From engineering to MBA: ChemE alumna Nicki Parkes graduates top of her MBA class with prestigious Roger N. Wolff Prize

Alumna Nicki Parkes (Skoll ChemE 1T7 + PEY + MBA 2T0) shares how her engineering degree enabled her to excel in business and beyond.

Having graduated top of her class from Rotman in 2020—receiving the prestigious Roger N. Wolff Prize—Nicki Parkes (Skoll ChemE 1T7 + PEY + MBA 2T0) is looking forward to putting her engineering knowledge and business acumen to work as an investment banking Associate at Morgan Stanley.

“What drew me to the role was the high-paced environment and the ability to have a meaningful impact on the financial and strategic positioning of companies,” says Parkes. “There is high responsibility and high expectation around quality of work—something my engineering degree prepared me well for.”

From a young age, Parkes always knew she wanted to study a degree that combined her two passions—math and science. Having grown up in Sarnia, Ont., an oil and gas hub, Parkes developed a keen interest in the petrochemical industry. A degree from U of T’s Department of Chemical Engineering & Applied Chemistry was a natural choice.

“I was drawn to engineering because of its practical application of math and science and because I knew it would prepare me well for a career in industry,” says Parkes. “Graduating as an engineer I felt prepared to tackle problems efficiently and effectively. My engineering degree also taught me how to best adapt to new and challenging situations.”

After graduating from ChemE at the top of her class in 2018, Parkes received a scholarship to join the Skoll BASc/MBA Program jointly offered through U of T Engineering and the University of Toronto’s Rotman School of Management.

As one of the youngest students in her cohort at Rotman, one of the biggest challenges Parkes faced was being compared to her peers who already had several years of industry experience. She credits much of her success to the technical and professional experience she gained as a chemical engineering student.

My Professional Experience Year Co-op (PEY Co-op)  placement gave me the full year of work experience I needed to relate to and understand the material in the MBA program. It was particularly critical for showcasing to employers that I had relevant full-time experience, especially having entered the program directly from my undergraduate degree.” Parkes says. “The plant design capstone project in my final year was also a rewarding learning experience that taught me how to tackle large-scale industry challenges in a collaborative setting. On a grander scale, I learned about the process of working on a complex and time-constrained project within a team.”

According to Parkes, these two experiences were integral to helping her put theoretical knowledge into practise—something which can be overlooked when you’re in the midst of full-time studies. “I can’t count the number of times while in a job interview or networking event I drew on specific assignments and experiences from ChemE to showcase my knowledge in a field,” says Parkes.

The foundations she built in problem-solving, critical thinking and analytical skills as an engineering student were also key to her success.

“Engineering taught me how to study effectively and how to quickly learn new concepts. It also prepared me well for working within a team and delivering on difficult timelines,” Parkes says. “One of the most important skills I developed was how to dive deeper into a client’s issue and identify the “true” problem to develop more effective solutions.”

For engineering students thinking about pursuing an MBA through the Skoll BASc/MBA Program, Parkes says doing your research and talking to current students is important in understanding if the program is the right fit for you.

“An MBA is an excellent complement to an engineering degree because it gives you the skillset to operate in the world of business and management,” she says. “I would be happy to answer any questions for future Skoll students considering the joint engineering/MBA program to further their careers.”

Students can connect with Parkes on U of T Engineering CONNECT or LinkedIn to learn more about her experience.