Lizeth Hernandez, MBA’20, believes deeply in education because she knows how transformative learning can be. When she immigrated to the United States from Colombia with her mother shortly before her 13th birthday, they arrived with little money and no English.
“Walking into school, I discovered the most surprising thing about not speaking English: I couldn’t understand what my teachers were saying, and I couldn’t communicate with the people around me,” she says.
In two years, Hernandez tested out of the English as a Second Language program. In two more years, she was in the Honor Society, and by the time she graduated high school, Hernandez was valedictorian. She says the title was never something she strived for; she simply wanted to earn a college degree and knew it was an expensive privilege she’d have to earn with hard work.
After a bachelor’s degree in engineering, she was hired at Eli Lily and Company in manufacturing. She’s currently pursuing an Evening MBA at the Kelley School of Business on the IUPUI campus—with the goal of growing her leadership capabilities.
“Seventeen years ago, I was broke, uneducated, and didn’t speak English,” she said. “But I understand how to succeed, meet expectations, and add value by leveraging education.”
Hernandez loves making medicine. She understands how she fits into the supply chain that brings life-saving pharmaceuticals from the laboratory to the patient, and she is proud to be a part of that team. But she recognizes that she needs more education to continue providing added value to her company.
“I knew I wanted to earn a master’s degree, but the question was whether I pursue one in engineering automation—because I love technology—or pursue an MBA,” she says. “The choice was difficult: Do I want to be the leader of the boat and set the direction and take the risk of that direction, or do I want to dig deeper into technology?”
Hernandez was entering a new role and decided to discuss the decision to attend Kelley with her new supervisor. At the time, she was working for Kelley alumna Tatum Gipe, MBA’15. Having graduated two years prior, Gipe was able to help Hernandez explore her options.
“She’d had a great experience in the Kelley Evening MBA Program and was supportive of my decision to enroll. She continues to be supportive throughout the process,” says Hernandez. “I wanted to gain Tatum’s polish and ability to convey value. I’m used to being surrounded by engineers, and I wanted training on critical soft skills: how to approach people, how to convey my message effectively, and how to engage my team.”
Hernandez says the courses in the Evening MBA have been enjoyable and insightful. Though challenging, she says the program is rewarding and immediately applicable. Shortly after she began her first finance course, she was giving a presentation at work when someone asked her a question about the financials behind procurement’s metrics.
“Because of the Evening MBA Program, I have a frame of reference for income statements, and while it may take me a moment to formulate my response, I have a solid starting point for arriving at my answer,” she says. “Eight months ago, I wouldn’t have even known where to start, but now, I can quickly work toward a solution. I can provide value quicker, with more confidence.”
Regardless of a student’s background, Kelley professors are available to teach, support, and coach.
An engineer at heart, Hernandez discovered she loved the Evening MBA accounting courses. Math, numbers, and formulas: all of these are concepts she loves and readily understands. She felt challenged, however, in statistics—a course more focused on making mathematical inferences and determining probabilities.
“As an engineer, I think math is easy, but discovering probability is not certainty. The decision trees for making decisions based on net present value were very valuable lessons,” she says. “I was a slow starter in that class but finished well. It was a journey, and professor Kyle Anderson was very patient with me. In the end, I learned a lot, but above all, I felt like he was a partner in that journey. He knew I was capable, and he also understood it took me a little longer to grasp these new concepts.”
Hernandez also found added value through interaction with her classmates. Kelley Evening MBA students come from various professions, fields, and walks of life, enriching the class discussion and group projects with unique perspectives and contributions. Hernandez received valuable input and reflection from her classmates during a management simulation.
“One of my classmates suggested my approach was overly focused on the pharmaceutical industry and that I might consider thinking outside of that field,” she says. “It was true. Pharma is my passion, but he was right. I would never have received this perspective to my approach because it’s so easy to become accustomed to what surrounds you. Without this experience, I wouldn’t get the perspective from other fields, from entrepreneurs, or from marketers. The Kelley MBA has expanded my viewpoint and introduced me to new options.”
In her role as the spend analytics lead for procurement at Lilly, Hernandez manages the tool that company procurement professionals use worldwide to map spends. Often surrounded by colleagues with business degrees, Hernandez says the Evening MBA is giving her a new way to relate to them—and a new way to provide value in her job.
“I no longer infer or think. I know,” she says. “Having a business background helps me connect with the people around me, speak their language, and think about how to convey a message to answer their concerns on topics like savings calculations or measuring ROI. My ability to connect is greater, and I understand how to make my message more compelling, which sets my projects apart.”
As she continues her Kelley MBA, Hernandez reflects on how large a role education has played in her growth and professional success. Not only is an MBA a tool for creating value for her team and her employer, Hernandez says it’s also a way to invest in herself.
“Education pays back consistently. It’s a low-risk investment, but it is a good investment,” she says. “I believe in investing in myself first because it gives me the potential to create more so I can invest in other things. You can’t control a lot of your investments, but you can certainly control your future.”