When Ana Arias received her undergraduate degree from the University of Maryland, she could not attend graduation. She had a really good reason why: she was deployed overseas with the U.S. Navy at the time.
Now, as a student in Baylor University's online MBA program, she's looking forward to her first walk across the graduation stage. Arias is also thrilled about what it means for her and her family.
"It's huge. I hope to set an example for my nieces and nephews," Arias said. "They're like, my life. I'm going to show them that you can do it. If I did it, you can too."
Arias enrolled in the Baylor online MBA program in Fall 2017 and plans to graduate in May 2019. Previously, she was in the Navy from October 2013 to September 2017. During her service, she was deployed to Berlin, Japan and Turkey. She looks forward to being the first person in her family to earn a master's degree.
Arias credits the challenges and day-to-day situations she faced in the military with shaping her into the person she is today.
"I'm very grateful for that opportunity. And I enjoyed it so much. So that was a wonderful, wonderful investment -- something that I think was the best thing I could have done for my career personally and professionally," she said.
Her four years in the Navy perfectly transitioned her into life as a full-time online student.
"I learned so much about being a leader, like having to make decisions quickly," she said. "You have to constantly be on your toes, you have to adapt and adjust every single thing, and lead a team. I think that was definitely one of the biggest challenges at first, but it's something that I'm now so comfortable doing."
Arias' time in the Navy also served her well in terms of financing her education. She was able to use her GI Bill benefits to cover nearly all of her tuition for the Baylor online MBA program.
From Overseas to Texas
Originally from New York, Arias made the move to the Lone Star state with her partner, Eric, who is from Texas. Even though they live close to the Texas Tech campus in Lubbock, Arias chose to earn her master's degree through Baylor's online program. She was drawn to Baylor, even though she's based a handful of hours away.
Watching an episode of the Waco-based TV show, Fixer Upper, drew Arias toward the environment surrounding Baylor, especially McLane Stadium. She wanted to find a renowned school with a great reputation. Plus, she wanted to be in a program that gave her a chance to explore various aspects to business. She found what she was looking for in the Baylor program.
"I feel like the thing that stood out about Baylor was the prestige, the name and the reputation it has here in Texas," Arias said. "My goal was to find a good school that has a great MBA program, a good name for itself, and I feel like Baylor checked off all the boxes."
Of the courses Arias has taken so far, two stand out as her favorites: MKT 5440: Strategic Brand Management and BUS 5490: Strategic Communication.
"I never knew how much goes into a brand," she said. "You don't think about it, but when I actually took the course I really learned. We dug deep into what a brand is and how it's put together."
In Strategic Communication, she learned the essential skill of presenting.
"It was challenging because I had to give a presentation in front of a camera," she said. She saw the value in learning how to do it well, even if presenting to an audience of none felt strange to her at times. "It was definitely one of the courses that took me out of my comfort zone."
The Strategic Communication course also came in handy during her summer internship at Chevron, which she found through a conference for MBA Veterans.
"I had to present in front of the leadership team," she said. "I would always look back at my notes on how to be effective to them, and how to get your audience to say yes."
Transitioning Into the Job World
As she prepares to enter the corporate world, Arias expects the skills she's learned in the online MBA program to help her in key business situations.
"I noticed how important it is to have presentation skills and how you have to be comfortable at any moment to present to leaders," she said. "Whether you're doing a big presentation or just a one-on-one."
Going to a career fair and using Baylor's Handshake program resulted in some great opportunities for Arias. She wants to go into HR or consulting. KPMG and Cigna are among the companies interested in hiring her. Though she's also very interested in Exxon, which is where Eric works.
"I feel like all of these opportunities available to MBA students are there because of Baylor."
Bear in Mind
Arias has some advice for those interested in the Baylor online MBA program.
"Keep an open mind," she said. "A lot of people think that because it's an online program, it's going to be easy."
But it's not a walk in the park because it's online. Arias believes studying every day has helped her learn online as she would in a classroom.
"It's pretty much all about how much you put into it," she said. "Because you can't wait and read at the last minute and hope you'll get a good grade."
As a full-time student, Arias is able to take a school-first approach important for success in the program, from combing through the syllabus ahead of time to reading the course materials. She believes time management is crucial.
Another piece of advice she likes to give is to find classmates on the same track as you. Doing so provides support that is quite helpful, especially in stressful moments.
"I think it's very important to develop relationships with at least one or two classmates because it does help the program go a lot faster," she said. "You have an additional support system rather than constantly having to wait for your professor to email you."
She also recommends campus visits for online students when feasible.
"I enjoy going to the campus so much," she said. "I love going to the business school. I've gotten to meet a lot of my professors, which also makes it more real. So I would definitely suggest a day or weekend trip because you develop that sense of Baylor pride. It makes me feel like, 'Yeah, I am part of something.' Not just something virtual, but it's here. It's real -- it exists."
Learn more about the Baylor online MBA program.
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