Graduate Programs

Blogs from students, faculty & staff

Jeff Sharkey

The Importance of Continuous Learning

In this week’s Victors in Grad School we welcome Jeff Sharkey, Vice President for Tru Treasury, as he shares his insights into the journey of success through graduate school. A key takeaway from his experience is the importance of continuous learning. His decision to pursue a graduate degree was driven by the desire to avoid making decisions based on outdated information. This highlights the value of ongoing education and the impact it can have on personal and professional development. Sharkey’s story serves as a testament to the power of continuous learning in staying relevant and informed in an ever-evolving landscape.


Making Informed Choices

Sharkey’s decision to pursue a Master of Business Administration (MBA) was influenced by meaningful advice from mentors and a deep understanding of the opportunities inherent in further education. His willingness to seek guidance from experienced professionals reflects the significance of making informed choices when it comes to graduate education. Rather than following a generic path, Sharkey actively sought advice that aligned with his career aspirations, emphasizing the value of strategic decision-making in the pursuit of higher education.


Leveraging Professional Relationships

The importance of leveraging professional relationships becomes evident in Sharkey’s narrative. His positive interactions with mentors and colleagues not only provided valuable advice but also facilitated his transition into the graduate program. Building and nurturing strong professional relationships can open doors to opportunities and valuable insights, demonstrating the significance of networking in the context of graduate education and career advancement.


Adapting to the Graduate School Environment

Adapting to the graduate school environment is a crucial aspect of success, and Sharkey’s experience sheds light on the need for flexibility and resilience. Operating within a distributed workforce while pursuing his MBA, Sharkey navigated the challenges of distance learning and remote work, demonstrating the importance of adaptability in managing the demands of academic and professional commitments.


Application of Learning in Professional Settings

Sharkey’s MBA journey not only equipped him with valuable theoretical knowledge but also provided practical skills that he could apply directly in his professional role. The emphasis on team collaboration, tools for remote work, and the ability to create value amidst challenging circumstances showcases the relevance of graduate education in preparing individuals for real-world scenarios.


Nurturing a Lifelong Learning Mindset

As he reflects on his own experience, Sharkey shares valuable tips for aspiring graduate students. His emphasis on continuous education, open-mindedness, and proactive networking encourages individuals to adopt a lifelong learning mindset. By embracing a commitment to ongoing growth and professional development, individuals can position themselves for success and leverage the full potential of their graduate education.

Sharkey’s journey serves as a testament to the multifaceted benefits of pursuing a graduate degree, emphasizing the integration of academic learning, practical application, and professional networking. His insights underscore the transformative impact of strategic decision-making, adaptability, and continuous learning, offering valuable guidance for those navigating their own paths through graduate school.


Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:01]:
Welcome to the victors in grad school, where we have conversations with students, alumni, and experts about what it takes to find success in graduate school.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:11]:
Welcome back to victors in grad school. I’m your host, doctor Christopher Lewis, director of graduate programs at the University of Michigan Flint. Really excited to have you back again this week. As always every week, I love being able to sit down with you, talk to you, to help you on this journey that you’re on in going to graduate school. Now I say going to graduate school, but you might already be in graduate school. Or you could be thinking about it, and it might be a few years off. Or you could be toward the end of that graduate school experience. No matter where you’re at, this podcast was set up to help you in this journey and to help you to find success through that graduate school journey.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:00:52]:
That’s why every week, I love being able to bring you different guests, different people that have gone to graduate school before you, that have different experiences that they can share with you and help you in this journey that you’re on. This week, we’ve got another great guest with us. Jeff Sharkey is with us today, and Jeff is the vice president for Treasury Solutions and Innovation. We’re gonna be talking about the steps that he took to get to where he is today. But I am really excited for him to share his experiences with you and help you to learn about what it took for him to find success. Jeff, thanks so much for being here today.

Jeff Sharkey [00:01:30]:
My pleasure. I really appreciate the opportunity as well.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:01:33]:
I think one of the things that I would love to do is turn the clock back. I’d love to go back in time just a little bit. I wanna go back to those undergraduate days because I know you did your undergraduate work at the University of Michigan Flint where you got your bachelor’s of business administration. And at some point in that experience, you made a choice. You made a choice that you wanted to make that next step. And it could have been during your undergraduate experience, but it also could have been while you were working in that first job as a treasury management officer at Team 1 Credit 1. So talk to me about what made you ultimately decide that you wanted to go into grad school and go into that graduate degree.

Jeff Sharkey [00:02:17]:
So my experience has been very unique, obviously, working throughout the entire both undergrad and graduate process. Essentially, what had happened was as I was going through, and then we’ll talk again, winding back to undergrad, I met a lot of people, made a lot of connections. And it’s almost a given that the people that are in undergrad have already taken the steps to further themselves as well. They could have stopped with an associates, but they’re continuing to learn, in some cases lifelong learners. Well then, you also get the breed that I was in, which are also working as well. So you have a group of kind of almost overachievers where, yes, they have a career in many cases, so they’re taking those nights, weekends, and online classes. Well, that really builds a bond and camaraderie there. And clearly, once you get to that 4 year mark, it’s like, well, you know what? We always wanna make sure that we’re improving ourselves.

