Bridging the Gap: From Military Service to Business

Maggie Bing Li has always been fascinated by data and its implications in the business world.

As an undergraduate student at the University of Kentucky, Li couldn’t learn enough about it. She double majored in economics and finance while pursuing minors in mathematics and international business.

Driven by a sense of service, she enlisted in the U.S. Army after graduation as a Finance Management Specialist. For four years, she worked daily to resolve financial problems for personnel, units, and vendors in locations as far away as Korea and Qatar.Maggie Bing Li in military uniform

However, the practical application of finance in the military was very different from the business practices Li learned as a student. But the experience helped her to hone the requisite skills she would need for her professional toolkit once she left active duty.

“Army finance differs fundamentally from Wall Street finance in its purpose and functionality,” she explained. “But the experience groomed me to become an efficient member of a team, an effective leader, and overall a better person.”

Once her obligation was fulfilled, Li looked to transition into the private sector. But she knew that in order to be successful in the business world, she would need a graduate-level degree that would augment her financial skills and marry her professional experience in the military with her undergraduate education.

“When I graduated from college eight years ago, there was no graduate program specifically and explicitly designed to incorporate technology and analytical methods into business curriculum,” she said. “Technology and data leads business into the future and I wanted to be a part of that.”

Li’s husband, who also serves in the military, remained on active duty after she got out. The couple was stationed near Williamsburg, Virginia and Li saw this an opportunity to explore graduate programs locally. She naturally looked to William & Mary’s Raymond A. Mason School of Business and the Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program to help her reach her professional goals.

“It is very practical, and really does cover all aspects needed: business acumen, technical mastery, and communicating with impact,” she said. “After all, everything we do is designed based on industry demand and meant to be applied directly back to the real world.”

Once accepted into the MSBA program, Li sought to maximize her experience to its full potential. She applied to be a Graduate Assistant (GA) in the Admissions office to connect with prospective students who were interested in business analytics and big data.

She was also selected to represent the Mason School at the annual Grace Hopper Conference, the world’s largest gathering of women technologists. The event was a hallmark of Li’s experience in the MSBA program and resulted in a job offer with BofA Securities (formerly, Bank of America Merrill Lynch).

“The brilliance there was overwhelming and it was so inspirational. It fueled my passion for the field even more,” she said. “It [was also] such a relief to have a job lined up already after only three months into the program.”

Another highlight for Li was the program’s coursework geared towards bridging the gap between business and technology. Specifically, she enjoyed the material she learned in the Optimization and Data Visualization classes.

“Who doesn’t want to know what is the best way to do things, or how can I achieve a certain outcome with minimum effort? The need and application of optimization is everywhere,” she said. “The Data Visualization class trains you to be a better storyteller that informs and engages your audiences. Ultimately, you want to convince people of your findings and ideas.”

After the MSBA program concludes in May, Li plans to join BofA Securities as a Product Support Analyst with the New York City-based team. Her role will encompass serving as the conduit between the technical developers and clients. She will work to understand and assess client needs and communicate those insights to technical experts who will create proactive and pertinent resolutions.

“My goal moving forward is to succeed at my job and keep moving up the ladder to eventually work at the managerial level,” she said. “At that point, I would be interested in also pursuing my MBA.”

As her time at William & Mary comes to a close, Li is reflective of her time in the program and the lessons she’s learned along her journey.

“The program is extremely intense, but you are rewarded for all your hard work in the end. It also trains you to be a life-long learner who can adapt and evolve in this fast-changing world,” she said. “I could not be luckier; attending a prestigious school, pursuing a degree in my dream field, learning from brilliant minds of faculties and my fellow classmates, all while being with my family.”