Like many First-Generation Americans, Fares Sukkar MSBA ’22 and his early professional pursuits were influenced by his parents and their move to the United States.
“I’m half Arab and half Filipino, so growing up in an Asian household, I had very supportive parents who encouraged me to follow fairly traditional and financially secure career paths,” the New Jersey native said. “They knew I liked to read and I enjoyed learning about politics so they planted the seed that maybe I should look at becoming a lawyer.”
After high school, Sukkar attended Villanova University where he studied political science, humanities, Spanish, and Peace and Justice Studies which included coursework in sociology and history. His goal was to complete his undergraduate education, study for the LSAT, and then go to law school.
Following graduation, Sukkar took a job in the DC office of an international law firm as a Business Services Trainee and took part in their early career rotation program. He spent the year navigating the program which introduced him to various departments that enable a large, multinational law firm to run. After the first year, he was permanently placed in the Attorney Recruitment and Development Department.
“I found out pretty quickly that I became less interested in attending law school, especially once COVID hit,” he said. “I found the attorney development and retention part of the operation more interesting, especially the use of data to make business decisions and improve the attorneys’ work-life. We tracked a lot of stats such as utilization rates, hours worked, and we were able to advise practice group leadership on how best to manage their workforce.”
Delving into Data
Sukkar wanted to be more fluent in data and understand how data affects decisions at the corporate level, but he lacked the technical skills and the foundational business knowledge he needed to navigate a successful career pivot.
“I settled on William & Mary’s Master of Science in Business Analytics (MSBA) program for several reasons. They offered me a generous financial scholarship package and I was supporting myself at that point, so cost was an important factor to me. I had hoped to move back to DC and that is the primary market that services William & Mary students. I liked the focus they placed on machine learning and artificial intelligence. I appreciated that the curriculum was structured so that the courses build upon each other, the faculty was also involved and talked to one another so they understood what we were going through,” he said. “All of that was pivotal in my decision to come here.”
Sukkar began the MSBA program by taking the Summer Boot Camps, a collection of technical prerequisites geared towards preparing students to dive in to more rigorous material. He said the professors were extremely supportive and willing to take time outside of class to answer questions and work through challenging assignments.
But perhaps the biggest, and unexpected, benefit of the MSBA program was how it brought together technical competency with business acumen.
“My future jobs may not always require me to code every day, but having those skills and being able to use them to inform decisions, manage people, and understand the business space better is critical,” he said. “This degree has improved my ability to talk about technical business concepts and data. I’m able to explain what a line of code is doing and translate the value it brings to a process for someone who may not have a technical background.”
Becoming a Principled Leader
Another positive aspect of Sukkar’s MSBA experience was the diversity of students at the Mason School.
“From an interpersonal perspective, everyone in this program is coming from all walks of life,” Sukkar said. “I’ve been exposed to so many different ways of thinking or ways to approach a problem, and that has been great for my own professional growth.”
Personally, he’s been able to build strong relationships with his classmates in the classroom, through his work as a Community Director overseeing resident assistants in the graduate housing complex, and by serving as an informal professional mentor to some of the younger members of his cohort.
“I’ve been able to pay it forward by taking my prior recruiting background at the law firm and provide my colleagues career advice by explaining what recruiters are looking for, how to best interview, how to and prepare for an interview or research a company,” he said. “It’s been really rewarding these past few months.”
As graduation approaches in May, Sukkar is set to join EY’s New York City office in their People Advisory Services group, which is responsible for consulting on workforce planning, HR Transformations, and Change Management projects in addition to diversity, equity, and inclusion programs for clients. He looks forward to marrying his passion for workplace process improvements with the technical data analytics skills he’s acquired at William & Mary as he pursues this new professional path.
“When I decided to go the MSBA route and change my career trajectory from being a lawyer to being a consultant, something in me changed,” he said. “I was used to playing it safe, and making this decision was a risk and required a leap of faith. It took my parents a bit of convincing, but they’ve trusted me and I can’t thank them enough for that. My family and my own agency have helped shape me into the person I am, and they continue to shape me into the person and professional leader I strive to become.”