How I Got My MBA (And Why)

We asked a group of alumni to tell us how they were able to complete their MBA coursework and to share their motivations.

Michele Equale MBA ’13, AVP, Continuous Improvement Leader, Investment Management, MassMutual

Michelle Equale
Michele Equale

This artist-turned-executive focuses on mentorship, leadership coaching, and streamlining processes at Mass Mutual in Springfield.

Why I Got My MBA: “My undergraduate degree is in oil-painting. Really! I wasn’t a businesswoman until I was 28. I discovered I’m not a great starving artist.”

How I Did It: “I went to school part-time. I had one child and gave birth to another while getting my degree. I had to talk to people in my network and ask for support. I asked for a lot of help. I lowered my bar and didn’t have to be great at everything. Sometimes, my house was messy. Sometimes, my fridge was messy. Sometimes, my son and I would study together on the weekends — and I became a role model for him, because he saw me working so hard.”

What Drives Me: “Earlier in my career, it was chasing money. Now it’s the ‘aha!’ moment of helping colleagues navigating transitions. I’m inspired by developing people, coaching them, and helping them reach peak performance.”

Alexandra Maider MBA ’16, Director, Tobin-Beaudet Schools

Alexandra Maider
Alexandra Maider

Education isn’t always a lucrative field. But Maider’s fellowship allowed her to pursue her dream of directing a small, progressive K-8 school outside of Boston.

Why I Got My MBA: “I have my dream job right now. I get to be on the floor playing with kids one minute, and the next minute I’m planning out how we’re going to develop our curriculum. I have teeny tiny interactions—this morning I was reading Cinderella to Kindergartners—and I get to have large scale impact of an administrator.”

How I Did It: “I lived in Amherst full-time, and I absolutely loved it. The dean and faculty had a kind, friendly, welcoming attitude, but they were also intellectual and academic. There was drive and rigorousness, but also warmth. Culture is important to me, and this was spot-on with what I was looking for.”

What Drives Me: “Growing and learning, and helping my students become even better.”

Stephanie Holt MBA ’16, Marketing & Sales Operations Specialist, Cisco

Stephanie Holt
Stephanie Holt

Holt left college with $140,000 in debt. Isenberg’s fellowship allowed her to go back to school full-time without taking on any additional educational loans. She went from a management position at Sherwin-Williams to a start-up that was just acquired by Cisco—leading to a 40 percent salary bump, and she credits Isenberg with the skills that got her there.

Why I Got My MBA: “I was in a management training program at Sherwin-Williams, and I knew that if I wanted to move to the next level, I needed an MBA. I knew this is what I truly wanted, and I’d advise anyone to go for what they truly believe in, because it will pay off.”

How I Did It: “I commuted four days per week from Boston. My classes started at 9 a.m. I’d spent the day on campus, head back home, study all night, and do the same thing the next day—and listen to my textbooks on audiotape in the car. I got off every day on exit 8 off the Mass Pike. But it was worth it.”

What Drives Me: “Curiosity. I’m already thinking about my next certification and the next big thing I want to learn.”

Igor Garabajiv MBA ’16, Lead Supply Chain Analyst, BJ’s Wholesale Club

Igor Garabajiv
Igor Garabajiv

Garabajiv grew up in Moldova, and left Eastern Europe during his senior year of high school after winning a competition to become an exchange student in the United States. “It was so different than what I was familiar with, academically. It was so open, there was so much interaction with professors, and you could even choose electives,” he says. After receiving an undergraduate business degree in Moldova and enjoying a thriving career as an export manager, he returned to America to attend Isenberg full-time.

Why I Got My MBA: “After my high school experience, I was familiar with the American environment and culture. I enjoyed my experience in Illinois, and after working for six years in the wine and walnut exporting industry, I’d reached my limit. I was at the crossroads of either pursuing an advanced degree in STEM or a management degree, and I knew I needed an MBA.”

How I Did It: “I went to school full-time and started working at BJ’s right after graduation. I even interned for them while I was in school.”

What Drives Me: “Accomplishment. I strive to see the results of my work. When I was working in wine and walnuts, the outcome was moving containers around the world. I saw the impact, and it was tremendous. Now, I still have the same motivation: I see the day-to-day result of people going into our clubs and shopping for great products at a fair price.”

Nicolas Cardenas MBA ’16, Direct Marketing Assistant Manager, Dish Latino

Nicolas Cardenas
Nicolas Cardenas

Cardenas is originally from Venezuela, where he ran that country’s first Groupon-style business, TuDescuentón. Isenberg helped him segue from entrepreneurship to the corporate world. Now he develops and executes direct marketing strategies for satellite service provider Dish Network’s Latino market in Denver, Colorado.

Why I Got My MBA: “Isenberg helped me transform myself from an entrepreneur in Venezuela to an intrapreneur in the United States. Their career advisers found different ways to help me. They helped me contact the right companies based on my experience in a bilingual market working in strategy and marketing. I had the opportunity to take classes like international marketing, which was all about how to position products and services to a totally different audience in a globalized world. How do companies like Netflix sell the same products to different audiences? That’s exactly what I apply right now in my career.”

How I Did It: “I took extra courses to graduate in a year and a half to get married in Venezuela and to begin an internship with my current company. The faculty was so helpful. They helped me to [pinpoint] exactly the right classes to finish my degree quickly.”

What Drives Me: “I deeply understand the Latino market, and I work for a company that values that. This was the best possible transition for me, at this stage in my life, in a job I like with no debt. There’s nothing else I can ask for. And now I’m helping bring in some resumes from current Isenberg students, too.”