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From Engineering to Brand Management with an MBA

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Stephanie Curry

Q & A with Stephanie Curry, University of California, Los Angeles, Anderson School of Management.

Program: Full-time MBA

Undergraduate engineering major/specialty: Southern Methodist University, Management Science/Mathematics

Tell us about yourself (who you are, where you are from, how you got to where you are today)?

I’m originally from Golden, Colorado, a suburb of Denver. I wanted to move outside of Colorado for undergrad, and I chose Southern Methodist University in Dallas.

What was your undergraduate engineering major specialty (electrical, mechanical, etc.)?

I originally thought I wanted to study Environmental Engineering but quickly changed my mind after visiting a wastewater treatment plant. Instead, I focused on Management Science (called Operations Research at some institutions), a field which applies advanced analytical methods to help make better decisions for businesses and other enterprises.

Did you know in undergrad that you wanted to go to graduate business school?

I decided during my junior year to attend business school to deepen my business acumen. I really enjoyed the problem-solving aspects of my primary major in engineering. In identifying a corporate position as my ideal post-school career, I thought business school would help build softer leadership skills that I would need in my future.

Did you have a career before business school? If so, what was it?

I worked in a couple of positions focused on corporate strategy. At Bain & Company, I worked on projects in retail, entertainment, and technology for two years. I wanted to gain more in-depth exposure to the retail industry and moved into the Corporate Strategy group at Nordstrom. I spent two years at Nordstrom where I worked on high level strategy projects relating to developing new initiatives and improving the operations of Nordstrom.

Why business school?

My primary reason was to build a stronger business network – specifically on the west coast – that would advance my career. My secondary reason was to transition into a more marketing-centric career, both by gaining marketing skills through the curriculum at Anderson and using my summer internship to switch careers to a brand management position in the consumer products industry.

School visits were also extremely helpful and allowed me to see a day in the life of an MBA student.

What was helpful to you during the journey of considering/applying/deciding to attend business school? What resources/organizations/people/websites were helpful?

I talked with current students and alumni to learn about the cultures at various schools. I had access to alumni through both Bain and Nordstrom. For someone without those connections, many of the schools have structured programs for prospective students to connect with current students.

School visits were also extremely helpful and allowed me to see “a day in the life of an MBA student” at that particular school. I also attended a Forté Forum in Seattle and school recruiting events. I met the admissions staff and Seattle area alumni for my target schools, who answered questions that helped me draft applications. (Click here to learn more about all the free resources provided by the Forté Foundation for women applying to business school.)

When you are not studying, where are you most likely to be found?

At the gym, running at the beach, hiking one of LA’s hiking trails, or exploring the many restaurants and museums LA has to offer with business school friends.

How did your engineering experience help you stand out as a business school applicant?

Engineers have deep analytical skills that solve a variety of problems. Showing I could effectively apply these skills to business problems definitely helped me stand out as an applicant.

Which skill sets from your engineering background do you think were your strongest assets in business school and on the job?

My strongest asset is my ability to effectively analyze a problem and come up with a more scientific way to solve that problem. I’m also skilled in quantitative analysis and number crunching.

Read: How an MBA Can Advance Your Engineering Career

How did you fit studying for the GMAT exam into your busy schedule?

I took the GMAT the summer after I graduated from SMU. I knew I wanted to attend business school and would have the most time to effectively study for the exam during that time period.

What is your best GMAT study tip?

Set aside a period of time every day to study and give yourself a reward for studying (my reward was my daily Starbucks coffee). Come up with a detailed study plan to break up your focus each week. I planned my studying so that I would spend more time each week focused on verbal since I was relatively weaker in that area given my more quantitative background.

What's your remedy for pre-test nerves?

I am a big fan of running to relieve stress, so I made sure to fit in runs in the days leading up to the test. The day of the test I went out to lunch at one of my favorite restaurants near my testing location in the hopes that eating good food might distract me from some of my pre-test nerves!

What advice do you have for other engineers who are planning go to business school?

Start exploring early, even if you aren’t sure that you want to go to business school yet. This will both help you to see what types of careers you might achieve with an MBA and will make the application process easier since you won’t have to research schools while also crafting your application.

What was your biggest challenge you had to overcome? Biggest reward you reaped?

My biggest challenge was learning how to present information effectively, a vital skill in the business world. It has taken me four years of work and one year of business school, but I finally feel confident in presenting. The biggest reward I reaped was being promoted early while exceeding the high expectations in Nordstrom’s Corporate Strategy group.

About Forté Foundation

Forté Foundation is a non-profit consortium of leading multinational corporations, top business schools in the US and abroad, and the Graduate Management Admission Council. Its mission is to launch women into fulfilling, significant careers through access to business education, opportunities and a community of successful women. Forté is the leading organization that provides a national infrastructure for women at all stages of the career continuum to access the information, scholarship support and networking connections they need to succeed in business careers. Additional information about the Forté Foundation is available online at www.fortefoundation.org.