The University of Toledo

04/18/2024 | Press release | Distributed by Public on 04/18/2024 02:17

First-Generation College Student Finds Success in Business

First-Generation College Student Finds Success in Business

April 18, 2024 | Graduate News, News, UToday, Alumni, Business and Innovation, Engineering
By Natalie Burgess

Erin Stephens came from a family of factory workers who, while not having gone to college themselves, encouraged her to pursue higher education. Set to graduate Saturday, May 4, with her bachelor's degree in business administration, Stephens said she is now making them proud.

"I always wanted to go to college," she said. "Both my parents would always tell me, 'You don't want a job like this, you don't want to work like this.' That certainly pushed me towards wanting a better future for myself."

CELEBRATING SUCCESS: UToledo recognizes the Class of 2023 with a series of stories featuring students receiving their degrees at spring commencement.

But Stephens had no idea what she wanted her future to be, let alone what school to attend.

"I can't even count how many colleges I visited during high school," she said. "I did visit many colleges that were a lot closer to Sidney than Toledo and even some out of state, but I never felt the same way about other colleges as I did with UToledo. It was really the perfect environment for me, where the campus feels small and close-knit, but you're actually in the middle of a pretty large city with lots to do. No other campus I've seen has the same community feeling as UToledo's does."

She entered UToledo with a major in studio arts but found herself hesitating. Though she still enjoys art, she said that she did not see herself having a career in the major and started searching for something else.

"I really didn't know what I wanted to do when I came here, but my mom was always a huge 'everything will work itself out' person," she said. "Just very optimistic and hopeful, and I think I definitely tried to carry that mindset with me throughout college."

Looking through UToledo's different programs, Stephens searched for something that would spark a light in her. She found that passion with a major in marketing and a minor in sustainability.

"I ended up choosing marketing as it seemed like I was fairly similar to the arts but would just offer me more broad knowledge of business and how to analyze and make decisions for creative media, such as marketing communications," Stephens said. "I also felt comfortable with the job opportunities that marketing could offer me, as marketing is such a large field, that I knew I would find something that I enjoyed in the field."

Erin Stephens considers her greatest achievement at UToledo to be her journey of personal growth, including her time volunteering for local organizations through Women in Business Leadership.

Stephens began expanding her horizons through on-campus organizations and forming connections with new people. She was hired as a marketing student worker with Business Career Programs, where she posts about their events through social media. She joined Women in Business Leadership Toledo where she would eventually be elected as executive vice president. She is also involved with the American Marketing Association, as well as the Klar Leadership Academy where she has volunteered for such organizations as Feed My Starving Children and Cherry Street Mission.

"Joining organizations is truly one of the best things you can do while in college," Stephens said. "I met all of my good friends through the various organizations that I joined, and they helped me to become much more confident and comfortable being myself."

Stephens also landed herself an internship at J.M Smucker Co.

"After my summer with J.M. Smucker as a marketing innovation intern, I was offered a full-time position for the following year in August 2024," she said. "There were over 100 interns at the corporate office in Orrville, Ohio, with 20 of them being marketing interns. Only a select few of the marketing interns were offered full-time positions. I didn't know if I was going to get another offer from them, so it was truly an amazing surprise when they gave me a full-time offer."

Stephens landed a summer internship at J.M Smucker Co. and was later offered a full-time position with the company beginning in August.

Stephens also has a summer internship with The Andersons in environmental, social and governance, which aligns toward her goal of a career in sustainability.

Stephens thanks her mentor, Dr. Terribeth Gordon-Moore, the senior associate dean of the John B. and Lillian E. Neff College of Business and Innovation, who cheered her on through the process of earning and performing her internship.

"Erin has been a valued member of the Business Career Program office," Gordon-Moore said. "She has a keen eye for detail and possesses a strong marketing expertise. Her commitment to excellence and attention to detail will undoubtedly drive success in her future career endeavors. Erin possesses a wonderful personality in addition to her business acumen. We will miss her in BCP."

Stephens' journey was one of uncertainty, but in the end, she found her way, and considers her greatest achievement the personal growth she obtained at UToledo.

"I couldn't encourage students enough to truly explore all your options, as your time in college is really some of the only time you'll have to try out different companies and different roles and find something you enjoy doing," she said. "It's OK if you're not sure what you want to do for a major or career. To this day I still go back and forth between pursing marketing or pursing an environmental career. I love both, and I'm so happy that I get to experience both while I'm here at UT. As my mom would say, everything will work itself out."