Navigating the Maze: From Coaching High School Football to Financial Business Systems Analyst. Alex Okopien is our January aMaizing alumni. 

Alex Okopien, a 2020 graduate, is a Financial Business Systems Analyst at MillerKnoll, with a year and a half of experience specializing in collaboration with the Accounts Payable team. During college at UM-Flint, Alex balanced two jobs while pursuing an affordable and flexible degree, choosing UM-Flint for its flexibility and cost-effectiveness. The career path included roles in manual labor, accounts payable, project control, insurance sales, and cost accounting before finding a fulfilling position at MillerKnoll. UM-Flint’s education, particularly a supply chain management course, provided valuable skills for problem-solving using technology. The SOM advising office played a crucial role in guiding Alex’s course scheduling. Alex advises aspiring professionals to emphasize their uniqueness and acquire basic coding skills. Outside of work, Alex enjoys board games, heavy music, mountains, dogs, and coaching high school sports. The diverse experiences have led to a contented and fulfilling present for Alex Okopien.

Q: Were you involved in any clubs or extracurriculars during your college experience? If so, what organizations/clubs?
A: I worked two jobs for the majority of my time in school, so free time was at a premium. However, I did coach football at my high school alma mater, which was a fantastic experience.

Q: Where are you currently working and your title? How long have you been in this position or at this organization?
A: I am a Financial Business Systems Analyst for MillerKnoll (formerly Herman Miller). I specialize in working with our Accounts Payable team, and have been in the role for about a year and a half.

Q: What is your job like day to day?
A: My job is a lot of troubleshooting on system issues for users, as well as testing changes and upgrades prior to implementation. Essentially, I am the problem identifier and liaison between the IT team and users. The vast majority of my time is spent working in our ERP systems, with some work being done in Excel. My work calendar is primarily my own, and most meetings occur when there is an urgent issue needing a fix.

Q: Why did you choose to attend UM-Flint for your degree(s)?
A: I loved the idea of an affordable and flexible Michigan degree. After 2 years at Oakland Community College earning credits and figuring out what I wanted to do, I needed to spend time at a school where I could tailor my schedule. UM Flint allowed me more flexibility in my schedule and with the best University tuition I could find the in area – this allowed me to graduate without student loan debt.

Q: How did your education at UM-Flint prepare you for what you are doing today?
A: This is extremely specific – I took a supply chain management course where a big focus was problem solving using modern technology. In that class, we learned about project management calendars as well as how to use Excel’s Solver add-on, both of which helped me greatly early on in my career path.

Q: Who influenced you most during your time at UM-Flint and why?
A: Honestly, it was the SOM advising office. Everyone was so incredibly helpful in helping me navigate my course scheduling, and from the first semester we were able to plan out a year-to-year schedule based on their recommendations and normal scheduling. I absolutely insist that if you want to get ahead early, the best way to do it is meet with them and create your own plan.

Q: Describe your career path.
A: My path went all over the place before settling where I am now… During college, I worked at Home Depot and Dayton Freight doing a lot of manual labor. About halfway through my degree, I transitioned into accounts payable for a 3rd party management company (Common Sail Investment Group). I moved to Colorado with my now-wife, and there I worked for a couple of different defense contractors as a project controller. After a couple of years I needed a change of pace, and ended up in insurance sales/financial planning – and quickly discovered that is not a good space for me to be in! I found a job in cost accounting for a manufacturing company, spent some time there, and then finally was introduced to MillerKnoll and my current position. It took a lot of time and caused more than enough frustration, but I’m very happy with where I’ve ended up.

Q: Why did you choose to go into the career path you are currently in?
A: Really, it found me. I don’t think I would’ve known a role like this existed until I interviewed for it. I found that following my intuition has put me in the right spot almost every time, and not trusting my gut in making a career move has been to my detriment every time.

Q: What advice would you give current students or recent graduates interested in pursuing a career in your professional field?
A: You’re not going to find many small companies that have a role/field like the one I’m in. You’re going to have competition for roles, so highlight what makes you different. Specific knowledge that would have been incredibly helpful for me going in would be basic coding, most functionally in SQL.

Q: Fun Facts! (Examples: sports fan, long term goals, favorite vacation, future travel plans/ideas, or come up with your own!)
A: I’m a lover of board games, heavy music, mountains, dogs, and coaching high school sports.