One year before I entered business school as an MBA student, I was an eager and passionate student journalist who was months away from graduating with a B.A. in journalism.
As an editor of my university newspaper, I wrote about campus life, community and local business. In that role, I met people from all walks of life who were doing great things in the world, from starting their own businesses to traveling the world to aid those harmed in the disasters, like the 2011 tsunami in Japan.
However, at the local city newspaper where I was an intern, I was assigned to the crime beat. While there, I quickly found the crime focus was not for the fainthearted. Each day, I found it harder and harder to get up and go to my internship, to be seated in court behind grieving families and to interview the local police departments regarding murders or break-ins. At that point, I felt it was time for a career change before my career had even gotten started. But was it too late?
After graduation, it didn’t take me long to find my first non-journalism job as a sales representative at a prominent insurance company. I quickly learned that my journalism skills came in handy while selling insurance and connecting with individuals face-to-face, online and over the phone. Consequently, my position quickly morphed into a more focused marketing role that consisted of composing insightful mail and email communications to existing and potential customers.
This eye-opening experience sparked my interest in business school. So much so, that later that year, I applied to the MBA program at my university. And over the next year and a half as an MBA student, I learned that all the skills I had acquired for journalism could be put to great use in the business world.
Fast forward to today, and I am a tenured business faculty member at Highline College. Each day, I share with my students the versatility and universal appeal of developed business skills for employers. In fact, my personal story of entering the business world is not much different from many others’ experiences. From our diversity of backgrounds and life experiences, we all have unique contributions to make. Businesses grow and thrive because we have various points of view.
And that is the real beauty of business: it is a universal gateway that truly benefits from diversity. Todd L. Pittinsky, professor of technology and society at Stony Brook University, states in a Harvard Business Review article that “Different kinds of people will come up with different kinds of ideas, and the more variety, the better” (“We’re Making the Wrong Case for Diversity in Silicon Valley,” April 11, 2016).
I work with students who come from a wide range of backgrounds, including age, country of origin, race or ethnicity, gender, sexual orientation, income, disabilities, or simply personal experiences. Nevertheless, they take their perspective and apply it to the world of business, and they build what many studies call “social cohesion” that is good for economic growth.
This increasing welcome of diverse backgrounds and thinking in business is why I find students taking their interest in mathematics and pointing it in the direction of a career in accounting or finance. I connect with students who are eager to work on that part of their culture at which they are already so knowledgeable and skilled, and I remind them that small business management or entrepreneurship can allow them to stay connected to their culture while making a living. Others share with me their interest in working with disadvantaged groups, and I share with them the wonder of nonprofit management and its impacts on the community and the world.
I even had a student who already held a Ph.D. in education and was the principal of a large private school. Even with his current credentials at the time, he came back to community college to get his business degree because he needed to hone those important management and leadership skills to better manage his office and staff.
Nearly every former student I encounter is evidence to me that studying and training in business skills are the universal gateway to any career path. And while it seems like a vague or generic field to some, it only appears to be because so many career paths require strong business skills at every level. Specializing in one aspect of business (such as accounting, marketing, operations, human resources, entrepreneurship, technology or international business) is where the true career success, employability and fulfillment reside.
There definitely is a pathway to the business world for everyone, and the experiences of many business professionals can attest to that. At Highline College, we strive to connect the passion and the skills of our students as a way of guiding them into career pathways that truly need their expertise.
Shawna Freeman Lane is a faculty member and the department coordinator for the Highline College Business Department. She earned a bachelor’s degree in journalism in 2011 and a master’s degree in business administration from Augusta State University in 2013. Shawna is currently completing a doctorate in business administration from California Southern University. She enjoys traveling, cooking and spending time with her husband, Eric, their daughter, Mary Sophia, and their soon-to-be born girl, Kennedy.