Courage to transcend the ordinary drove Sammi Bivens to leave her small hometown in Arkansas for the big city to work full time and become a first-generation college graduate.
"I love to say that I need a lot of change because I'm a Gemini," she said. "I cannot do the same things every single day. I'm easily bored. Once I feel like I've learned something, I'm ready to move on. I say, 'Someone else can do this. Let me learn something new.'"
Nine years after Bivens earned a bachelor's degree, that intestinal fortitude is alive and well.
Bivens has a successful marketing career and a side jewelry business named Tainted Rose. She also graduated with a Master of Business Administration from the Texas A&M-Corpus Christi online program in August 2018.
"I consider myself a lifelong learner," she said. "I'm growing when I'm learning new things, so I am always looking for an opportunity to advance my knowledge. Since undergrad, I always knew that I wanted to get a master's degree. I understand how to be competitive and how to have the edge. I knew having an MBA would give me an edge in my career."
Five months before graduation, Bivens earned a promotion to marketing specialist at the Dallas-based higher education company where she works.
"In the field of marketing, there are so many different options available to you," she said. "There are so many roles, especially in the digital space. I like the flexibility and the always-learning aspect of marketing. I can always reinvent myself or go into a different industry."
Bivens worked in banking while earning a Bachelor of Business Administration with a marketing concentration from the University of Arkansas at Little Rock.
"When I graduated, all of my experience was in financial services," she said. "That's where I stayed for a while, but I always knew that I wanted to do marketing. After several unsuccessful interviews, I needed extra money and a way to say, 'I have marketing skills. I have knowledge. I am driven. Give me a chance.'"
That's how Tainted Rose bloomed.
"My business was to get some marketing experience," she said. "It did not work for a long time until I moved to Texas. I was able to leverage my experience with my business to get promoted to the marketing department."
The seeds of the business were planted with Bivens and her cousin making the jewelry and hosting a show in an apartment complex clubhouse. Hello, entrepreneurship.
"It was successful," Bivens said. "From there, I started buying jewelry wholesale and hosting more parties. People were asking me about jewelry all of the time, so I started a website, ShopTaintedRose.com. It was something easy for me to get into and give a try. I love jewelry. Every woman is buying jewelry. I knew that I couldn't go wrong. It's good experience."
Bivens believes the MBA will continue to open doors in her career.
"I am confident that the opportunities are limitless," she said. "It's just about what I do with my degree. A lot of people get a degree and expect to get their dream job. It takes work. You have to be able to use it as leverage to get what you want. I'm trying to get comfortable and really good at my new role before I move on to something else. When I'm ready, the opportunities will be there."
Lone Star State of Mind
After exploring options for online MBA programs, Bivens became an Islander for several reasons.
"Since I was living in Texas, I wanted to go with a Texas school," she said. "The Texas A&M brand was really attractive. Although Corpus Christi is part of the system, everybody recognizes Texas A&M. The cost is also incredible, especially compared to some programs where you can spend up to $60,000.
"Texas A&M-Corpus Christi has the very same credentials, AACSB [Association to Advance Collegiate Schools of Business accreditation], as other accredited MBA programs. It's comparable to any other MBA program for way less. It's better than most programs, and you earn a degree in a shorter amount of time."
Bivens had to have a flexible schedule to fit schoolwork into her life.
"I was extremely busy," she said. "Managing all of my time was really hard. I don't see how I would have been able to go on campus, so the online option gave me an opportunity to accomplish my goal at my convenience.
"I worked on school whenever -- before work, after work. Sometimes I would stay at my desk after work to ensure that I would dedicate some time to it; it was easy to go from work mode right into school mode."
MGMT 5355: Administrative Strategy and Policy (Capstone) and MISY 5325: Software-Based Business Solutions were the two courses Bivens enjoyed most.
"The capstone course had a game built into it where we competed with our classmates," she said. "We all had a shoe business located in several different countries. We had to decide on every single aspect of our business. My team won. It feels great when it's a win. That course gave me a really good understanding of all it takes to run an international business."
Bivens gained more immediately applicable skills in the Software-Based Business Solutions course.
"I learned a lot about Microsoft Excel, which I use every day at work," she said. "I learned how to do lookups and pivot tables -- a lot of complicated features that I didn't have any practice with -- and was able to use them immediately at work. Then, we applied it to real-world cases. It was easy to see how it was already helping me."
The real-world experience Bivens had under her belt also helped her thrive in the online MBA program.
"I really appreciate where I am in my career," she said. "If I went straight from undergrad, what I learned wouldn't be as applicable because I wasn't really in my field of interest. Now that I'm a bit older and in my career field, I can see how everything works and understand how to apply what I learn in areas like organizational behavior and management, in general.
"I have a better and deeper understanding of it. We also used a lot of articles and cases about current topics, so I stayed updated with developments in the industry and the world and how what I'm learning applies in a real-world setting."
No matter the career and personal heights this Gemini reaches with the MBA, she knows she won't be bored.
"I have so many interests," Bivens said. "I want to write a book someday to tell my story. I'm adopted. I was up against a lot of odds and a lot of statistics that showed the person that I should have become based on my circumstances.
"I also see myself doing TED talks one day. I'm not there yet, but I am working on my public speaking. I have the entrepreneurial spirit in me, so I feel like I could have my own consulting firm or something like that down the line."
The biggest key to success in the online MBA program is between the ears, according to Bivens.
"It takes a different level of discipline to go into the program with a full-time career," she said. "You have to have the mindset that, 'This is what I want to do.' It's at your leisure. You have to have the discipline to make it a priority to get your work done."
Bivens definitely isn't lacking discipline or drive. And certainly not higher education.
"My parents didn't have a whole lot to tell me about college," she said. "I saw it as a way out. I realized that education can truly change the trajectory of your life and your whole lifestyle. Education is one way to open doors for yourself. It's something no one can take away from you. I earned this, and it is something that I will be proud of forever."
Learn more about the TAMUCC online MBA program.
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