Kristen Blankenship is lighting up the scoreboard.
In the span of 12 months, she graduated from the online Master of Business Administration program at Southern Illinois University Edwardsville and landed a job as human resource manager at Nevco Sports, LLC.
Blankenship was hired by the company, which manufactures video displays, marquee signs and scoreboards, in September 2019, three months before she completed the MBA program.
"When I graduated with my bachelor's degree, I was more in the psychology and social services world," she said. "My career transitioned into human resources. I was looking for a new job and thought going back to school would help me get the career that I wanted. Instead, I got a new job while I was in the program."
Initially, Blankenship enrolled in an MBA program at another university, but the time to completion was two years. So, she came home to SIUE, where she had previously earned a bachelor's degree on campus.
"When SIUE announced they were rolling out the online program, I dropped my classes at the other university and waited to enroll at SIUE because I could finish in one year," she said. "Plus, I had already been there, so I was familiar with the campus and the processes."
The online format was essential for Blankenship who works full time. In addition, she has two children — Reagan (6) and Andrew (2) — and her husband, William, is in the Air National Guard. He was deployed for three months while she completed the online MBA program.
"It was manageable," she said. "There were a lot of late nights, but the online format made it much easier. If I had to go to class on campus, I probably would not have been able to complete the program. I spent about 15 hours per week on school. The flexibility of the online program is what made it possible for me to graduate."
Down to Business
Blankenship grew up in Troy, Illinois, where she attended Triad High School. After earning a bachelor's degree in psychology from SIUE in 2009, she graduated with a master's degree in gerontology from the University of Missouri-St. Louis in 2012.
"I started managing employees in a social service role and realized I liked the HR side of my job better than the social service side," she said. "I was interviewing candidates and doing performance reviews and really liked what I did. Because I had that experience, I got hired as an HR manager at another job and was able to grow my knowledge and skill set."
After making the full transition into human resources, Blankenship was eager to increase her business acumen and knowledge base with an MBA.
"My friends and family told me I was crazy," she said. "My husband was getting ready to deploy, and we have two small kids. Although they thought I was crazy, it didn't surprise them because they know I like to be busy and love to learn."
Blankenship did not have any experience taking online courses prior to enrolling in the online MBA program, but she said it was a smooth transition into the fully online format.
"I loved it," she said. "The faculty was always quick to get back to me if I had any questions. They were very responsive. It worked out well."
Although MGMT 570: Seminar in Human Resource Management was Blankenship's favorite course in the curriculum, she enjoyed learning about all of the areas of the business world and seeing the big picture.
"I learned a lot about the business world that I had no prior knowledge of," she said. "I got great experience in different departments. It's essential to have that overview knowledge if you're trying to advance your career or move up in a company."
Back for More
Blankenship could immediately apply the knowledge she gained in the program to work on a daily basis, and she continues to see the MBA pay dividends in her career.
"The program definitely taught me a lot since I didn't have any formal educational background in business," she said. "I've found I can better understand and relate to business discussion in the workplace because of the courses from this program. It's helped tremendously."
Graduation day was extra special for Blankenship because it brought past and present together.
"My daughter pointed out that the scoreboard at the stadium where the commencement ceremony was held was made by Nevco," she said. "It was a fun experience and pretty cool that it was exactly 10 years after I walked the first time at SIUE."
Blankenship was already the first person in her immediate family to earn a graduate degree, but she believes it was the MBA that opened the door to her current job and will continue to create opportunities in the future.
"Having that MBA on your resume sets you apart," she said. "I wasn't having much luck before. My current employer was impressed I was doing a one-year program with a family and everything I had going on. That told them about my motivation and ambition. They knew I would be a hard worker."
Now that the Blankenship family is back together and she is finished with school, she looks forward to doing all of the things that she loves while enjoying a successful career.
"The online MBA program is a big time commitment," Blankenship said. "I had a lot going on. I coach little league cheerleading. I volunteer with Girl Scouts. I have my kids in several activities. My husband was deployed. As long as you're driven, you can make it happen."
Learn more about the SIUE online MBA program.
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