Q&A: Sini Ngobese '15

From South Africa to Keuka College to a Boston-based career in employee relations.

Friday, August 18, 2017
3 min. read

Sini Ngobese embodies the possibilities of the College’s Field Period® experiences. She’s now carving out a career at the same company at which she interned as a student.

Fast Facts

Name: Sini Ngobese

Class: 2015

Major: Dual major in Management with HR concentration and Organizational Communication major

Where did you grow up? Durban, South Africa

Where do you live now? Boston, Massachusetts

Activities/Clubs: Lambda Pi Eta Honor Society: President; Sigma Lambda Sigma Honor Society: Member; Sigma Beta Delta Honor Society: Member; Keuka College International Club: Vice-President; Member of Students Helping Students: Crisis Response Team; President’s Leadership Circle Member

What is your current occupation?

Senior Supervisor, Employee Relations & Leave Management at Biogen Idec.

What is the most rewarding aspect of your current job?

I get to influence how people experience what could be some of the most difficult times in their career. I work in the Employee Relations team, so I’m involved in the less pleasant aspects of the employee life cycle. For instance, I work on restructurings/reductions in force, corrective action, and investigations into policy violations. I also manage the leave management team. More often than not, an employee’s exposure to me is in a not-so-pleasant aspect in their career, whether it be receiving a written warning, being investigated, or being terminated. However, I am passionate and fully committed to ensuring that, within these processes, employees are treated with the utmost dignity, respect, and compassion. Also – my team is the most rewarding aspect of my role. They are the funniest, kindest, and smartest people I know.

What is the most challenging aspect of your current job?

I think the implications of my role are the most challenging aspect. There is risk surrounding what I do – such as the implications of firing someone; I don’t know how they’ll react, I don’t know what their home situation is, I don’t know if this termination is going to be the straw that breaks the camel’s back. That part is challenging. There is also the legal risk in my role – if people believe they’ve been discriminated against in any way, I may have to take the stand in court on a case and speak to my scope in whatever the case was. That’s a nerve-wracking thought.

What would friends/family say is the most notable thing about you?

My compassion, resilience, and bravery.

What obstacles have you had to overcome?

As far as attending Keuka College, the obstacle of moving my life from one continent to another! So worth it, though. The financial aspect was also an obstacle but my parents helped me make it work! Regarding my current position, the obstacles are workplace politics, immigration headaches, and personal hurdles.

Why did you decide to attend Keuka College?

I was seeking an entirely different university experience than what I would find in my home country, South Africa. Having grown up in a suburban beach town, the Keuka College experience of going to school on a lake, in an area where all four seasons manifest to their fullest extent, surrounded by wine country and an entirely different yet close-knit community, was right up my alley.

How did the Keuka College experience prepare you for your career?

My management classes equipped me with the technical knowledge and understanding of the jargon for my field. My Organizational Communication classes equipped me with the critical soft skills to be successful in the workplace. My Org Comm knowledge has been incredibly helpful to me in being able to influence different stakeholders in the business through mindful use of my verbal and non-verbal communication skills, use of language to communicate my messages across a variety of audiences and different media and being able to undertake public speaking without batting an eye. The combination of the technical skills gained from the Management major and the soft skills gained from the Org Comm major truly set me up for success.

How has your College degree helped you advance in your career?

My Keuka College degree equipped me with the knowledge, skills and abilities I needed to be successful in my career. It also provided me with a network of professors, staff and friends who were pivotal in helping me build my professional brand and land my first job. The Field Periods® I did at Keuka College were critical in helping me advance my career. I did two internships at Biogen, my current employer, and was hired straight after college due to the rapport I built during my Field Periods®.

Name one academic achievement you’re proud of.

I’m proud of having maintained a 3.9 GPA almost every semester throughout my undergrad and having never having dipped below a 3.8.

Name one non-academic Keuka College achievement you’re proud of.

My involvement in two plays at Keuka is a non-academic achievement I’m proud of. Being involved in theatre at Keuka College enriched my life more than I could ever adequately describe! The friendships I built and the discipline I gained from the process were invaluable. Skills I gained included discipline (particularly from having to attend compulsory daily, long rehearsals for weeks), learning to be receptive to constructive feedback, gaining total comfort with public speaking, and learning how to be a team player: All skills that have been essential in helping me build my career.

What surprised you the most about the Keuka College experience?

At first, the aspect of going to college in a fairly rural area was intimidating. What surprised me is how positively impactful this can be in encouraging one to foster close bonds with friends on campus and engage more in campus activities.

What about friendships/other connections formed at the College?

I met my two best friends at Keuka College (Lauren Esposito ’15 and Mackenzie Ellis’14). They’re a huge and significant part of my life. I also met one of my favorite people on earth at Keuka: my former boss, spiritual advisor, and now very good friend, College Chaplain Eric Detar.

Were there specific mentors who were instrumental in your education?

Keuka College is where I met Dr. Anita Chirco, who has had – easily – the biggest influence in shaping my preparedness for my career after graduation. We keep in touch to this day, and she is always a champion for my success. She was especially instrumental regarding the Senior Practicum course we undertook. The Organizational Communications major is grueling and prepares you to work well under pressure, be detail oriented, be self-aware  -- a critical, critical skill; in my field, a large amount of terminations I see in the workplace are due to people’s behavioral deficiencies, typically stemming from a low self-awareness -- and know how to be an advocate for your own career.

Share one fond memory of your college days.

There are so many amazing memories from my college days, especially with my best friends! One of my favorites was probably seeing snow for the first time, sledding down Davis Hill, and having my first snowball fight. It was also the first time it became evident to me how awful I am at throwing.

What are your plans for the future?

I would love to be a traveling Human Resources Business Partner. I would love to provide different areas within a company HR expertize, while traveling the country and the world on their behalf. Thereafter… I’m not a sure. I may pursue a career as a government official in South Africa in 10-15 years. I’m specifically interested in infrastructure development and education access for youth in critically underserved parts of the country. We’ll see! Stay tuned!