Auburn football player and senior marketing student C.J. Uzomah, left, congratulates his dad, Xavier, who earned his Executive MBA in May.
Running into your brother or sister on campus is not unusual for siblings enrolled on the Plains. Bumping into your father as a fellow student is quite rare, though, and might be considered awkward – but not for Xavier and C.J. Uzomah, a father and son duo pursuing their goals through Auburn University and its Raymond J. Harbert College of Business.
C.J. has been working toward an NFL career since he was 6. And why not? A prize recruit at North Gwinnett (Ga.) High School, he became the starting tight end on Auburn’s 2013 SEC championship team and scored three touchdowns on 11 receptions last season – including the dramatic game-winner in the closing seconds against Mississippi State.
"But at the same time, I know that if that doesn't work out then there are other options for me," said C.J., a senior marketing major. He's a passionate soccer fan who also ponders a future as a communications/marketing representative for an international "futbol" outfitter.
"I'm a pretty outgoing person," he said. "I figured that marketing would be something that I could talk to people professionally. I feel that I'm pretty persuasive in some aspects."
His father, Xavier, is an experienced financial analyst from Atlanta who wants to climb the corporate ladder. That's why he earned an Executive MBA, or EMBA, degree from Harbert College.
"I was a 5-star EMBA prospect," joked Xavier, a May 2014 graduate who kidded that recruiters told him, "I've seen the way you can handle that pencil."
Together, the father and son tackled academics on the Plains, sharing some of the same courses and professors.
"It was weird at first because I saw him on campus and people are like 'Hey, I think I saw your dad but I'm not really sure because I don't know why he'd be here,'" said C.J. "It was a fun experience – him being able to take me out sometimes and talking about his schoolwork. It was kind of eye-opening—to see how much fun he was having with his classmates and the opportunities that they were able to come across."
The EMBA program blends on-campus residencies and distance learning, which appeals to business professionals nationwide – allowing them to work full-time while earning an MBA. During his EMBA residencies, Xavier managed to visit his son, while respecting his freedom.
"We tried to have dinner once every week I was here," said Xavier, who earned his undergraduate degree in business administration from Southern Mississippi in 1997 and has worked for the likes of SunTrust and the Southern Company. "I tried to stay out of C.J.'s way. He’s 21. I wanted to let him have his own experiences."
While C.J. competed on the field, he also competed, in a sense, with his father off of it. After his freshman year in 2011-12, the athlete established a reputation among professors as a bright, attentive student. Little did he know that some of those same professors would soon be comparing his father to him.
"My dad was like 'Some of the professors said that you were a good kid, nice student, and all this stuff and so, obviously I have to be better than you at this,'" C.J. said with a grin. "It's something where we kind of competed with each other a little bit, try to make it 'let’s see who can do better' type of thing. That was fun for me. My dad worked his butt off. He stayed up until 4 in the morning some nights doing some things and I was like 'I'm going to go ahead and go to sleep.' I think he had the upper hand."
C.J. said his father admitted to him at graduation in May that his own passion for schoolwork and success "inspired him to pursue this and get his EMBA. That was a jump-start for him."
"Seeing him going through the process – getting his picture taken in front of the Auburn University sign and getting his diploma, inspires me to not only get my undergraduate but hopefully to be able to get my MBA from Auburn," C.J. said. "It really was a fun experience – hearing his name called, and next year it should be me."
Academics are obviously important in the Uzomah household. C.J.'s mother, Stephanie, is a kindergarten teacher and holder of a master's degree in education. C.J. believes that one day returning to earn his MBA, or possibly an EMBA, will give him a competitive edge in the workplace.
"Attending my father's graduation I was observant to the plethora of students that graduated with business degrees—meaning the business world is becoming a hot commodity and there is going to be fierce competition when I graduate," he said. "I believe it will be to my benefit to get my MBA in improving my chances in this competitive field."
— By Joe McAdory, Raymond J. Harbert College of Business