University of Tennessee

For New Alumna, Investment Leads to Opportunity

April 27, 2021

From an early age, Elana Ladd (HCB, ’20) learned how good it felt to dedicate herself to achieving a goal. She started working at age 16 and set her sights on using her income to fix up a used truck. Although the progress was gradual as she saved up for each part, by her junior year of high school, that “beat-up Ford Ranger” had new rims, tires, interior, headlights and a lift that Ladd and her father installed. 

“It was the first time I created something that was mine and that I was proud of,” recalls Ladd, who hails from Clarksville, Tenn. “I looked at college in the same manner.”

Ladd weighed her college options with cost in mind. After much deliberation, she realized she did not want to let her present financial situation determine her future professional path. She decided to make an investment in herself and take out personal loans to begin a major in management at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville’s Haslam College of Business.

Making that investment motivated Ladd to push herself in the classroom and take full advantage of the opportunities at Haslam. As a sophomore, she spoke in front of the college’s Dean’s Advisory Council. Through the Heath Integrated Business & Engineering Program (IBEP), she contributed to real-world inventions. Throughout her time at the college, she formed connections with faculty and mentors who provided advice, emotional support and financial investments such as scholarships.

“I was taught, through Haslam, how to make my voice heard as a woman in business, to take leaps of faith and to be curious of things that I do not know,” she says.

Mary Pile, director of Heath IBEP, says Ladd was an excellent student, constantly thinking about her future and how best to succeed. “Elana has a keen ability to connect with people and will be a great leader,” Pile says.

That future arrived sooner than expected. In summer 2020, Ladd worked as a sales management intern for PepsiCo Beverages North America, and despite the internship being remote due to the COVID-19 pandemic, she made such a strong impression that the company offered her a permanent position. 

Recognizing a unique opportunity to jump-start her career in the midst of an uncertain job market, Ladd made the decision to graduate in fall 2020 rather than spring 2021. She began her role as a sales management associate for PepsiCo in Columbia, S.C. in January 2021.

For Ladd, it’s clear that making an investment in herself has already paid dividends.

“I knew by the time I was finished, I would have grown more at Haslam than I would have anywhere else,” she says. “If I had settled for a small school in my hometown, I do not believe I would be where I am today.”


Stacy Estep, business writer/publicist,