Jeff Sharkey [00:03:08]:
I actually read an interesting thing that being a parallel to whenever you graduate, if you don’t continue your education, that is the date of which you will be making the rest of the decisions of your entire life. So if I were to, as an example, graduate undergrad 2018, I would be already making decisions for the rest of my life off of 6 year old information. So that continuous improvement was was really a big thing. And then of course, you have a lot of a lot of people that are doing it. You form bonds that you can play off of as well. Another big thing that happened, honestly, was I owe most of it to the recruitment process. Craig Gomolka, specifically, kind of a rock star. He’d been at the University of Michigan for at least a decade already.

Jeff Sharkey [00:03:48]:
And he just did so many things proactively with the team, which, you know, obviously shows credibility institution itself to show the value. And, you know, helping me out with saying, hey, you know what? You’re already here. It makes sense for you to continue on with this specific track. He would pull transcripts and say, hey. Your grades are it’s to the point where they qualify for some of the MBA classes already. You know, just really making the process smooth. I didn’t even ask him to do most of those things. Again, doing it proactively.

Jeff Sharkey [00:04:15]:
So it was just really great experience there to the point where he basically said, well, here’s your first schedule. And I needed to make sure that I accepted it, and then just roll with it. So I owe a lot to him, but that’s kind of the process from, you know, undergrad, which is a funny thing. I graduated with a 2011 year catalog. And that’s proof of, you know, when I started this endeavor into when I finished it, because I was essentially part time doing the career and further education as well. So that’s what I’d say.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:04:41]:
Now you kind of answered this next question that I would typically ask, but maybe there’s more to it, which is you did your undergrad at the University of Michigan Flint. You did your master’s at the University of Michigan Flint. And you kinda talked about that in the recruitment process that Craig had talked to you, that worked with you to show you those parallels. And typically, I would say, well, what was it that made you specifically choose to stay at the University of Michigan Flint? Because it sounds like your grades were strong, and you could have gone potentially somewhere else if you had wanted to. Was it just the fact that you had made those connections, or was there more to the decision making that made you say that staying at U of M Flint was the best choice for you?

Jeff Sharkey [00:05:26]:
That’s a fair question. Since I had been employed in essentially what is and had been my career path already, I started to get a lot of counsel from other mentors as well. A lot of so I’m in finance, so a lot of them in banking, very deep in banking. And ironically, one of the things that that happened was I’d asked one of those mentors that I really trust. Okay. So I’m I’m at that, you know, 4 year mark. What would you suggest to do next? Should I do the professional certification in my field? Or should I do the certification in my field? Or should I do the MBA? Now at that point, interestingly enough, hands down, he said professional certification in your field because that made the most sense. So I did.

Jeff Sharkey [00:05:59]:
I went through, took about a year and a half, knocked that out. And then I came back and I held that certification, waved it in front of his face, and said, hey, hey, what, you know, what’s next? He’s like, absolutely go for the MBA. And here’s another reason why as he had talking about somebody who really reached a high level of exceptionalism and professionalism in his career and been able to take basically maximize what he was doing. And he got to the point where he wanted to pass that on. And the way that, you know, some of us, obviously, look to pass that on is actually through being an educator himself. One thing that he ran into significant barrier. One thing that he had not achieved through all of these things that he did achieve was an MBA. And that really sounded to him like that was the pathway for him to become an, you know, the educators, you know, again, because this is later on in his life.

Jeff Sharkey [00:06:46]:
He, you know, been very successful and now he wanted to give back. And that was a that was a block form. So he’s like, MBA. Go for the MBA. So I have these people, my network that’s already in the MBA program. I got Craig helping me out here. It really was a very convenient thing just to continue on where I was. I I knew where to park.

Jeff Sharkey [00:07:04]:
I knew the business school. I knew the I knew what classrooms. Some of the professors were even the same. It was really an efficiency play for me as well. You can look at my profiler. I worked at the building that was literally attached. So, you know, I worked at the bank right next door. So it just made so much sense in order to continue there.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:07:31]:
So that’s success in that graduate school journey. I always know that there is a transition, though, because the way that typically you’re being taught as a undergraduate student is not the same as the way that you’re being taught as a graduate student. So what did you have to do to set yourself up for success? And what did you have to do to maintain that success throughout your graduate school journey?

Jeff Sharkey [00:07:55]:
What I would say is it was basically continuing on in the habits that I had developed. I will say that I had the benefit since I’ve been working at it for so long. I knew what I was in for. I knew what to expect. For the most part, I knew the amount of time and energy I’d have to put into things. And then the distance learning, I, you know, call it that or I call it COVID, we didn’t really have many other options when we got the ability to meet in person, you know, face to face removed from us. So then that took another amount of discipline. Well, at the same point that that was happening in my education, that was also happening in my career.

