When Claire Cunningham started her Master of Business Administration (MBA) at The University of Queensland, she had been living with profound congenital hearing loss in her left ear for 30 years.
At the time of commencing her MBA – two and a half years ago – she didn’t know her quest to progress her career would bring unexpected consequences.
“Growing up, I learned to accept my disability – knowing that hearing aids could not assist – and developed many coping mechanisms,” she said.
“Although these served me well, enabling me to attend mainstream school and university and work both in Australia and Ireland, my hearing loss still created many challenges for me.”
Starting an MBA at UQ Business School coincided with the start of her hearing journey.
“While I was undertaking my first class, my doctor informed me of three new hearing devices that could help me,” she said.
In March 2015, Claire heard sound for the first time in her left ear. Excited, she eagerly shared the news with her new friends and colleagues in the MBA program.
However, Claire’s journey throughout the MBA didn’t all go to plan. Shortly after starting, she was made redundant due to a restructure in her workplace and this forced her to put a stop to her hearing investigations.
Claire participated in many extracurricular activities during her MBA including the Social Economic Engagement Program (SEEP), which provides students an opportunity to work with community organisations.
“I took part in the SEEP program working with Dr Dimity Dornan and Human Bionics Interface alliance,” she said.
“At the time, I did not know that this volunteer opportunity would become so much more, leading to my current role as Business Development Specialist for Hear and Say and an ongoing volunteer role with the Bionics Queensland committee,” she said.
After returning from the European Summer School for Advanced Management exchange program, and with the support of her new team at Hear and Say, Claire was able to make the life-changing decision to receive a cochlear implant.
“Unlike the beautiful videos shared online of babies hearing for the first time with their cochlear implants, my switch-on was very difficult,” she said.
“The initial moment felt like an electric shock through my body, with all sounds resulting in a physical sensation in my head, impacting my ability to work and study.”
But Claire was dedicated, and returned to studying her MBA in late 2016. With extensive therapy and training she is making positive progress and is now able to hear with her left ear.
“I knew that attending the UQ MBA Program would introduce me to new theoretical and practical approaches for my future in business,” she said.
“What I didn’t know was that I would gain new local, national and international personal and professional networks; have the opportunity to study in the United Kingdom and United States; and establish connections with multiple high-profile businesses through the Silicon Valley immersion tour.”
Claire is now set to graduate from UQ with her MBA as valedictorian.
She advises future UQ MBA students to get the most out of the program by taking advantage of all the opportunities that UQ Business School has to offer.
“The MBA isn’t all about what you learn in class. It’s about who you meet and connect with,” she said.
“My advice is to ensure to grow your own personal and professional networks.
“If you’ve got a chance to go on an immersion trip or a chance to study overseas, a chance to do something that’s going to be different and that’s going to broaden your experience during your UQ MBA – go for it.”
Claire is graduating on 18 July 2017 and will deliver the valedictory speech for her graduating cohort.