Brenda Leal has come a long way since graduating from the Master of Business Administration program at Bowling Green State University in December 2013.
Leal has spent 27 years working for Civista Bank in Sandusky, Ohio. She was employed in the deposit operations department when she enrolled in the MBA program.
“The MBA was a just-in-case kind of thing,” she said. “I knew that I had the experience, but with the uncertainty of the economy, sometimes experience isn’t enough. I wanted to make sure I had the degree as well if anything did happen.”
Education has always been a bit of a struggle for Leal — not because of the learning, but because of life’s way of putting education on the backburner.
“I got married a week after I graduated from high school, and I didn’t start going to college until I was 28,” she said. “I had three kids and a full-time job, but an MBA was always something that I strived to do.”
Thankfully, tuition reimbursement from Civista Bank gave Leal a way to turn her dream of a graduate business education into a reality.
“I didn’t know how I would pay for it before, but I was able to achieve it because the bank was willing to invest in me,” said Leal, whose MBA helped her advance to the senior vice president of deposit operations position at Civista Bank.
BGSU was a natural choice for Leal because the school was familiar and the MBA program worked well with her busy schedule.
“I got my bachelor’s at Bowling Green,” she said. “When I was looking to get my master’s, it made perfect sense to stick with the Bowling Green program.”
Collaboration and Care
Leal found herself among like-minded individuals as she began working through the program, which made it easier to build relationships with her classmates.
“In the professional program, you’re all students who, for the most part, are working and have families,” she said. “You can relate to each other because you do have more [to your life] than just going to school.”
The MBA program is also now available online, which is another great option for working students.
As an undergrad, Leal was sometimes disappointed in her peers’ lack of commitment to their education. Her master’s program proved different in this regard.
“Some of the students were there because the parents wanted them to be there,” she said of her undergraduate years. “That made it a little harder when you were doing group work, but in the MBA program everybody wanted to be there. Everybody was there for a purpose, and we all worked to get through it and helped each other in any way we could.”
Leal also found her professors to be collaborative, with her experience of MBA 6070: Business Ethics, Law & Communication standing out for instructor involvement.
“I was already in business, so it helped to be learning all about business law,” she said. “It was a well-run, well-organized class. I knew I could use that information going forward in life. My instructor clearly loved the topic. She was so well-versed in it.”
It was not only in the subject matter that Leal noticed faculty expertise. When her grandmother died, her professor reached out to check up on her. She found similar levels of care from her other instructors too. Her statistics professor devoted extra time to lending a hand when the subject proved to be a source of struggle for Leal.
“He made it more of a positive experience,” she said. “We met outside of class, and he tried to help.”
Support and Security
Even with a collaborative cohort and helpful professors, earning an MBA ultimately comes down to individual effort.
“There were a lot of sleepless nights,” Leal said. “Juggling the workload wasn’t always easy. It was a lot of prioritizing. If I had a work project, that came first. The house probably wasn’t as clean as it is now.”
Leal’s support system at home offered needed relief so she could focus on her schoolwork.
“My father [Richard Heidl] was very helpful,” she said. “He’d come stay with the kids at night when my husband [Raymond III] was traveling for work so that I could go to classes. My whole family wanted me to do it. They realized it was a good thing.”
Leal’s effort to earn an MBA made her a role model for her children Raymond IV, Brandon and Samantha.
“It helped them to see how important education was to me,” she said. “It showed them that you could do it no matter what. Brandon went to Bowling Green after he had a family, got his bachelor’s degree and then went on to Toledo Law.”
Leal has no intention of leaving the bank that helped her reach her educational goal, but she believes her MBA leaves her better prepared to weather industry downturns and career setbacks like downsizing.
“After I got my MBA, I was promoted to senior vice president, and that makes me more confident than I was because I do have it to back me up,” she said. “I am not looking for a job or anything like that. Having my MBA will be important if I ever need it.”
Being prepared is the primary reason why Leal thinks it is important for anyone considering an MBA to stop waiting and pursue the degree.
“If you really want it, you need to go for it,” she said. “It’s something no one can ever take away from you.”
Learn about BGSU’s online MBA programs.