Sakahdi recently celebrated her graduation from Pepperdine University with a 2U-powered Master of Science in Management and Leadership (MSML)
Sakahdi Cebrun always knew she wanted to make a difference in higher education. So after earning her undergraduate degree in Psychology, she got a job as a student advisor for an online university based at the time in San Diego. But when several of her co-workers began landing opportunities at 2U, Sakahdi knew she had to “see what the hype was about.”
Immediately, she was struck by 2U’s mission to eliminate the back row in education. “2U’s ability to remove the physical limitations of an institution while still offering an incredible educational experience was such a game changer. I could clearly see that, here, students are put first,” she says. “I knew I had to work here.”
In honor of Asian Pacific Islander (API) Heritage Month, we caught up with Sakahdi to learn more about her role as an enterprise operations specialist, her aspirations as the new global co-chair of 2U’s Asian Pacific Islander Network (APIN), and her advice for other API professionals considering a career with the company.
It’s so great to connect with you, Sakahdi, and congratulations on your new role in APIN! You wear so many hats at 2U. Can you start by telling us about your position as an enterprise operations specialist, and how it aligns with 2U’s mission?
My team supports enrollment operations for some of our high-touch programs, which right now include the CompleteDegree@Simmons, MBA@Rice, Harvard Business Analytics Program, and Morehouse Online. In my role, I get to experience what I call “enjoyable chaos.” We help create efficiencies, standardization, and best practices across 2U and take steps to prepare teams like Student Success to resolve any challenges that may arise. It all requires creative problem solving and frequent collaboration.
Sakahdi (second from left) with her mom, sister, and grandmother
Technology moves so fast, and you have such a positive outlook about it! You also just recently earned a 2U-powered online master of science degree in Management and Leadership (MSML) from Pepperdine University. Tell us how you’ve been applying your learnings from that program into your work at 2U.
In many ways, the day-to-day program support I provide for our university partners mirrors the experiences I had working on group projects in Pepperdine’s MSML program. I regularly interact with stakeholders across Student Engagement, University Operations, and Tech, and during those interactions, I get to apply the best practices I learned about change management, conflict and communication, and innovative problem-solving. We all work together to streamline the enrollment process across the company!
Yes, that must feel so rewarding to be able to put those learnings into practice every day! Speaking of rewards, what are some of the greatest joys—and greatest challenges—you’ve overcome specifically as an API individual, both personally and professionally?
Food and travel are my joys! My grandmother often traveled between the U.S. and Japan and she instilled a love of food and travel in all of her grandchildren. I take pride in perfecting authentic Japanese recipes, sometimes adding a vegan twist. Right before the world shut down with the pandemic, I had the pleasure of meeting my extended family in Tokyo for the first time. Knowing that I have roots on the other side of the globe gives me great joy.
Professionally, I just love seeing other API individuals in my daily work at 2U. I didn’t grow up around a lot of Asian folks, so I take comfort in making connections and discovering shared experiences with coworkers.
A happy moment for Sakahdi traveling to Tokyo to visit her extended family
Understanding our roots and commonalities is so important. Are there any changes you’d like to see in the working world to enhance support of API professionals?
As a person mixed with Black and Japanese heritage, I’m working through the challenge of having both sides of my heritage recognized. Both personally and professionally, there have been times I’ve felt pressured to pick a side to represent. Fortunately, I feel like I don’t have to choose at 2U. I’m lucky to serve on the leadership boards for two of 2U’s employee-led Business Resource Networks (BRNs)—APIN as well as the Black Engagement Network (BNet)—so that I can help build and drive change for both communities.
That must be challenging, but it sounds like you’re able to honor your dual heritage in that way. How has your involvement in APIN helped inform your work at 2U, and what are you most looking forward to in your new role as global co-chair?
In an earlier role with APIN, I was its operations and admin chair, where I helped APIN run like a well-oiled machine. Clearly there’s some overlap between this role and my full-time role as an enterprise operations specialist. I usually enjoy being in the background and driving decisions that make a positive impact. Now as global co-chair, I look forward to building relationships with other BRN leaders and supporting 2U’s larger diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) initiatives. I hope that I can inspire other racially mixed 2U employees to feel welcome in multiple BRNs. They don’t have to choose.
Definitely. So many of us have complex, intersectional identities that need to be recognized and understood. On that note, what would you say are some of the best ways that non-API allies can support API professionals in the workplace and beyond?
Simply engage with us! When connecting with API professionals, take the time to understand them as people—not just your Asian co-worker. Most importantly, remember that your allyship shouldn’t start and end in the month of May.
Making food from her cultural heritage is a Sakahdi specialty! Clockwise from top left: homemade miso soup, takikomi gohan (Japanese mixed rice), and onigirazu, a Japanese onigiri rice ball that's shaped into a flat rectangle to resemble a sandwich
Exactly! APIN’s theme for the observance this year is “representASIAN.” How does this theme resonate with you and inform your work?
Selfishly speaking, this month has always been a way for me to make new friends! There are API employees across 2U, but our visibility is sky-high during API Heritage Month. While deciding on a theme, we felt like representASIAN was the perfect way to help spotlight and connect all API employees.
During Black History Month, I feel unapologetically Black, and during API Heritage Month, I feel unapologetically Asian. I don’t have to tiptoe around my identity, and I feel an extra layer of support from API colleagues.
That’s amazing. So many people look for a workplace where they feel free to be their true selves. What advice would you give other API professionals interested in joining 2U?
At 2U, you can be your authentic self. BRNs like APIN provide space to celebrate your intersectional identities and elevate your voice. I’m empowered to talk about the hard stuff and help advocate for my API colleagues. And I know that 2U leadership takes our needs and perspectives seriously.