EMBA Student Spotlight: Welcome EMBA Cohort 19: A Conversation with Nikkole Liesse

Photos of each Cohort 19 student
Feb. 18, 2021

For the students of UNLV’s Executive MBA Cohort 19, the new year has been a long time coming. 

The 25 professionals had planned to begin their program in June 2020, but the coronavirus pandemic put those plans on hold, and now, after months of waiting, they have begun one of the most challenging and fulfilling experiences of their lives. 

“People are attracted to stepping outside of their comfort zone,” explains Nikkole Liesse, Executive Director of Lee Business School Office of Online and Executive Education. “They’re attracted to the EMBA because they can learn from different perspectives and see different ways to look at the world and solve problems.

Liesse adds that the EMBA typically consists of students that want to advance in their industries, pivot, and transition into something new, or “purposely want to be shaken up a bit.” 

Though they’ve had to wait to get started, they’re re-entering school at the right time. In times of economic crisis, professionals often look to reevaluate their careers or plot a new course for their lives. The lessons learned in the program will help Cohort 19 navigate the challenges of the economy and position themselves for success in the future.

A Diverse and Talented Cohort

The current crop of EMBA students come from wildly diverse backgrounds, Liesse says, and includes students currently working in government, gaming, hospitality, manufacturing, food and beverage, health care, and the entertainment sectors. 

Not only is there diversity in their business backgrounds, but they are a multi-generational cohort – the youngest student is 28 and the most senior is 51 years old; six members of the cohort were born outside of the United States. 

“It’s my goal to have a wide spectrum of students, because with a multi-generational workforce, we all need to learn how to work with, and appreciate the contribution, from all our team members,” Liesse says. “Most of the students fall into the mid-career range, this year the average age is 38.” 

This cohort is also 44 percent female and 50 percent minority, she adds, reflecting the diversity of UNLV and the Las Vegas community. 

Working as a Cohort

Success in the EMBA program relies heavily on teamwork – “It’s not easy to bring 25-30 people together and get them to work as a high-performing team for 18 months,” Liesse says -- and Cohort 19 will have to adapt while adjusting to the EMBA’s “Hy-Flex” learning model, which will see them attending classes online and in-person. 

To bring them closer together, the first course they completed was EMBA 701: Leadership and Team Effectiveness. The course introduced them to theories of leadership,  team management, and challenged them to work together from day-one as a high-performing team. One early challenge is getting to know each other as people and not as professionals.

“They don’t tell each other what they do for a living until Day 4,” Liesse says. “We want them to come in and say, ‘I’m a student and I’m open to learning, so let’s get to know each other as humans first’ without focusing on titles.”

Support for Every Student

For working professionals of any age, college requires a heavy commitment and the ability to juggle multiple responsibilities. In addition to being able to lean on each other during their 18 months as a cohort, students can lean on EMBA faculty and tutors to help them overcome obstacles and stay on track.

“It’s not just the content, but also the feeling of ‘Holy cow, how am I managing this?’” Liesse says. “That first two months, it just takes time for them to adjust; ‘How do I make my schedule work? How do I make this transition?’

“The tutors are helpful for students transitioning, and then once they get through the first classes, they start to hit their groove and support each other for the next 18 months.”

For Liesse and the rest of the EMBA faculty, this beginning stage of the cohort experience is worth remembering, because things will look and feel much different when the program ends. 

“I love watching them grow and change,” Liesse says. “When I interview every applicant, I ask them what their goal is and they tell me very clearly.

“More often than not, by the time they graduate, those goals have completely changed. They’ve grown, they’ve learned, and they’ve gained the confidence to go out and conquer the world.