Darden alumnus Linh Lê (MBA ’20) was among the first students to graduate with the School’s STEM OPT-eligible management science specialization. And, she did so in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Leveraged by skills such as decision analysis and product management that she gained with the specialization and the Darden degree, Linh accepted a general management role with Fortive, the global industrial technology manufacturer. Here, she reflects on the experience and how the program benefits both international students and employers alike.

What is your current post-Darden role? How does Darden’s STEM OPT-eligible management science specialization fit into that role?

I am a Senior Project Manager/Product Manager at Fortive, which is a part of the company’s General Management Development Program. The Product Manager role requires extensive quantitative skillsets and of course product management expertise.

My management science specialization courses at Darden ranged from digital product management to data science. These courses prepared me for both the soft-skills and technical aspects of the job.

How would you describe the STEM OPT for students and employers who are interested in exploring the opportunity?

The STEM OPT extension is an additional 24-months of Optional Practical Training (OPT) that an F-1 student under a certified STEM field will be qualified for — in addition to the initial 12-month period of post-completion OPT training. Therefore, with the STEM OPT, an eligible F-1 student can work up to 36 months without employer sponsorship.

This is a great advantage compared to non-STEM OPT-eligible students, especially given the competitive job market and the extended H-1B/green card process during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Describe how the STEM OPT benefited your hiring process.

Fortive was more flexible with F-1 students with STEM OPT eligibility. This definitely brought an advantage for me compared to my international friends during the recruitment process.

Beyond companies that sponsor work visas, the management science specialization also opens the door to some firms that do not sponsor, given the extended 36-month working period. I also received an offer from a different company that hadn’t traditionally sponsored and hadn’t ever hired any international student.

What skills did the management science specialization equip you with that you use day-to-day in your current role?

My daily job requires extensive interactions with cross-functional teams, from the engineering team, to finance and service. Darden’s product management-related courses helped me navigate technical conversations with engineers. And, the School’s quantitative courses like data science, decision analysis and financial analysis helped me be more comfortable with numbers and have data-driven approaches in making informed decisions with cross-functional teams.

What is your advice for students and companies wanting to use the STEM OPT?

An MBA program such as Darden offers a wide range of management science courses that align well in the overall curriculum. It would be ideal if you know your direction post-graduation and focus on courses that benefit your long-term career. However, if you are still deciding, data analytics and financial analysis courses will always come handy in any future position that you may take.

In order to recruit students with the STEM OPT, companies need to enroll in E-Verify and follow current requirements and responsibilities by the United States Citizenship and Immigration Services.

It might require a little work at the beginning, but that enrollment will definitely give the companies access to a larger pool of talented international students.

How is the STEM OPT helping your employer and other employers who use the STEM OPT?

E-Verified companies, or companies that utilize the STEM OPT, will be more attractive to talented international candidates. The STEM OPT also allows companies and international students more time to attain long-term working visas.

It’s a win-win situation for both employers and international employees.