Lauren Stevens learned all about wishing upon a star while growing up near Walt Disney World in Orlando, Florida. She's pretty good at it, too.
Stevens graduated from the Master of Business Administration online program at the University of South Carolina Aiken in December 2019. She completed the graduate degree while working full time as a marketing strategy manager for Disney Cruise Line.
"Fortunately, I have my dream job," she said. "I am a huge fan of Disney Cruise Line, and I have always been fascinated by the cruise industry. Right now, I am in my sweet spot."
Of course, Stevens also put in a lot of hard work along the way. She started her career with Disney while still in high school, working a merchandising job at Disney's Hollywood Studios in Lake Buena Vista. That led to an internship and later, the fulfillment of her career wish.
"I just celebrated 10 years with the company," Stevens said. "I worked in merchandising for seven summers. Then, I got a professional internship in marketing and turned it into a full-time job."
The loyalty goes both ways – Disney paid all of the online MBA program tuition for Stevens, clearing the path for her to make another wish come true.
"I knew that I wanted to pursue higher levels of professional education," she said. "Marketing is a competitive field, and a lot of my peers had master's degrees or MBAs. I wanted to stay competitive. I also wanted to further my education after I had been exposed to the real world and the working environment.
"I wanted to gain exposure to different sides of the business, like finance and accounting, that I don't normally interact with. I felt like going back to school would help me apply some of the things I learned on the job and connect the dots."
Stevens developed a keen interest in her career field after taking a marketing essentials class as an elective in high school.
"It was fascinating to me," she said. "I got involved in a marketing competition called DECA [Distributive Education Clubs of America], which prepares emerging leaders and entrepreneurs in marketing, finance, hospitality and management through case studies. We competed across the state and qualified to compete in nationals. It helped me think like a marketer and bridge the gap between textbook learnings and experience."
Stevens got a broad perspective of the marketing industry after doing a marketing research internship at Universal Studios and a social media internship at Chick-fil-A corporate.
She graduated with a Bachelor of Business Administration with a focus in marketing and international business from the University of North Florida in 2015. Stevens found the USC Aiken online MBA program after doing extensive research on the internet.
"I wanted to attend an accredited school that was also a state school," she said. "The MBA program at USC Aiken was affordable and everything was online. It was also nice to not take the GMAT exam since I had four years of professional work experience under my belt."
Although Stevens took a couple of online courses in her undergraduate program, she knew that the fully online MBA program would be a new experience.
"Honestly, that was one of my biggest concerns," she said. "When I was looking at programs, I wanted something that was flexible for my busy schedule because I didn't want it to interfere with work.
"It was nice to have that flexibility and know that I could work in advance and do things on my own. I didn't have any issues. The professors were very responsive."
BADM A720: Legal and Ethical Environment of Business was Stevens' favorite course in the online MBA curriculum. It was also the most applicable to her current role.
"It's not something we had a course devoted to in undergrad, and it explained how you think about certain dilemmas and presented some case studies and some ethical issues," she said. "It encouraged me to think a lot about different situations and how to apply them to my job, too. Sometimes it's not about the answer is right or wrong as long as you can back it up, explain yourself and add logical reasoning to it."
Stevens, who enjoys traveling in her free time, wrapped up her graduate degree experience with a road trip to Aiken to walk in the commencement ceremony and receive her degree in person.
"It was a lot of fun and very rewarding," she said. "My friends and family were supportive, and commended me for finding a program that my company was willing to pay for. I absolutely got good value out of the program."
The biggest key to success while earning a master's degree and working full time for Stevens was making sure to take advantage of the flexibility of the online format.
"Try to always be a week or two ahead of schedule," she said. "When something came up at work or I had to leave town for other reasons, I didn't have to worry about school. I already had my assignments turned in and had some wiggle room if I needed it.”
Although Stevens is living in her personal magic kingdom, she knows that she will eventually be ready for a new challenge. When the time comes to wish upon another star, she believes the MBA will help her get there.
"I'm sure I am going to evolve and set my next goals," Stevens said. "For where I am now, I know my degree and what I have learned has been so valuable. The MBA program at USC Aiken was one of the few programs that had all of the things that I was looking for. It was perfect."
Learn more about the USC Aiken online MBA program.
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