with Mati, I learned far more than those three things. I got to see what made small teams move nimbly, how important a series of big wins can be to a company’s future, and how to build a lifetime value model of a customer—all fundamental aspects of business that I only could have guessed at in a classroom. Oh, and I also got to drink all the caffeine I could stomach, which, it turns out, is a lot.

Mati cans on the brewery canning line, part of my mentored study experience

The other, unexpected takeaway was much more personal. I had done a similar type of work before, so much of my Mentored Study project revisited those skills. However, once I got into the rhythm of working on the project once or twice a week, the way Mentored Study, in particular, challenged me was by forcing me to reflect on many aspects of my participation. Through regular check-ins and a paper or two, Mentored Study became a way to ruminate on what I found valuable about an experience with a company—and, as a result, why I found some functions, environments, and tasks more meaningful than others. Mentored Study made me understand my work style better by giving me a different environment, and, now that I noticed and could articulate why it was different, it made me more understanding of how to seek out gratifying professional experiences in the future. Basically, it deepened my capacity for professional self-reflection.

So while I began the program for purely functional reasons, it became something much more important: valuable for not only getting my post-MBA job, but also understanding why I may or may not like it. And the course credits and caffeine were nice, too.