Jeff Sharkey [00:08:30]:
So it really just blended where flexibility of the class offerings, you know, whether it be the the asynchronous, you know, online, after hours, things of that nature. It really made it so that all I had to do is continue what I was doing, in the behaviors that I had already created. So it was great to have that consistency as well.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:08:50]:
Now I know you got your MBA at about the same time that you also transitioned into a role at True Treasury, and there was a little bit of synchronicity in that as well. And I guess one of the things that I would question with you is as you look back now and you completed your MBA, and you look back at what you learned throughout that MBA degree, how do you feel that the graduate degree prepared you for the work that you do on a daily basis?

Jeff Sharkey [00:09:21]:
It’s a lot in the team aspects. I will say that most saying that through your teeth because during the process, you know, that having the team members assigned to you, you know, that can be one of the most difficult parts, is learning how to deal with other, call it coworkers, call it other team members. And I will say that I had great teams. I heard stories about other ones that were not. Our professors were even very accommodating in making ways to address team issues. So, you know, if if and when they arose. Again, I was very fortunate. But I would say that that’s probably the the clearest preparation and aid, I should say, that took place.

Jeff Sharkey [00:09:59]:
Because what had happened was the company that I worked for was formed in 2020 right as the world started to close down. And so we were tasked to essentially create all of this value in and do it, you know, basically over the internet, which is something that has not been the traditional path for finance. And so also having that experience from the MBA of having to do absolutely everything, whether it be collaborations, using collaboration tools. You know, our our workforce is what we we call ourselves, like, basically, the 100% distributed workforce. You know, as far as no corporate leased office space somewhere. Everything is, you know, done remotely. The MBA prepared me for that as well. You know, it not even you know, almost not by design, but it was a very valuable thing for me to have that experience.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:10:49]:
Now, again, you’ve been out now for a few years. And you have the will say time on your side to be able to look back and to be able to consider that graduate education that you’ve gone through and what it took for you to be able to get to that end state that you had that diploma in hand. As you look back at this and you think about other students that are coming behind you, whether it be for an MBA or for a degree in a completely different area, what are some tips that you might offer to other students that are considering graduate education that would help them to find success sooner?

Jeff Sharkey [00:11:29]:
Yeah. I would say continuous education. Always be hungry. Always want more than what is available. So, the professors are going to give you some a specific set of content, but that doesn’t have to be the end of it. We had a lot of different, circumstances where we would work on things together with, you know, classmates that weren’t necessarily related to projects, but we had formed those groups. One of them, we were very close to launching a business venture that they had essentially assigned us to do. I mean, how how easy was that as far as, you know, well, next step is essentially to go get it funded.

Jeff Sharkey [00:12:05]:
So those are the type of things where I’d say just really be open and be ready to take those type of opportunities. I’m working with another person who essentially ran that same type of situation, and now they’re in that business. So just really be flexible, soak it all in, but don’t let that be a restriction either. Don’t let the syllabus be the restriction. Ended a couple of the networking events that they have. The U of M Flint’s very good about having additional networking events. And I remember seeing there’s kind of a line waiting to talk to this one specific professor. And so I was just kind of listening in on it.

Jeff Sharkey [00:12:38]:
And what he was telling is he’s he’s like, you need to go to this place. You need to contact this person, and here is their phone number, and they are in charge of helping get grants for that type of information. You know, it was just it was really interesting to have the different resources be presented to you. So that’s the other thing I would say is is work the network. Your network will work if you work the network. I know, you know, lead surgeons in Wisconsin, the head nurses in Grand Rapids. It just really interesting, the network that I got connected with. So fire up your LinkedIn profile, make sure that you don’t lose contact with these people.

Jeff Sharkey [00:13:09]:
There’s a person who runs the metal, essentially reclamation company down in South Carolina. Just really great and interesting things to know about and to have, and we keep in contact. So that’s another very valuable thing. So I would say, be open, take it all in, work that network.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:13:24]:
I love that you said that because especially if you do have grow from those other people, and then their network becomes your network. So as you network, as you build that professional network within and among the classmates that you have, they can open doors for you that you never would have had being local to a specific area. So listen to what Jeff just said because one of the things that he was talking about was for him, having an online option was the right fit. Not the right fit for everyone, but also look at the student base. And if you’re going to be in an in person cohort, is everyone from the same area? Or are they coming from many different areas too? Because you do want a network. You want to build a network. You wanna look at the alumni network. You wanna do what you can to expand your own network so that you then have even more opportunities for yourself as you move forward in your career.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:14:39]:
So, Jeff, I just want to say thank you. Thank you for sharing your journey today, for being willing to talk about this and share this journey that you’ve been on, and I wish you all the best.

Jeff Sharkey [00:14:51]:
My pleasure. Thanks for the opportunity.

Dr. Christopher Lewis [00:14:53]:
The University of Michigan Flint has a full array of masters and doctorate programs if you are interested in continuing your education. Whether you’re looking for in person or online learning options, the University of Michigan Flint has programs that will meet your needs. For more information on any of our graduate programs, visit to find out more. Thanks again for spending time with me as you prepare to be a victor in grad school. I look forward to speaking with you again soon as we embark together on your graduate school journey. If you have any questions or want to reach out, email me at [email protected].