Twelve years ago, when Kathy Blake joined the Derringer Company, the college student thought she had business figured out. But as she worked her way up in this full-service vending and corporate catering company she quickly realized she didn't.
"My background was in sales. My whole focus was on sales," Blake says. "I really didn't understand how other aspects of the business come into play, how one area affects another."
With that in mind, the Burlington resident decided it was time to broaden her horizons.
Derringer is Cincinnati-based but operates in Northern Kentucky.
Now serving as the director of client services with Derringer, Blake has gone on to earn a masters of business degree from Thomas More College and has completed certification through the Society for Human Resources Management (SHRM).
"I wasn't planning to ever go back to school, but as time went by I needed to 'feed my brain,'" she says. "I wanted to round out my business education, to really understand all the aspects of business, not just the sales aspect."
So, in 2008, she enrolled in Thomas More's Accelerated Program (TAP) to work toward her master's degree. With the help from Derringer and the focus of the TAP program she completed her courses in less than two years, all while working full-time.
Blake credits TAP's attention to detail for making this possible.
The program condenses a usual course load. Blake's classes meet once a week either at the college's Crestview Hills campus or north of the river in Blue Ash. TAP also provides group study and even gives an on-site, one-source outlet for textbooks.
"It was very user-friendly," Blake says. "Classes are always in the same place and the books are right there, so you don't have to hunt them down — all of those little logistical things that might not sound like much but are a real pain when you're working 40 hours a week while going to school. Not having to worry about all of those little details, it really makes a difference for a working student.
It also helped that the classes are populated with non-traditional students, she adds.
"Especially for an adult going back, it was great that everybody in the room had real-world experience," she says. "The questions and discussions are more meaningful, because they can draw on their experiences."
As an added benefit, her status as a student qualified her to also earn her human relations certification. Taken through SHRM, the courses dealt with the sort of day-to-day, detailed situations that come up with a workforce, something Blake hadn't seen covered in her undergraduate or masters coursework.
Normally, the certification courses are open only to HR professionals, she says. But because of her status as a student, Blake was able to take the classes and sit for the accreditation test last January. She passed with flying colors.
"It gave me an understanding of yet another aspect of business that I didn't already have," she says. "It was outstanding."
Blake now parlays her new expertise into a stronger role at Derringer.
Having started as an account representative, she had advanced to become a client relations agent by the time she returned to school. Now, she serves in an operations management role as Derringer's director of client services.
Her continued education and her real-world experience have had a huge impact on her career and her life, she says.
Adding: "I was able to grow professionally as much as I was able to academically."