Skip Navigation

Trending Now

Student Spotlight: How Lifelong Education Can Change a Life

September 23, 2015

A World Wide Business Development Leader and Master Inventor for the IBM Watson Group, Neil Sahota has earned an unprecedented 24 certificates since he first enrolled for classes at UC Irvine Extension. Along the way he has achieved an impressive array of professional and personal accomplishments.

Sahota has 15 years’ experience at IBM partnering with industry leaders, showing them how to use their analytics to design and create next-generation products and solutions. Selected to participate in the prestigious IBM Corporate Service Corps leadership program, Sahota traveled to Ningbo, China, where he partnered with CEOs of Chinese corporations to develop a local leadership development program.

A firm believer in giving back, Sahota is an active volunteer in IBM’s Academic Initiative program that creates partnership opportunities with top universities, helping to promote a new generation of digital-savvy talent. He’s a four-time recipient of the President’s Volunteer Service Award, which honors community service.

In addition to his UCI Extension certificates, Sahota holds three undergraduate degrees and an MBA from UC Irvine. He has also served as an Extension instructor and course designer since 2010 and is a mentor at the Center for Global Leadership.

Could you tell me why you have enrolled in so many programs at UCI Extension?
Honestly, I didn’t realize that I had. I didn’t have a master plan or roadmap when it came to continuing education. I really focused on taking courses that I knew would help me, may have potential to be useful in the future, or just seemed interesting.

What areas do the courses cover?
They’re pretty diverse, ranging from business/leadership to sustainability to human resources to finance to creative arts. To be successful in your professional life, you have to be fairly well rounded so that you can see and understand other people’s perspectives. For example, an HR person and a finance person would see the same work situation differently just because of their experiences and knowledge.

Can you give me an example of a course you took that was not a business course and the motivation behind taking it?
As I progressed in my career, I found myself engaging with clients more often. Often, for client dinners, there would be a bottle of wine ordered, and (at the time) I knew next to nothing about wine.

As a result, I decided to take a couple of Wine Studies classes. I learned a lot from these classes, and I wound up knowing more about wine than other folks. That sparked more trust from the clients, in that it showed I was a go-getter and willing to learn to create additional value for everyone.

Why all at UCI Extension?
Aside from convenience, the programs are really well structured. UCI Extension does a great job in recruiting instructors that have great knowledge and experience. It really improves the dynamic of the class when the instructor can bring real-world examples and “war stories.”

How have you put the knowledge gained to use?
At various points in my career, these programs have either filled a knowledge gap or helped me avoid having a knowledge gap. As a result, I’ve seen acceleration in my career growth as I move up the corporate ladder. For example, anticipating I would manage people one day, I took courses in Leadership and Human Resource Management.

Even though I had recently graduated from college and didn’t expect to become a manager for quite a while, I found the courses extremely useful because they actually helped me understand why managers did some of the things they did.

Do you plan on taking any more classes? If so which and why?
While I don’t know what they are yet, I will take more classes in the future because lifelong learning is important. There are always new processes and technologies coming out that are transforming how we do work. The world is also becoming a smaller place, so understanding different cultures and work styles will be important.

There’s always a new skill to learn, a promotion to get, or career change to make happen. So why not take advantage of continuing education to get a leg up on making these things happen by learning from instructors who’ve done it and fellow students who are doing it?

–Julia Clerk, Tribune Content Solutions