The Career Changer: Sandra Perez-Contreras
More than ten years after graduating from Indiana University with a degree in marketing, Sandra Perez-Contreras made a life-changing turn back to the classroom. Although she had built a successful career in business-to-business sales, Perez-Contreras says she realized she was meant to do something else. Figuring out what that something was required shifting gears from full-time business professional to Full-Time MBA student.
“I was at a crossroads in my career,” Perez-Contreras says. “I woke up one morning and realized that I didn’t want my boss’s job, and I didn’t want his boss’s job either. I wanted something different and believed that earning a Full-Time MBA would be a career-changing opportunity.”
Since Perez-Contreras was based in Knoxville at the time, she researched the Haslam MBA. Going back to school meant quitting her job and paying tuition, so cost and location were definite considerations. However, she was equally focused on only applying to programs that could give her a competitive advantage in the job market.
“Having gone to a university (Indiana) with a really strong recruiting program, I knew that I wanted a school with an active recruiting office and with credentials that attracted top companies to recruit on campus,” Perez-Contreras says. “The fact that the Haslam MBA in supply chain management concentration was ranked in the top 10 by U.S. News and World Report was definitely attractive, and I knew I couldn’t beat the value of UT. I felt that the amount of debt I would incur as a student would be worth my while, because I knew that I would come out of the program with the kind of job I wanted.”
When she applied, Perez-Contreras initially intended to pursue a concentration in operations, based on her experience as a consultant specializing in helping small businesses. Once classes began, Perez-Contreras quickly realized that supply chain was a better fit and switched her concentration.
“When I was exposed to the concept of supply chain management, I realized I had discovered what I was meant to do,” she says. “At heart, I am still a sales person. Knowing that I could help make improvements to better serve my customer seemed like a perfect combination. So, I changed my direction.”
As one of the oldest students in her class, Perez-Contreras had an advantage over most of her classmates in terms of work experience and technical skills. This allowed her to focus on refining the skills needed to take her career to the next level.
“The most important things that I learned in the Haslam MBA involved soft skills, such as public speaking,” she says. “Between project presentations in class and participating in a business case competition, I had the opportunity to become more confident and comfortable speaking in front of groups.”
Perez-Contreras says she is particularly thankful for the opportunities she had to make presentations without prepared notes.
“I told my professor that I wanted to be prepared for the day when I’d have a microphone thrust in my face and be asked for a comment,” Perez-Contreras says. “While she would have preferred that I come into meetings with prepared notes, she allowed me to look at the topic 10 minutes before class and then ad lib. That experience prepared me to put my thoughts together and speak coherently to any group with very little time to prepare. I believe my success at Nike is definitely due to the skill and confidence I built in the Haslam MBA. The lessons learned at UT come into play almost every single day.”
Title: NLS Training Manager and Coach
Organization: Nike, Inc.
Location: Beaverton, Oregon