Moving across the globe – making industry impact

Categories: General News

Nneka Ubi had worked in real estate management for four years in her home nation of Nigeria. One day, a casual comment from her manager changed Ubi’s life forever. “Nneka, you seem to be passionate about facility management. Have you considered gaining global exposure?”

Ubi was driven to explore various international educational opportunities, possibly expanding into construction. However, most schools offered either a facilities management or construction management program – not both. “Then I discovered UNC Charlotte’s Construction and Facilities Engineering program which offers the ideal blend of both, plus civil engineering, project management and architecture. The practical, hands-on experience opportunities further solidified my belief that this program would provide the necessary skills and knowledge to excel in engineering. Even better, I learned that Charlotte is one of the hubs for the construction and engineering industries, providing access to a thriving job market.”

But applying to and being accepted by a graduate program abroad was not Ubi’s only hurdle. “Although furthering my education was important, I was not in the position to fund that dream at the moment.” The enrollment period was ending soon, and Ubi suspected she may lose her admission status. But she persisted, applying for related roles, and was relieved when the program director, Dr. Jake Smithwick, contacted Ubi with good news. “Dr. Smithwick hired me as his Research Assistant just in time. And the rest they say is history!”

Nneka Ubi presents research
Ubi was chosen as one of the Diversity Scholars by the Graduate School to showcase research that centers on Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) issues related to the community.

Smithwick continued to provide Ubi tailored support in her academic and assistantship roles. “For example, during my very first project for him, my limited experience in data analysis left me staring at collected data for days,” said Ubi. “I found myself feeling overwhelmed and fatigued, uncertain of where to begin.  Fortunately, Dr. Smithwick patiently laid a strong foundation for me.” He enabled Ubi to complete the project and go on to better appreciate data as a resource. 

The determined student found that all her professors were “super amazing and very cerebral. Their receptiveness and patience in understanding diverse learning levels foster an inclusive learning environment.”

However, Smithwick became a key faculty member for Ubi through his support and advice. As UNC Charlotte faculty often do, he took the extra steps to develop a mentor relationship with Ubi. “His guidance helped me swiftly realize that resources abound around me,” said Ubi. “Learning to identify and maximize them became a pivotal strategy for me. Today, I proudly co-lead six research projects, with two already published – a testament to the benefits of perseverance and adaptability.”

Smithwick shared that Ubi is thoroughly engaged in the local FM community, and is well-respected by her peers and often inspires them with her leadership in facilities management. 

“In 2023,” explains Smithwick, “Nneka received the Glenda Mayo Facilities Engineering fellowship. This award was created to honor the memory of my dear colleague who passed away in 2021. Nneka has a knack and passion for facility management, and she was completely deserving of this award.”

Nneka Ubi presented with People's Choice Award
Ubi receives the People’s Choice Award in the Three Minute Thesis (3MT) competition

As Ubi concludes her master’s program, she is finishing her research project that holds both local and global significance. Assessing Facilities Management Practices: A Multi-Region Study is designed to help advance the facilities management field based on internationally derived, data-based performance metrics. This new knowledge will provide valuable guidance for more informed and comparable decisions across the globe.

Prior to UNC Charlotte, Ubi’s roles as a property and facility manager primarily revolved around operations and maintenance. Now, as she completes her master’s degree, her professional interests have evolved to encompass a broader set of more impactful areas. “Upon graduation,” Ubi said, “I aim to take on a Facility Manager position that integrates sustainability or analytical roles.”

No more staring at data, overwhelmed. Now, Nneka Ubi is leveraging her new knowledge in analytics of facilities management and construction to go after the career that will make an impact.

“I am incredibly proud of Nneka and her diligence,” said Smithwick. “She will have an amazing career, and I am so happy that she has been an outstanding student in the program.”

Nneka Ubi standing in from of ASC conference sign
Ubi at the Associated Schools of Construction International Conference
Two people in conversation
Ubi at the Associated Schools of Construction International Conference
Photo depicts award presentation
Ubi receives award from Division of Research’s Associate Vice Chancellor Deb Thomas at the 2023 Graduate Research Symposium